Growing up in South Florida, Martinez was a big Florida Marlins fan, going to countless games at their old stadium.
J.D. had five older sisters, all from his parents' previous marriages. His mother, Mayra, was a nurse, and before another overnight shift at the hospital she would often drop J.D. off at the Domino's where his father, Julio, worked.
J.D. spent most of his grade school years popping slices of pepperoni into his mouth while Julio flipped pizzas. Julio eventually started his own roofing company, which grew until he had 35 employees.
It was Julio Martinez, J.D.'s father, who made sure he got to his games and practices in South Florida as a kid, but mom was always behind him. He might have been a momma's boy, but there's nothing wrong with that.
"If I got home late, she made sure I had food to eat," Martinez said. "She'd always have good food for me and would make my room, do my laundry, make my bed and everything. I was her only boy, and she always just spoiled me. Whenever she wanted to watch a TV show, she'd call me in to watch it with her."
There were times, though, when Martinez's mother, Mayra Martinez, thought her son was perhaps putting a little too much energy and passion into the game he loved.
"She knows how much I gave to it, and she used to tell me when I was little, 'You don't have to go so hard all the time,'" Martinez said. "I said, 'No, I want to make it. This is my dream.' She always understood and said she believed in me."
When Martinez wasn't playing baseball on the field, he was playing baseball video games or watching baseball on TV. Mayra knew there was little she could do to quash his love of the game. All she could do was provide a mother's love.
In 2009, after getting drafted by the Astros in June, Martinez won the New York-Penn League batting title (.326) in his pro debut.
In 2010, J.D. won the South Atlantic League MVP award, leading the league in hitting (.362), on-base percentage (.433), and slugging (.598). And, the Astros named Martinez as their Minor League Player of the Year.
In 2011, Baseball America rated Martinez as the 6th-best prospect in the Astros organization.
In 2014, J.D. began the season with the Astros releasing him at the end of Spring Training. Three days later, the Tigers signed him to a Minor League deal and summoned him to the big leagues in late April.
He found a comfort level in a lineup with Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter, which he never had with Houston. His batting average was above .300 virtually the entire season, and at 27, he's becoming almost exactly the player the Astros once thought he'd be. But now he's a Tiger. (Justice - mlb.com - 8/25/14)
September 18, 2017: The National and American Leagues have awarded Player of the Week honors since 1974. Never before has any player done enough to earn so many in a season as J.D. Martinez has this year.
Martinez won his fourth Player of the Week Award of the season when he was named the NL recipient for the second consecutive week. Coupled with the two AL awards he won earlier this season while with the Tigers, and Martinez's four in one season are a Major League record.
Martinez and Carlos Beltran are the only players in MLB history to win the award in both leagues in the same season. Beltran did it in 2004, when he played for both the Royals and Astros. Martinez was acquired by Arizona in a trade on July 18.
Martinez earned the award this time by going 10-for-23 (.435) with three home runs and six RBIs over six games. Martinez collected three hits on Sept. 11 against the Rockies, drove in two against the Giants, and scored eight runs total. Martinez has hit 24 of his 40 homers (in just 51 games) for Arizona.
He is the first player to win consecutive Player of the Week Awards since the Yankees' Gary Sanchez last September, and the first NL player to do it since the Nationals' Bryce Harper in May 2015.
Martinez has been a Player of the Week six times during his seven-year big league career. (Joe Trezza - for MLB.com)
Oct 20, 2017: Inspiration can come from just about anywhere: another person, an event, a book, a movie or perhaps a quote. Occasionally inspiration can lead individuals to do great things—and that was the case for D-backs outfielder J.D. Martinez.
As a child growing up in southern Florida, the Miami-born outfielder J.D. picked up the game of baseball at a very young age, due to a little push from his father, who wanted to ensure that his son stayed away from more injury-prone activities.
"I started playing ball when I was 4 years old," said Martinez. "I played street basketball for a while and wanted to play competitively, but I was so used to the street-style of game that I would have fouled out by the end of the first quarter. The main reason my dad put me in baseball, though, was to keep me off the streets and out of trouble. But my parents did a great job of giving me a fantastic, well-rounded childhood. I have so many memories of going fishing and camping as a kid, and my dad had season tickets to watch the Marlins—and that's where I fell in love with the game.
