You may find yourself saying, “How could Victor Martinez, the #5 hitter in the batting order of a 1st place team be hurting his club?” after reading that headline. Its simple, Victor Martinez is not only not providing the value a #5 hitter should be, he’s actually providing less value than Brennan Boesch was at this time last year and he was run out of town.
Lets take a quick look at the stats so far this year:
That top line is Victor Martinez so far this year, the bottom line is what Boesch was hitting through June 6 of 2012. The difference is minimal, eerily similar in most categories, but the difference in WAR (both performed worse than a minor leaguer) is that Boesch provided defense and didn’t run around the bases like he just had his knee repaired.
As the regular DH for the Tigers, the only thing Martinez needs to be doing is hitting. He is clearly not. Of the 10 regularly used DH’s in baseball, only Victor Martinez has a negative WAR and the next closest to his lowly OPS is Luke Scott of the Tampa Bay Rays and his OPS is .695, over 100 points higher than Martinez.
Of the 8 players with at least 150 plate appearances batting 5th in the order, Victor Martinez is 8th in OPS, another point that separates him and Boesch. Boesch was generally no higher than 6th in the order and usually 7th or 8th, where his extra bit of offense occasionally was unexpected and a surprise. As a #5 hitter, Martinez is expected to be knocking in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, two players hitting in front of him that are both getting on base at least 4 out of every 10 at bats.
Victor Martinez is clearly not Brennan Boesch, but what the above statistics show, is that Martinez is by no means helping this team beyond his reputation this season and soon, teams will be pitching around both Cabrera and Fielder to get to Martinez, as he is providing no protection to the middle of the order.
Maybe Martinez can turn around his season, his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is a career low .243, meaning he is well below league average as well (usually .290-.350). Therefore, he could be getting unlucky early in the season on balls in play and could progress back to the mean and more balls will fall in, his OPS will rise and he will start contributing to the team.
But, until he does turn it around, is it time to adjust the batting order? Jhonny Peralta is hitting well, the second best WAR on the team behind Miguel Cabrera, could he and Martinez simply flip spots in the order? It is possible, or perhaps, Torii Hunter, who is very adapt at putting the bat on the ball could drop down to 5th in the order once Austin Jackson comes back and he could provide the protection behind Fielder and let Martinez drop even further into the order to 7th or 8th.
If Hunter were to vacate the 2nd spot in the order, Omar Infante could be moved up in his place and still keep an active bat in that position. Either way (or a third way that some one else comes up with) should all be considered. Victor Martinez is clearly not 100% from missing a full season late in his career and despite the 1st place position of the Tigers, it is simply not something they can continue to ignore.
Jim Leyland likes to favor his veterans and can be way too patient with them and will most likely continue to do so with Martinez, but he really needs to look at overall performance, even though he won’t.