Despite depth concerns mostly due to the losses of shortstop Trea Turner and his chosen replacement in Gavin Lux, the Dodgers this year lead the National League in runs scored (5.56 per game), and home runs (113).
The usual suspects are all thriving, with Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, and Will Smith having outstanding campaigns. Beyond that, perhaps no lineup swap has made a larger effect than that of J.D. Martinez replacing long-time franchise stalwart Justin Turner as the team’s primary designated hitter.
In a de facto trade of free agents, the Dodgers opted to sign Martinez on a one-year deal worth $10 million, while the Red Sox replaced him with Turner on a two-year, $21.7-million contract. Turner’s second year is a player option that, if he opts out, could make his deal with $15 million over one year.
Losing a stalwart of this extremely successful decade-plus of Dodger baseball was quite significant, but at the same time, it felt like the right time for a change of scenery for both parties. And as it turned out, the Dodgers found a cornerstone of this year’s offense, in Turner’s replacement.
Martinez, much like Turner, saw Boston let him go after a gradual decline in his production. Despite making the All-Star team in 2022, Martinez saw a big dip in his power numbers, putting up a .448 slugging percentage, well short of his first days in Boston. And that’s not to mention his disastrous 2020 campaign (.213/.291/.389).
All in all, it felt like the best years were behind Martinez, but reuniting with Dodgers hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc, who originally worked with him in the swing overhaul that saved his career, Martinez is experiencing a resurgent year, currently leading the league in slugging percentage (.619).
Setting aside the general optimism that Martinez most likely had something more in the tank than Turner, before this season, it’s not as if his 2022 production was a liability, in fact far from it.
Martinez had a 117 OPS+ in 2022, which falls right in line with Justin Turner’s final two seasons with the Dodgers (119). Acknowledging that and the fact the Dodgers didn’t have to guarantee him a second season in his contract, the move had its merits even before this big bounce back.
Right now, it looks like a massive steal, as the 35-year-old is hitting like the premiere designated hitter in the sport, with 16 homers, .926 OPS, and 141 OPS+ across the first 11 weeks of the season.
While Turner has more or less followed his career trajectory, putting up very nearly the same hitting line he had last season, which albeit decent is hardly outstanding (109 OPS+).
How great of a season will Martinez have? It is still a little too early to know, but it’s nearly a certainty it will be far better than anything Turner does with the Red Sox, and amongst the best in one of the finest lineups in the sport.
As far as what has led to the success of Martinez in 2023 there isn’t a great deal of mystery. 35.3 percent of all his plate appearances have ended with a hard-hit ball (95+ mph), whereas that mark was at 27.3 percent last season. For context, the league average is 27.3 percent.
If you go by Baseball Savant’s hard-hit rate. Over half of his batted balls qualify as hard hits (54.3 percent), which sits in the top five percent of the league.
Even the most optimistic fans couldn’t have foreseen such a huge impact from Martinez in the beginning of his Dodgers tenure, and the torment of facing him in Arizona across that ridiculous second half in 2017 is barely a memory at this point.