"Growing up," he said, "I was there for the inaugural season. I remember 1997 and 2003, when they won the World Series, but I grew up with Benito Santiago as my favorite player before Miguel Cabrera got there. The way Benito could launch balls and he had a cannon behind the plate as a catcher, it just made me love baseball and want to play it as much as I could."
With his passions clearly defined, Martinez began to refine his craft every day. He had a little help, though, from former Major League All-Star catcher Paul Casanova.
"When I was about 10 years old, I met Cassie," Martinez said. "He was my mentor growing up. The way he would tell stories about his time in the Majors is what I loved the most. He had so many stories about guys he played with, like Hank Aaron or the day Dick Allen came to the ballpark. His stories were so cool to me. I remember thinking as a kid, 'I want to be able to tell stories like this when I get older.' And he had so many pieces of Cuban baseball history in his house, that it was like a museum. They actually called it the 'Cuban Museum,' but it was a hitting academy."
The so-called Cuban Museum was a home away from home for Martinez, who said he would spend as much time at Casanova's house as he would his own.
"Starting in middle school, I would play on two or three baseball teams at the same time, because that's just how things worked in south Florida," said the outfielder. "I would practice six or seven days each week. I honestly don't know how my parents did it, but my dad always found a way to make it to each and every game.
"So after class, I would go to practice for school. After practice, I would go to Cassie's house and he or Jackie Hernandez, a former shortstop for the Pirates, would throw me batting practice for two or three hours every night. I'd come home afterward and my parents would leave dinner in the microwave for me. I'd heat it up, eat it and go to sleep each night before I woke up and did the same thing the next day. But Cassie's house is where I fell in love with hitting and everything that went into it. He and Jackie gave me that. I definitely wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them."
For Martinez, the time at "Cassie's" house taught him more about himself than anything else. Martinez said that although he already loved the game when he met Casanova, his passion for hitting only strengthened as time passed.
"Hitting became my life," said Martinez. "I remember when I was in high school, I was going through a rough time. But hitting became my escape. It was my way of getting away from everything and just disconnecting from the world. I would just go out there and hit. It was in the cage where I fell in love with trying to master something that can't be mastered, trying to perfect something that can't be perfected. It's just one of those things where there's no perfect way to do it, and I fell in love with trying to figure out why certain guys had success and why other guys don't, and ensuring I turned myself into one of the guys who does."
A 20th-round Draft pick in 2009, Martinez broke into the big leagues in 2011 and hit .275 with six home runs and 35 RBIs in 53 games for the Astros. In 2014, he signed with the Tigers as a Minor League free agent, and within a year he'd go on to win the 2015 Silver Slugger Award and make the AL All-Star team. But he did so with a completely reworked swing.
"When I was with the Astros, I watched as my teammate Jason Castro was having an incredible year," said Martinez. "At that time, I wasn't playing very well, so I went and watched video of his swing and realized that mine was way different. I began studying the swings of guys like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and Albert Pujols and asked myself, 'What am I doing?'
"At the end of the 2013 season, I dedicated myself to changing my swing. I traveled to California to work with the team that worked with Jason and they helped me change my technique. After that, I went to Venezuela in 2014 to try out my new swing and in the first three games, I felt a change in the force I could put behind the ball. It was something I never thought possible, and I haven't been the same player since."
After coming to the D-backs in a trade that sent three Minor League infielders to Detroit this past July, Martinez flourished hitting behind D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Highlighted by Labor Day's MLB-record-tying night in Los Angeles in which he became the 18th player—and the first D-backs player—to hit four home runs in a game, he had one of the most offensively dominant second halves the game has ever seen. His 29 home runs after coming to Arizona were the most second-half homers in franchise history, as were his 16 September long balls.
"He's a really smart hitter," Goldschmidt told USA Today. "I love talking to J.D., and getting his take on pitchers, and what he's trying to do. I have so much respect for what he's done."
Added Martinez, "I played with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez in Detroit, so I had great mentors. Coming here at first, I thought about how I'd be one of the oldest players on the team, but everyone here was good. Everyone here knew what we were doing, and that's a direct testament to how good the leadership was on this team."
D-backs executive vice president and general manager Mike Hazen, who wasted little time bringing Martinez to Arizona 13 days before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, spoke highly about the impact that the slugging outfielder had on the ballclub.
"We were fortunate to get J.D.," said Hazen. "He certainly carried us there, offensively, for the better part of a couple months. It's pretty amazing, pretty impressive what he did. His consistency in the middle of the lineup was something we needed."
