Detroit Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez appears to be primed for an outstanding season in 2014. After missing the entire 2012 season, Martinez had a very slow first half in 2013 but he ended the year batting a stellar .301/.355/.430 with 14 home runs and 83 RBIs. He remained red-hot throughout the 2013 postseason, as he hit .450 in the ALDS and .364 in the ALCS. It is a relatively safe bet that he will drive in 100 runs this coming season for the first time since 2011.
The fact that Martinez drove in 83 runs in 2013 is extremely impressive when one considers his slow start in addition to the fact that the two players who batted in front of him, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, combined for 243 RBIs and did not leave much on the table for him. Martinez was essentially driving in their scraps, and there should certainly be more “ducks on the pond” for him in 2014 now that Fielder has moved on.
Although it is not set in stone, the Tigers’ 2014 lineup has seemingly begun to take shape. It is beginning to look like Ian Kinsler is going to be the Tigers’ new leadoff man, and Torii Hunter will return to the two-hole where he has found a great deal of success over the past two seasons. Cabrera, of course, is expected to return to the No. 3 spot, and Martinez is the obvious choice to bat cleanup. Therefore, Martinez should be given many opportunities to drive in runs with those three guys batting ahead of him. Granted, there will be more than a few times when Cabrera cleans up the bases with a home run, but Martinez should find himself hitting with runners in scoring position extremely often.
Cabrera can also be expected to draw a few more walks in 2014. When Martinez last protected Cabrera in 2011, Cabrera drew a career-high 108 walks and was intentionally walked 22 times. Martinez should provide more than enough protection for Cabrera, but his bat may not appear quite as threatening as a perennial 25-plus home run man’s such as Fielder’s in the minds of some opposing managers. There will most likely be times when managers walk Cabrera to get to Martinez during the 2014 season, but many of them will live to regret it after witnessing Martinez burn a liner through the gap.
It is true that Martinez no longer hits for the power he once did, and he has not reached the 20 home run mark since 2010 during his final season as a member of the Boston Red Sox. However, the Tigers do not necessarily need him to belt 20 home runs this season. During Martinez’s aforementioned 2011 season, he drove in 103 runs with just 12 home runs but he had 40 doubles, 178 hits and batted .330. His focus should be on putting up numbers along those lines once again as opposed to swinging for the fences and getting out of his element.
Although the Fielder-for-Kinsler trade was widely applauded by Tigers fans, it has left some wondering if Cabrera will be as well protected in 2014. But there is absolutely no need to worry. Martinez will do a fine job protecting Cabrera, and he can be expected to hit .300 and be among league leaders in doubles with well over 100 RBIs.