The Dodgers saw Trea Turner and Justin Turner depart this off-season via free agency leaving a massive void in the lineup. LA signed J.D. Martinez in an attempt to combat losing two of the team’s best hitters.
The righty slugger has been one of the best players at the dish since the start of the 2014 season. Although last year was arguably the worst full season of his career since his time with the Houston Astros. Not including the shortened 2020 COVID season, Martinez posted his worst batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage and home run total since 2013. Now it’s not to say he had a bad year as Martinez posted a solid triple slash line of .274/.341/.448 to go along with 43 doubles. Only 12 of those went to right field which is an indicator that he might’ve benefited a bit from the configurations of Fenway Park. Needless to say, Martinez regressed in 2022 and for any 35-year-old hitter that is cause for concern. When looking under the hood there are some unnerving trends that might cause Martinez to take a larger step back in 2023.
The most concerning trend for me personally when evaluating Martinez’s analytics is his overall dip in average exit velocity. In 2021 it was 92.1 mph, which was in the top 10% of qualified hitters. However, in 2022 it dropped down to 89.1 mph which sat in the 51st percentile. Notably, it was lower than his 2020 season (89.5 mph). It wasn’t a case where Martinez struggled mightily against one pitch type which pulled down his overall numbers, as his exit velo dipped against all three groups. His exit velocity against fastballs went from 93.7 MPH in 2021 to 91.8 mph last season. Against breaking pitches, it decreased from 91 mph to 85.9, and against offspeed pitches it fell from 87.8 mph to 84.5.
When looking at how Martinez handled himself in terms of overall numbers against each pitch group there are some encouraging and discouraging trends. His xBA and xwOBA against fastballs held firm as his xBA went from .309 in 2021 to .313 in 2022 and his xwOBA jumped from .396 to .413. Traditionally when a batter's bat speed or bat to ball skills start to fade with age, the first thing that goes is their numbers against fastballs as they struggle to keep up with them, but that was not the case for Martinez.
It was a different story though against breaking and offspeed pitches. His xBA against breaking balls plummeted from .245 in 2021 to .191 in 2022 and his xwOBA went from .332 to .260. Against offspeed pitches he saw a similar drop with his xBA going from .303 to .223 and his xwOBA crashed from .385 to .308. His whiff rate against fastballs did increase for the fourth consecutive season, creeping up from 22.8 percent to 23.5 percent, but overall, that is not an alarming number.
Martinez’s overall whiff rate fell into the 17th-lowest percentile at 30.1 percent, the highest it has been since his 2017 season. Additionally, his chase contact rate of 51.4 percent was the lowest it had been since 2016. His in-zone swing and miss percentage was 21 percent, the highest it has been since his 2017 season. It wasn’t a drastic increase as it was 20 percent in 2021 and 20.3 percent in 2020.
Martinez’s batted-ball profile did change in 2022 compared to the two prior seasons. From 2016 to 2019 Martinez had a ground ball percentage of 38 percent or higher in each while it was 43 percent or higher three times in that span. Then in 2020 and ‘21 it dropped to 35.1 and 34.1 percent respectively while his fly ball percentage increased to 35.1 and 31.5 percent, the first time it was over 26 percent since the 2017 season. In 2022 Martinez’s ground ball percentage jumped up to 38.2 percent, closer to his career average of 39 percent, while his fly ball percentage dropped down to 30.8 percent, only 1.6 percent above his career average.
Now with all of the data discussed above in mind, I think we see Martinez take a small step back from his 2022 season. It is impossible to ignore a player of his age having such a drastic decrease in average exit velocity. Then on top of that seeing his numbers against breaking and offspeed pitches slipping significantly. It does offer a bit of hope that his numbers against fastballs were largely the same in 2022 as they were in ‘21, but it is not enough for me to expect him to rebound from last year’s dip in production.