Martinez's teammate, closer Fernando Rodney, played for seven teams over his 15-year career before signing with the D-backs before the 2017 season, and he said Martinez adapted to the change of scenery seamlessly.
"For J.D., the change was interesting to watch, because I feel like he came into a comfortable environment here in Arizona," Rodney said. "The companionship we had here was very good, as was our communication. There was a climate here filled with good teammates, and I think that really helped him adjust to his new team." (I Kraft - MLB.com - Oct 20, 2017)
Questions and answers with mlb.com in early April 2018:
MLB.com: You've been described as OCD when it comes to hitting. When did that develop?
Martinez: It kind of started when I got released [by the Astros in 2014]. I mean, I always loved to hit, so I guess that's not true. I've always loved hitting, and even as a kid, I always hit. Growing up, it was almost like a drug, going into the cage and hitting. It was like a relaxation. I kind of fell in love with it back then.
MLB.com: You are meticulous even with your batting practice, making sure that gets filmed every day. What kind of things do you take from that?
Martinez: A lot of things. I kind of see where my swing is at. For me, it's going through my checklist that I have with my mechanics and where I want to be at certain points and certain spots throughout my swing.
MLB.com: What was the biggest thing you took from your brief time in Spring Training with David Ortiz?
Martinez: To not take nine million swings during the game, because it's easy to do. You're bored as a DH, and you don't know what to do. But he told me to take it easy and get ready for your at-bat, and that's it. Study more than swing.
MLB.com: When you were released in 2014, did you look at Big Papi's story as inspiration at all? Amazingly, the Twins released him, and we saw how that turned out.
Martinez: Yeah, absolutely. There's a lot of guys I thought of at that time. I thought of David, I thought of Jose Bautista as well. There was definitely hope. I knew what I had done in the game was going to buy me an opportunity with another team.
MLB.com: How did that release change your perspective on your career?
Martinez: I think it made me who I am. I've always been hungry, but when people ask, "What drives you? How do you stay so driven throughout this whole thing?" You just don't stop. It's every single day. The people that know me and the people that love me in and are in my life see it.
My brother-in-law came up to me and was like, "Dude, I admire your life and what you do and everything you do. It's amazing. I wouldn't want it for me. Because the amount of time you spend in this game, the amount of time away from your family, that's stuff you'll never get back."
But it's my passion, it's my love, it's what I love to do. To me, that took my OCD to another level where when you have something taken away … it's like the famous expression, "You don't realize you love something until it's gone."
MLB.com: Miguel Cabrera. What did you take from him?
Martinez: His swing, just watching him and watching the way he hits and he plays. The one thing I always learned about Miggy, when you watch him when he has a bad day, he always does something in a way that helps the team win, whether it's moving the runner over or whatever needs to be done.
MLB.com: How would you describe your personality? Outgoing? Quiet? Somewhere in between?
Martinez: I think it's quiet to the media and quiet to people I don't know. But to people I do know, I'm outgoing. I think I'm a funny guy. I'm somewhat serious, but I also like to have fun and talk trash. With my group of friends, we love to make fun of each other. With my friends back home, you're never safe. Someone's always waiting for you to slip up so they can pounce on you, and it's kind of fun. That's how we joke with each other. MLB.com: Off the field, what do you like to do to get away from baseball?
Martinez: Get on the boat or fishing, sandbar—whatever it might be. Just get on the boat, really. (Browne - mlb.com - 4/04/18)
July 2018: Martinez was selected to play in the MLB All-Star game.
July 20, 2018: The tunnel from the players' lot at Comerica Park leads players and officials underneath Witherell Street and spills them out in front of the clubhouses. Turn left from there to go to the Tigers' clubhouse, right for the visitors. It's a simple choice, but an awkward change for many former Tigers when they return to Detroit for the first time. It was J.D. Martinez's turn, a year and four days after his last game here. The extra time and another team change, having signed with the Red Sox as a free agent earlier this year, didn't make it easier for him.
"It's home for me," Martinez said. "This is my home club. This is the team that raised me." The Tigers weren't Martinez's first big league team. He played 252 games over three seasons with the Astros before Houston released him in Spring Training of 2014. He had ties to the Tigers through childhood friend Alex Avila and coach Dave Clark, but also admitted a big reason he signed a Minor League deal with Detroit that spring was because the Tigers were willing to offer him an opt-out clause if he wasn't in the big leagues by a certain date.
