Victor Martinez was always a good hitter, but he is on the verge of setting some personal bests this season. The man is on fire. He was hot in April and in the hot weather he has been just as sizzling at the plate.
It was not so long ago that the 35-year-old catcher-designated hitter couldn’t even walk. The fourth-year Detroit Tiger missed the entire 2012 season because of a knee injury, a blow to the team at that time that seemed likely to ruin its pennant hopes.
Things didn’t turn out that way and even though there were doubts about how well Martinez could rebound from a possible debilitating injury, he has, if anything, been a better player since his comeback.
A native of Venezuela, Martinez has been in the majors since 2002 when he broke in with the Cleveland Indians. He is a five-time All-Star and was once viewed as perhaps the best catcher in the American League. After leaving Cleveland for the Boston Red Sox Martinez morphed into more of a DH and that’s what his job is for the Tigers.
He is one of the big bats for Detroit, which on any given day can be the best offensive club in the AL. To some degree Martinez has been regularly overshadowed by teammates such as Miguel Cabrera and earlier Prince Fielder. But except for that knee catastrophe he has been a constant and is definitely one of the main reasons why Detroit has been viewed as a regular pennant contender over the last few years.
Only a couple of years ago Cabrera was a Triple Crown winner, but this season Martinez is outdoing him in some of those key offensive production categories. Through Sunday’s play, as the Tigers continue to claw for a playoff spot, Martinez was batting .328 with a .396 on-base percentage. His best prior season was a .330 mark in 2011.
In 118 games the 6-foot-2, 210-pound switch-hitting Martinez had 25 home runs and 84 RBIs. Sunday, in a 13-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins, Martinez cracked three hits and knocked in four runs. Last season, in 159 games, Martinez finished with 14 homers and 83 RBIs.
No More Catching
Martinez doesn’t do much catching anymore, but those 25 four-baggers equal his career high. He has driven in more than 100 runs in a season three times and he should come close this season. He would have to keep up a torrid pace to climb over 100, but the way Martinez his slugging right now he could do it.
Unless he goes into a tailspin – and it would take some slump at this point – Martinez will hit .300 or higher for the 8th time in his career.
Given his stats and his repeated All-Star status, somehow it seems Victor Martinez has still been underrated when the best current-day hitters are discussed. It will be a legitimate question to ask how long Martinez can keep this up beyond 35, especially with his lucrative Tigers contract expiring after the 2014 season.
During his four years in Detroit, Martinez has been paid either $12 million or $13 million per season. The price is expensive, but Martinez delivered good value despite that lost year.
It is not clear if the Tigers will re-up for another multi-year contract at a high price, but by bouncing back from injury Martinez has shown that his knee should not present a lingering question. The guy is simply a big-time hitter and any team should be happy to have him.