It was the late hours of October 10, 2016 at Fenway Park. David Ortiz, the Boston Red Sox’s heroic slugger for over a decade, stood at the top of the home team’s dugout stairs and emotionally bid his adoring fans farewell. It was the very last time he would ever don a Red Sox uniform.
Fast forward to October 9, 2017. The Red Sox were walking off of the field at Fenway Park after losing their ALDS matchup for the 2nd year in a row. The 2017 iteration of the Sox hit a grand total of 168 home runs, ranking 27th out of the 30 MLB teams. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Hanley Ramirez, guys who had career years in 2016, struggled greatly for various reasons. Bogaerts and Ramirez were battling with injuries, and Mookie was never really solidified in a certain spot of the batting order, but the pressure that they and the rest of the Red Sox squad felt due to the absence of a true power bat in the lineup can’t be discounted.
Fast forward to February of 2018. J.D. Martinez finally inked his long awaited deal to come to Boston and play for the Sox. His acquisition came with expectations. He’s expected to continue his nearly dominant 2017 in which he blasted 45 home runs for the Tigers and D-Backs. He’s expected to hit .300 with 30 home runs, but more so, he’s expected to relieve that pressure to produce the power numbers that went missing with the departure of Big Papi that was hurled upon the rest of the lineup’s shoulders. And so far, now 44 games into the season, he’s met, and even exceeded, those expectations.
Martinez is currently sporting a .344/.394/.656 slash line. He’s 3rd in the MLB in BA, SLG, and OPS. His 13 home runs also ranks 3rd, and his 38 RBI ranks 2nd. He’s hitting .370 at home, where 4 of his 7 home runs have gone to right or right-center, the area where many said his power wouldn’t translate at Fenway Park. Most importantly, though, his teammates at the top and in the middle of the order are producing as well.
What makes Martinez so good is that he’s a student of the game. He’s said himself that he’s not a “natural hitter,” and unlike those who are natural hitters, he can’t rely on feel when perfecting his swing, so he studies film of his swing like the Bible. He even goes so far as to film his BP sessions to watch and critique, but that’s not the only film he studies.
Martinez caused a small bit of controversy when he adamantly stated that he still wants to play in the outfield, despite being signed primarily as a DH and the fact that Boston possesses 3 of the more talented defensive outfielders in the league. He’s never been known to excel defensively; he lacks the speed to chase down fly balls to the deep gaps and the instincts necessary to truly be great with the glove. Despite, or perhaps because of this fact, Martinez has worked tirelessly with the Red Sox coaching staff to improve his defensive abilities. He studies defensive metrics and film to learn both the best routes to take to balls hit his way and the best method for playing balls off the wall.
To put it plainly, he has put in an immense amount of effort to better himself in all aspects of the game. That’s clearly showing in his production both with the bat and in the outfield, and it’s one of the big reasons that Boston is being taken seriously as a legitimate contender for a World Series title this year.