"A lot of teams didn't want to do it," Martinez said. "Detroit wanted to do it, and that was it. The last thing I wanted to do was get buried in Triple-A behind prospects. I wanted to be able to kind of control my own future, which was one of the main reasons I chose Detroit." The rest is history. With a revamped swing, Martinez went from castoff to All-Star in Detroit, posting a .912 OPS in his first Tigers season in 2014, then hitting 38 homers with 102 RBIs in 2015. He batted .300 with a .912 OPS during his four-year Detroit tenure, with 99 HRs. He became a fan favorite in the process, a symbol of a city with a comeback story of its own.
His Tigers tenure has been history for a year now, having been traded to Arizona in July 2017 for three prospects in a deal that began the rebuilding process to break up Detroit's superstar-laden roster. Martinez likely would've been traded regardless of team direction with free agency looming and the Tigers struggling, but once he left, the youth movement was clear. "It was inevitable," Martinez said. "I think everybody knew it. It wasn't just me. You can only be good like that for so long."
He still keeps in touch with a few players, such as Miguel Cabrera and Jose Iglesias, but admittedly doesn't know many players on the rebuilding team. If anything, he saw more former Tigers teammates earlier this week at the All-Star Game. That group included current Astros pitcher Justin Verlander, whose trade helped Houston win a long-awaited World Series title last October.
"I was talking about it actually with Verlander, when we were at the All-Star Game," Martinez said. "It's just one of those things where [we said], 'Dude, I don't know how we didn't win [in Detroit]." Martinez's lone postseason experience in Detroit was in 2014, when they were swept out of the ALDS by the Orioles. That doesn't diminish how Martinez looks back on his Tigers tenure.
"This is always home for me," he said. "That's the way I look at it. This is where I grew up. This is my home club almost. It just reminds me of all the growing pains I went through." (J Beck - MLB.com - July 20, 2018)
J.D. has had the nickname Flaco since he was a 12-year-old boy in Miami learning how to hit. The man who gave him that name is Paul Casanova, a former Major Leaguer for the Senators and Braves who died at the age of 75 in August 2017. Casanova was a hitting instructor at the facility Martinez went to.
"When I was 12, I used to go hit with Paul," Martinez said. "He played with Hank Aaron on the Braves. He was kind of like my mentor growing up as far as hitting. The first time I walked in there, I was really skinny, so he started calling me Flaco." Martinez still hears the name quite a bit during the offseason in Miami.
"All through Miami, the guys who grew up with me hitting at the place I hit, they all call me Flaco," Martinez said.
Though Casanova didn't teach Martinez the launch angle techniques that he's become legendary for, he did impart perhaps something even more important. "He made me fall in love with baseball," Martinez said. "He was the one who taught me everything in baseball." (Browne - mlb.com - 8/22/18)
Nov. 28, 2018: Martinez was voted the 2018 Player of the Year by his peers. Martinez was named the recipient of the Players Choice Awards honor, as announced by the MLB Players Association.
Dec 11, 2018: There are celebrity chefs, and then there are celebrity chefs with 18 million Instagram followers who have a penchant for slicing up meat in the most dramatic way possible. I'm talking, of course, about the one and only Salt Bae. The Turkish foodsmith, whose real name is Nusret Gökçe, rocketed to prominence last year after a video of him bombastically slicing a chunk of meat went viral online.
His trademark method of sprinkling salt on all of his dishes has since been replicated by many in the sports world as a delightfully silly celebration, including Betts' teammate J.D. Martinez, a dude who already spent time this offseason chilling with elephants in Thailand, visited Gökçe's steakhouse in Miami over the weekend and snapped an awesome picture with the well-known restaurateur.
Martinez is just the latest in a long line of notable athletes who have made the pilgrimage to one of Salt Bae's restaurants. Soccer megastars Paul Pogba and Lionel Messi both recently dined there, 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve went with his family last offseason and the legendary DJ Khaled stopped by a few months ago wearing an Oakland A's uniform (which definitely counts). Maybe soon a team will get Mr. Bae to a game to see if he can throw out a first pitch from his unconventional arm angle.
Jan 26, 2019: J.D. is ranked No. 1 Left Fielder by MLB Network. Some might argue that J.D. Martinez is more of a designated hitter, but he did play 57 games in the outfield last year, and more than half of them came in left. And over the last two years he has hit an insane .319/.391/.655, with an average of 44 homers per year.
