Damn J.D. Martinez’s right foot. If the then-Tigers outfielder hadn’t sprained it back in Spring Training earlier this year, keeping him off the diamond until mid-May, who knows what kind of season he would have had. Watching Martinez smash the ball silly in Arizona—and seeing his home run total swell to something amazing for a full season, let alone for 116 games—has been as frustrating as it’s been breathtaking. As it stands, we can still marvel at what he’s done in 2017, but I can’t help but pine for the glory that he might have been achieved in a full season’s worth of work.
Martinez was extremely good with the Tigers in the first half of the year, hitting .305 with 16 dongs in just 57 games. It was no surprise, but it was an impressive further development for a player who previously had mostly provided reinforcement behind the superstardom of Miguel Cabrera. In 2017, though, he got his own spotlight, as his play earned him a trip away from the tanking Tigers and into Arizona, where he found another gear and became one of the game’s best hitters in the second half.
Plus, he’s only getting hotter. Martinez has hit homers in five of his last six games (45 total), including a clutch shot in the ninth inning today*:
Seriously, J.D. will not stop hitting dongs—especially as the games have become more meaningful:
Anytime you hear, “The last person to do this was Barry Bonds,” it’s time to bow down. Even as Giancarlo Stanton ate up headlines after the All-Star break with his prodigious pursuit of taters, Martinez kept blasting off. As of this evening, Martinez is hitting dongs at a rate of one per 2.58 games, while Stanton is going yard every 2.72 games. Obviously, the more games one plays, the tougher it is to keep up a pace—and Stanton remains one of the most exciting players baseball has to offer—but just because Martinez missed April doesn’t mean that he can be shrugged off.
It’s inconceivable, too, if you go back a few years, that Martinez would be an everyday starter in the majors, let alone the leading slugger on a playoff-bound team. In 252 games with the Houston Astros from 2011-13, Martinez put up a total fWAR of -1.1, with an OPS of just .650 in his last year, after which he was released. It wasn’t until he made it to Detroit that he became a world-beater, and with the extra muscle and growth he’s shown this year, pitchers would be advised to underestimate J.D. at their own risk.
The fact that Martinez split his time between leagues in 2017 makes MVP talk a little tricky, so it’s likely that he won’t get much official recognition for his achievements this year. If he keeps this pace up into the playoffs, however, that won’t matter much. The play-in game can be a crapshoot, sure, but if the D-Backs survive that one-game coin-flip, the Dodgers—who already saw four Martinez dongs in one night earlier this month—need to watch the hell out.
*This post originally called Martinez’s homer a game-tying dong by mistake. It actually cut the Giants’ lead down to 3-2, with the D-Backs eventually winning 4-3.