The Detroit Tigers have endured several bumps in the road during the 2014 season. Nevertheless, they have a one game lead on the Kansas City Royals with six games remaining, and are virtually assured of at least a wild card berth. Designated hitter Victor Martinez has been a rock in the middle of their lineup. After an unimpressive 2013 season, Martinez has turned in one of the top offensive seasons of 2014.
Martinez was signed to a four year deal worth $50 million in the 2010 offseason. His power numbers took a hit in his first year in Detroit, and he hit only 12 home runs. However, he helped to compensate by hitting .330 with a .380 on-base percentage. But, in offseason training he would tear his ACL and miss the entire 2012 season.
While Martinez maintained his usual low strikeout rate when he returned in 2013, his power numbers continued to decline, as his isolated slugging percentage fell from .141 to .129. Overall he managed a .301 batting average, but his .355 on-base percentage and .430 slugging percentage were rather pedestrian for a designated hitter. Martinez appeared to be in serious decline.
This season the 35 year-old has experienced an impressive resurgence. He’s tied for 9th in the major leagues with 31 home runs, which represents a new career high. At the same time, he’s set a career low with a 6.5 percent strikeout rate. Martinez and Jose Bautista are the only players that have walked more times than they have struck out.
His .407 on-base percentage is tied with Bautista for the best mark in the major leagues. Only Jose Altuve has a higher batting average than Martinez’ .336 mark, and only Mike Trout and Jose Abreu have a higher slugging percentage than his career-best .566.
All in all V-Mart has been a huge offensive force for the Tigers. His 166 wRC+ is tied with Abreu for second behind Trout’s 170 wRC+. In the month of September he’s been absolutely phenomenal. Martinez is batting .397 with a .476 on-base percentage and .644 slugging percentage. Over 84 plate appearances he’s struck out only once. His swinging strike rate is a minuscule 1.9 percent in the month of September.
With teammate Miguel Cabrera also producing excellent numbers in September, the Tigers offense has been ferocious. This team doesn’t have a ton of depth in their lineup, and the bullpen has been a mess, but with top end offensive talent in Cabrera and Martinez as well as a surprising J.D. Martinez, they have scored the third most runs in baseball.
Much has been made of Justin Verlander‘s decline, but with Max Scherzer, David Price and Rick Porcello along with Anibal Sanchez coming out of the bullpen, this is a team that should fare well in October even if Verlander doesn’t bring his best stuff. If they can avoid the wild card game by holding off the Royals, the Tigers will be the team to beat in the American League.