July 2019: Martinez was selected to participate in the All-Star Game.
June 2009: J.D. signed with the Astros for a bonus of $30,000 after they chose him in the 20th round, out of Nova Southeastern University in Florida.
March 21, 2014: The Astros released Martinez.
March 24, 2014: J.D. signed with the Tigers.
February 8, 2016: Martinez signed a two-year, $18.5 million deal to avoid salary arbitration, with the Tigers.
July 18, 2017: Martinez was traded to the D-backs for three prospects. Detroit received Double-A third baseman Dawel Lugo, Class A Advanced shortstop Sergio Alcantara, and teenage shortstop Jose King.
Nov 2, 2017: Martinez chose free agency.
- Feb. 19, 2018: Martinez and the Red Sox reached agreement on a five-year, $110 million contract that includes an opt-out clause after the second year. February 26, 2018: The Red Sox officially announced his aforementioned contract.
- Nov 5, 2019: Martinez decided not to exercise his 2020 opt-out clause. Martinez has three years and $62.5 million left on the five-year pact he signed with Boston in Spring Training 2018. However, Martinez can also opt out following the ’20 and ’21 seasons.
|Nickname:||J.D. Just Dingers||Position:||OF|
|Birth City:||Miami, FL|
|Draft:||Astros #20 - 2009 - Out of Nova Southeastern Univ. (FL)|
Martinez hits for both average and power. He is a middle-of-the-lineup run producer.
J.D. has outstanding pitch recognition and the uncanny ability to make adjustments during at-bats. He can really square up the barrel of his bat on the ball. He is one of the better curveball hitters around. (2013)
Martinez has an unorthodox swing. He gets his front foot down early, lays the bat back and then unloads with good natural timing. Despite the front-foot approach, he recognizes pitches, stays back on breaking balls and squares up good pitches.
His flat swing path means much of his power is to the gaps, and he projects to hit 30-35 doubles and 15-20 homers a year. (Spring, 2013)
J.D. had an odd stutter-step in his swing. And he takes it when the pitcher starts his delivery—too soon. What's more, he held his hands too far from his right shoulder, which elongates his swing. He shouldn't be able to hit like that. But I guess nobody told him. He did very well in 2011 as a rookie with the Astros.
Then, starting early in 2013 spring training, new Astros hitting coach John Mallee worked with Martinez.
"I was able to explain to him how the swing works and, more importantly, how his swing works."
Mallee worked with Martinez to shorten his swing. The hitting coach says Martinez launches his hands high, which makes for a longer path to the ball. He's shortened up the depth of his launch and the height of launch to make him shorter and quicker to the ball.
Mallee believes J.D. has the intangibles to be a good hitter. He recognizes pitches well and has good bat speed.
"It's all going to come down to his approach," he said. "The difference in him being more consistent this year is not going to be mechanics. It's going to be approach."
Martinez loves hitting. "It's who I am," he says. "I could go in the cage and hit for hours. I hate running, I hate going to the gym, I hate doing everything else. But hitting is what I love to do," J.D. said.
February 2014 changes: The change was about as drastic as they come. J.D. altered the way he holds his hands, positions his feet, and moves his hips.
Martinez, reaching a breaking point in his career, pretty much started from scratch in an effort to rebuild and reshape his swing. (Editor's note: It worked. In 2014, hitting behind Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, all three batted over .300 and slugged over .500.)
September 16, 2014: When Martinez hit a go-ahead three-run homer off Twins closer Glen Perkins, he had his eighth home run in the ninth inning or later. That tied Alex Rodriguez's 2007 A.L. MVP heroics for the second-most ninth-inning homers in a season since 1914. In 2000, Blue Jays' third baseman Tony Batista hit 10 ninth-inning homers as part of his 41-homer season.
September 29, 2015: Martinez hit his 38th home run of the year. His 100th and 101st RBIs of the season made him the first Tigers outfielder to hit triple digits since Magglio Ordonez drove in 103 runs in 2008.
The power-production combination is rarer than that. Not since Dean Palmer in 1999 has a Tiger other than Cabrera posted 38 home runs with 100 RBIs in the same season. Just a handful of other Tigers have ever done it. Hank Greenberg four times between 1937 and 1946, Cecil Fielder in 1990 and 1991, and Norm Cash and Rocky Colavito in 1961.
