J.D. Martinez Can Still Provide Value (Fantasy Baseball)
J.D. Martinez showed that his 2017 was not a fluke in 2018, posting career highs in average, runs, RBI, and wRC+. However, the fantasy community is divided despite his ADP currently residing at sixth overall. He is ranked as high as the third-best player, but in some circles, he is as low as 18. To illustrate, his current ADP’s standard deviation of 3.5 is larger than best buds Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant.
There are certainly more question marks about Harper (park factor, doubts of if he’ll reach his ceiling) and Bryant (shoulder issues) than Martinez, so this is surprising to see. My aim here is to help show what Martinez’s value is in various leagues and get to the bottom of his somewhat divisive ADP. I will look at all aspects of his game, starting with…
When someone says the name “J.D. Martinez,” I immediately think of 1) overhauled swing, 2) top-five bat in the majors, and 3) World Series champion. Before 2018, of course, number three wasn’t on this list; instead, number three would have been “injury-prone.” Martinez shed that label in 2018, as he was allowed less opportunity for injury as a primary designated hitter for the first time in his career. He played only 493 innings in 57 games in the outfield compared to 945.2 innings in 113 games for the Tigers and Diamondbacks in 2017. Given that the Red Sox’s lineup will largely remain the same, we can expect similar usage going forward.
From 2014-2018 (2014 was when the swing change occurred), Martinez played in 123, 158, 120, 119, and 150 games, respectively. That’s two full seasons, and essentially three if you count the 17 games in Triple-A in 2014. His injury in 2016 was fluky—he hurt his running into a wall in the outfield (yeah, let’s hope he just DH’s). The other injury was a Lisfranc sprain in his foot at the beginning of 2017. While Martinez’s injury risk will always exist, it has been exaggerated to some extent, especially with him now DH’ing over 60% of the time. The glass-half-empty person will say playing the outfield 40% of the time is still too high for a poor and injury-prone defender. This is the main reason for some experts pricing him low.
Can He Keep It Up?
Some pundits will say Martinez’s 2018 was partially due to luck given his .375 BABIP (up from .327 in 2017). This led to a 9% increase in batting average, all the way up to .330. BABIP is more of a means to an end, so let’s dig into what drove that increase.
An initial look at his batted-ball profile reveals some concerns. His GB/FB ratio increased from 0.89 in 2017 to 1.28 in 2018, his highest since 2014’s breakout. His ISO decrease from .387 to .299 suffered from a drop in fly-ball rate (from 43% in 2017 to 34%). This helps us understand the substantial drop in ISO and why he managed “only” 43 homers.
However, that .299 ISO was still good for third in MLB last year, behind only Mike Trout and Khris Davis. He leads the majors in ISO since 2017, so there isn’t anything to worry about. Furthermore, his seasonal BABIPs from 2014-2016 are .389, .339, and .378. If anything, Martinez’s 2017 BABIP was an outlier. Clearly, his profile suggests he can keep up this elite (also ranked third from 2017-2018) BABIP by hitting line drives 22.5% of the time, which is above the 21% league average.
Despite the heavy increase in ground-ball rate, he still rates right in line with the league average. Subtly, where Martinez stands out most is an infield fly-ball rate, as his 2.7% rate is well below the league average of 11. These batted-ball stats are right in line with what he historically does. His elite stats, both in 2018 and historically, show that the main reason for his wide range in ADP is due to injury risk.
Other elite stats from Martinez include a 45% hard-hit rate. FanGraphs rates an “excellent” hitter to have a 40% hard-hit rate. His 11% soft-hit rate is also better than an “excellent” batter by four percent! Clearly, Martinez is elite.
So, what did Martinez improve upon in 2018? Consider yourself shocked, but there’s plenty. He managed to increase his plate discipline by dropping his K rate by 3.5%, to 22.5%. He has room to grow in this area, but this might be the only place he could substantially improve. He also held his walk rate steady, which makes him a great play for points leagues. This led to his OBP increasing to, you guessed it, an elite .402—up from a measly .376 in 2017 and .373 in 2016.
Improvements that could truly be considered lucky are both his runs (111) and RBI (130), both career highs as mentioned previously. Going from the terrible Tigers to a good-not-great Diamondbacks squad to World Series champions will absolutely boost those counting stats. So the increases are not entirely lucky by that extent, but he may have a difficult time replicating those tallies in 2019. Yet in this loaded lineup, and with rumors of Mookie Betts hitting second this year, Martinez should come close. Plus, that run total could also stay consistent if young players Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts keep developing as expected.
All in all, Martinez figures to be as good, if not better, in his age-31 season. The projections are volatile, but Martinez has consistently exceeded them in years’ past, so why would he stop now? You can rely on his high floor in 2019.
Where Does He Find Value?
Given Martinez’s propensity to have a double-digit walk rate while also cutting down on his strikeouts, Martinez best plays up in points leagues in 2019. In a points format, he approaches unseating both Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez as the third overall player since steals are not as much of a focus. In roto or head-to-head categories leagues, Martinez should be grabbed any time after pick four, as he is in heavy competition with Nolan Arenado for the fifth spot.