Nine home runs, eight strikeouts. Victor Martinez is in the zone.
The Detroit Tigers have been known for their vaunted offense, and 2014 has been no different. Through one quarter of the season, the Tigers are once again ranked top-10 in the majors in runs, and while the fantasy superstar Miguel Cabrera has obviously been a big component, Martinez has been the Tigers best hitter thus far. I mean, come on. In an era where everyone is striking out over 100 times per year, Martinez has one more homer than strikeouts at this point. That is an absolutely insane number, and, as one might assume, his 5.3 strikeout rate is easily the lowest of his career. Coming into the season, first base had a handful of strong options, but there wasn’t a ton of love for the likes of Martinez, who has that first base eligibility. The 35-year old switch hitter is dominating every pitcher he faces, whether lefty or righty. He’s batting over .400 against left-handed pitching, while .301 against right handers.
So how is he doing it?
Well, Martinez has always been a strong batter, so let’s not just assume this is a total fluke. Of course, major regression is looming, as he isn’t going to hit 20 home runs and strikeout 19 times. However, this is a career .304 hitter, who has batted .300 or higher in every season since 2009. This year, however, Martinez is getting under the ball more, sporting the lowest ground ball percentage of his career (38.0). As a result, his fly ball percentage of 39.5 is his highest since 2010. He’s one pace for over 40 home runs, which is obviously not going to happen, but the batting average– to an extent– is certainly sustainable. Martinez is a very smart, disciplined batter at the plate, swinging at less than 25 percent of pitches landing outside of the strike zone for his career.
As of this moment, Martinez is the number 18 overall hitter on ESPN’s Player Rater. I think he could see a bit of regression in the home run department, which may bump his value down a bit, especially when you consider that guys like Mike Trout and Chris Davis are going to get it going. However, there is no question that Martinez needs to be viewed as at least a top-10 fantasy first baseman. Batting in the middle of an elite lineup, protecting Miguel Cabrera, Martinez will see plenty of RBI opportunity for the rest of the season.
I would not be looking to sell high.