Since being traded to the D-backs on July 18, it feels like J.D. Martinez has homered against everyone. For his career, he literally has. Martinez hit a three-run home run in the first inning of a 7-4 win at Citi Field, his first career homer against the Mets, which gave him home runs against all 30 Major League teams. (Knobler - mlb.com - 8/22/17)
September 4, 2017: Martinez became the 18th player in MLB history to hit four home runs in a single game. He also became the first player to hit four homers came off four different pitchers (Hill, Pedro Baez, Josh Fields and Wilmer Font). He was the first player since 1900 to hit a HR in the 7th, 8th and 9th inning of a game and the first to hit four HRs in Dodger stadium.
September 17, 2017: By hitting a two-run homer to center field in a 7-2 loss to the Giants at AT&T Park, J.D. became the third player in 2017 to hit 40 homers. Martinez hit a first-pitch fastball from Giants starter Chris Stratton and got more than enough of it to get it over the wall, reaching the 40-homer mark for the first time in his career.
"It's an honor. It's definitely an achievement that I never thought I could reach," Martinez said. "To reach it is definitely a blessing."
That home run gave Martinez 24 in 51 games with the D-backs, trailing only Miami's Giancarlo Stanton for the most in the Majors since Martinez was acquired in a trade with the Tigers on July 18. It also makes him the fifth player in Major League history to hit 40 combined home runs with multiple teams in a single season. Manager Torey Lovullo has been impressed with how Martinez approaches each pitch.
"He is ultimately prepared to strike at any time, and you can see when he's getting the pitch that he's looking for, he's squaring it up," Lovullo said. "That was a key moment for us, it got us right back into the game, but I think people who understand what goes on every day, the work that he's putting in to make those moments happen.
"It's not blind luck. He's extremely talented on the field and a really smart, prepared hitter." (Simon - mlb.com)
September 24, 2017: For the past two months, J.D. has been doing his best Luis Gonzalez impersonation. Martinez hit his 43rd homer of the season in a 12-6 loss to the Marlins, adding another accomplishment to his growing list. It was his 14th homer in September and his 27th in 56 games with the D-backs. The solo shot moved him past Gonzalez, who hit 13 in April 2001, for the most homers by a D-backs player in one month.
"You just laugh now," Paul Goldschmidt said. "He's been so good for us. He's really carried us since he came over here these last two months. He's been a huge part of this team, and it's just really, really impressive. It's fun to watch."
The offensive numbers Martinez has put up since he joined the D-backs in July are reminiscent of Gonzalez's monstrous 2001 season in which he tallied 57 homers and 142 RBIs. But it wasn't until Martinez and Gonzalez met for the first time that the D-backs legend pointed out just how similar their paths to Arizona were.
"He came up to me, and he started telling me, 'Bro, I have like the same story as you,'" Martinez said. "We share a lot of similarities. We both started with Houston, and then got traded to Detroit, and then from Detroit we came here. Stuff like that. It's great, he's a great guy. I hate to take that record, because he's awesome." (Denney - mlb.com - 9/24/17)
September 10, 2018: Martinez became the first Red Sox player since David Ortiz in 2006 to hit 40 homers in a season.
October 2018 : J.D. Martinez changed baseball hitting philosophy once. Maybe he’s playing a part in changing it again. Martinez was one of the original fly-ball revolutionaries. He was one of the first hitters to go against convention, possibly risking his career, by adopting an uppercut swing to try to hit for more power. Like many hitters, he was taught to use a flat, level swing. But he wondered more and more why his best swing, what coaches preached, resulted simply in singles up the middle.
From 2011 to 2013, while with the Houston Astros, Martinez posted a .251 average, a .387 slugging mark and an 88 OPS+.1 He knew as a corner outfielder that his career was in jeopardy. After watching former teammate and fly-ball hitter Jason Castro, Martinez sought out a private swing instructor and transformed himself. He tried to convince Astros management that he had changed the following spring, but he was released in March 2014.
You probably know the rest of the story. The Tigers picked up Martinez in 2014, and he immediately became a star. Prior to this season, the Boston Red Sox guaranteed him $110 million over five years even though he was entering his early 30s, when most hitters are expected to begin to decline. But instead of showing his age, the 31-year-old Martinez rewarded the Red Sox with a .330/.402/.629 slash line, 43 homers and 130 RBIs, along with a career-best 173 OPS+.
