Red Sox: J.D. Martinez’ 2018 season tops any by a first-year hitter in Boston

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox hits a grand slam during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on April 11, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox hits a grand slam during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on April 11, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

J.D. Martinez is having the best run-producing season by any slugger in their first season wearing a Boston Red Sox uniform.

It’s safe to say that J.D. Martinez has turned out to be an excellent free agent acquisition for the Boston Red Sox. A bolder statement would be that his first season in Boston has been better than any we’ve ever seen by a hitter in their first season with the franchise.

There are many ways to value position players. Some hit for average or possess blazing speed on the base paths while others have exceptional defensive skills in the field. Martinez was brought to Boston to hit homers and drive in runs. When comparing him to other sluggers who the Red Sox acquired for their ability to hit, none have made a better first impression than Martinez.

Entering the final regular seasons series against the New York Yankees this weekend, Martinez finds himself near the top of most offensive categories. He’s hitting .330/.403/.629 with 42 home runs, 81 extra-base hits, and a league-leading 127 RBI.

He’s going to fall short to teammate Mookie Betts (.346) in the batting title race and catching Khris Davis in home runs (47) seems like a long shot yet the fact that we are even tracking Martinez’ Triple Crown chances this deep into the season shows how incredible he’s been.

Martinez swatted his 42nd home run of the season on Wednesday to tie the franchise record for homers by a player in their first season with the Red Sox. He was previously tied with Jimmie Foxx (1936) and Manny Ramirez (2001) until his latest blast matched him with Dick Stuart.

Stuart had a career-year when he joined the Red Sox in 1963, setting personal bests with his 42 home runs and league-leading 118 RBI. He also hit only .261 with a .833 OPS that season. Nothing to scoff at but those numbers don’t put him in the same stratosphere as Martinez.

When we start to compare Martinez to the two sluggers he passed on the home run list, now it starts to get interesting.

Foxx is a Hall of Famer who came to Boston as a two-time MVP winner. He hit .338/.440/.631 with 41 home runs and 143 RBI. Those numbers are essentially the same as Martinez’ with the only significant differences being that Foxx walked more often to produce a higher OBP and drove in more runs.

Does that mean Foxx had a better first year in Boston? His RBI total ranks second among hitters in their first year with the franchise while Martinez is fourth on that list.

However, we can’t ignore that these performances came in drastically different eras. Martinez has the major league lead in RBI by a comfortable margin this season. Foxx finished a distant third in 1936 behind Hal Trosky (162) and Lou Gehrig (152). Foxx also walked more often in part because the lineup he was in lacked any other power threats, making it easier to pitch around him.

A fair comparison needs to include more advanced metrics that are scaled to league average. Martinez has a 174 OPS+ and 170 wRC+ this season, both of which top Foxx’ 155 OPS+ and 150 wRC+ from his Boston debut.

The common statistics are relatively even aside from the ones influenced by the lineup they hit in, while the advanced metrics heavily favor Martinez. Therefore, he gets the edge.

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Manny Ramirez set the bar for high-priced free agents making a splash in their first season with the Red Sox. He hit .306/.405/.609 with 41 home runs, 125 RBI, a 162 OPS+ and 156 wRC+ in 2001. The advanced metrics favor him over Foxx while The Beast has him beat by quite a bit in the other categories outside of home runs. You can debate which means more yet regardless of if you side with the new wave analytics or old-school approach, Martinez has Manny beat.

We can’t have a conversation about the best hitters in Red Sox history without bringing up Ted Williams. No hitter in franchise history has driven in more runs in their first season in Boston than the Splendid Splinter did in 1939. Only Williams wasn’t a free agent or trade acquisition. This was his rookie year! Teddy Ballgame hit .327/.436/.609 with 31 homers, 145 RBI, a 160 OPS+, and 156 wRC+ that season.

Martinez isn’t the frontrunner for AL MVP but he’ll earn his fair share of votes and should finish in the top three. Foxx can’t say the same, finishing only 11th on the ballot during his first season in Boston. Manny finished 9th in 2001. Stuart was 13th in ’63 and didn’t even make the All-Star team. Even the great Ted Williams couldn’t crack the top three, finishing fourth in his rookie season.

Next. Betts joins 30/30 club. dark

When considering all factors – home run and RBI totals, slash lines, advanced metrics, and where the placed among their peers in the era they played – it’s clear that Martinez has been better this year than any of these other greats were in their first season with the Red Sox.