The Red Sox were so invested in Martinez’s style of hitting they even hired a like-minded hitting coach in Tim Hyers. Hyers and Martinez helped Mookie Betts take the next step in his development to become an undersized slugger and the American League’s best player. He keeps evolving.
“Look at my swing from 2014 to now, and it’s changed so much,” Martinez told me in September. “Just look at it. Just look at the swing. It’s black and white. It’s looks different. Every year it’s kind of changed. Everything changes.”
As hitters like Martinez have started to crush low, sinking fastballs, more and more pitchers have tried to counter uppercut swings with elevated high-spin fastballs. Martinez adjusted and raised his slugging percentage to .500 against fastballs in the upper third and above the zone in 2017 when he became aware of the counter-punch that pitchers were throwing at him with the four-seam spin. Martinez slugged .584 against fastballs in the same location this season.“I knew there was an adjustment that needed to be made,”
Martinez said. “I can’t tell you my secrets. No one told me. I had to go in there and grind myself and figure it out.” That’s not the only change Martinez has made.His pull percentage is also at its lowest level (at 37.7 percent) since he was an Astro in 2013. Out of 360 qualified hitters, Martinez ranked 268th this year despite playing in a home park with some of the most favorable left-field dimensions for a right-handed hitter. Perhaps with this approach, Martinez is also trying to combat defensive shifts.While 55.1 percent of ground balls were pulled this season, only 51.9 percent of Martinez’s grounders were hit to the pull side, ranking 252nd out of 340 hitters. In each season from 2014 to 2017, Martinez hit at least 60.8 percent of ground balls to the left side.
Also of note is that his ground-ball percentage (at 43.5 percent) is the highest since before his metamorphosis, speaking to a change in swing angle. Martinez dropped his average launch angle from 13.4 degrees in 2016 and 15.2 degrees in 2017 to 10.6 degrees this season.Though Martinez is spreading his batted balls around more on the ground now, he’s always had power to all fields in the air, where he still wants to drive the ball. He had the seventh-highest rate of air balls hit to the opposite field this season at 47.7 percent.
Since that 2014 season, when he remade his swing, he has increased his opposite-field fly ball and line drive rate every year. But unlike many hitters, Martinez uses the opposite field for power. Martinez had the fourth highest home run-to-fly ball rate on balls hit to the opposite field this season. He hit .360 on balls to right field and slugged .919.But when he does pull the ball in the air, he’s even better. He hit .828 and slugged 1.813 on air balls he hit to the left side. At a time when so many complain about hitters not using the whole field, Martinez is doing just that.
Though Martinez has made plenty of changes, he’s still squaring up pitches like few major league hitters. Statcast’s “barrels” per plate appearances metric, which evaluates the quality of a hitter’s contact using exit velocity of ball off bat and launch angle, has him near the top of the leaderboard again this season — as he has been since the measure was introduced in 2015.
Over the past five years, Martinez has been at the vanguard of the sport’s trends. He may just be giving hitters a road map for adapting to an ever-changing game. (Travis Sawchik - MLB)
October 26, 2018: Martinez won MLB's most prestigious offensive prize. He won the American League 2018 Hank Aaron Award. A formal presentation took place on the field before Game 3 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium, with Aaron in attendance.
Nov. 8, 2018: Martinez had such an impressive offensive season that he pulled off an unprecedented feat, becoming the first player to win American League Silver Slugger Awards at two positions in the same season.The right-handed-hitting masher, who helped the Red Sox win the World Series, received Silver Slugger Awards at designated hitter and outfielder.
Martinez holds the record for the longest home run hit by a Detroit TigerJuly 21, 2015, vs. SEADistance: 467 feet Not to be outdone by Nelson Cruz's 455-foot shot in the top half of the third inning, Martinez one-upped Seattle's slugger in the bottom half with this impressive blast to straightaway center at cavernous Comerica Park.
Martinez described the swing that has produced 88 home runs and a 1.046 OPS over the past two seasons as “taught, not natural.” The fact that he’s honed it to near perfection doesn’t mean it’s not a continual work in progress.
“The moment you stop stop growing, you start dying,’ Martinez told me. “The moment you think, ‘My swing is perfect’… I mean, it doesn’t work like that. You have to stay on top of it. I’m keeping my swing the same, but at the same time, it changes every day. That’s because your body changes every day. You can’t go out there and have the exact same swing, because your body isn’t always the same. Some days you’re tired. Some days you’re sore. Some days your hand bothers you, or your wrist, your hip, your knee. Your swing adjusts every day to your body.” ( David Laurila - Fangraphs - December 23, 2018)
March 2, 2019: J.D. Martinez's big bat was on display for the Red Sox for the first time in Grapefruit League action against the Orioles, and it was a welcome sight. “As far as the hitter, he's the closest thing to Manny Ramirez,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “I said it last year, [and] I'll say it again, he's the closest thing to Manny.” Martinez is a modern-day Ramirez without all of the Manny-being-Manny drama.
“His approach, the way he drives the ball to right-center, that's what Manny did,” said Cora. “Make a mistake with the offspeed stuff then the wall was his friend. Manny will tell you that. You see J.D. with his approach in batting practice and all that, he doesn't pull the ball. When he pulls one over the wall, he gets upset, he wants to stay through it and get the barrel to the ball and then hit it in the air to right center.” (I Browne - MLB.com - March 3, 2019)
March 2, 2019: One of the bigger side benefits for highly touted Red Sox slugging prospect Bobby Dalbec in his first Major League Spring Training is that he has the chance to learn the art of hitting and preparation from J.D. Martinez. Nobody is better than Martinez at sharing his expertise, and it started earlier this week when the star DH was giving Dalbec a brief tutorial in the clubhouse.
“It'll be good for Dalbec to be around J.D.,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. We saw what happened last year with a few guys, not only with J.D., with other guys. The connection they have with [hitting coaches] Timmy [Hyers] and with Andy [Barkett], that's something we're very proud of. I like that. The more baseball talk, I said it last year, the louder, the more, the better it is for us."
Dalbec, Boston's No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is big presence at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds. He has the tools to be a big power hitter in the Majors. Lessons from Martinez can only enhance Dalbec's development.
“J.D.’s not a guy where it’s ‘his way' to the other guy. He looks, and it's not about launch angle and load with your hip or whatever,” Cora said. “He recognizes swings and he has a way of communicating what he feels in a very easy way. He's good at communicating. It's amazing. For how complicated it sounds, his swing and everything, when he talks to other hitters he makes it very simple, and I think that's a gift that he has.”
It is always interesting to see what type of impression a big prospect makes in his first camp, and Dalbec is clearly making a favorable one. “The one thing in a small sample size that I'm impressed with Dalbec is he controls the strike zone,” said Cora. “For the swings and misses everyone talks about and the numbers obviously, he shows that from college all the way to last year, although in the second half he was a lot better. I think that's something that J.D. does a good job of, staying off the edges of the strike zone, and Bobby so far has shown that as well.” (I Browne - MLB.com - March 2, 2019)
May 7, 2019: JD hit home run no. 200 of his career.
- As of the start of the 2020 season, Martinez had a .294 career batting average with 231 home runs and 711 RBI in 3,972 at-bats in the Majors.
- J.D. is a decent outfielder with a fairly strong and accurate arm. But he will never be more than average in the field.
- Martinez is pretty slow in the outfield.
- J.D. has below average speed.
- May 6-20, 2011: Martinez was on the D.L.
September 26, 2012: J.D. had surgery on his left hand. He said the hand had been a nagging problem since the beginning of the season. The pain subsided with ice treatment, so Martinez didn't think much of it. But then it got worse.
"I couldn't even catch the ball without pain," Martinez said.
Doctors found a small fracture in the hamate bone. Six weeks of rehab followed the surgery.
- April 20, 2013: Martinez went on the D.L. with a sprained right knee. J.D. suffered the injury in bizarre fashion, collapsing to the ground on a check swing during an Astros win over the Indians.
July 26-September 13, 2013: J.D. was on the D.L. with a sprained left wrist.
June 16-Aug 3, 2016: Martinez suffered a fractured right elbow after colliding with the outfield wall. He was placed on the 15-Day DL.
March 24-May 12, 2017: J.D. was on the DL as he was diagnosed with a sprain of the Lisfranc ligament in his right foot.
- April 27, 2019: A couple of hours before the start of the game against the Rays, the Red Sox scratched star slugger J.D. Martinez due to back spasms. Martinez is listed as day to day.
- Sept 17, 2019: J.D. Martinez exited with tightness in his left groin in the bottom of the sixth inning. He is day-to-day.