Red Sox: Bet on J.D. Martinez having a bounce-back season

BOSTON, MA - JULY 31: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox hits a solo home run in the fourth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on July 31, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 31: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox hits a solo home run in the fourth inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on July 31, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez is primed for a bounce-back season

Few hitters in baseball had a more disappointing season than J.D. Martinez but 2021 is an opportunity to turn the page for the Boston Red Sox slugger.

Martinez saw his production plummet across the board last season, hitting a pitiful .213 with a .680 OPS, seven home runs and 27 RBI in 54 games. His lack of defensive or base running value combined with his meager production at the plate left him with a -0.6 WAR, making Martinez arguably the worst player in the majors.

Alex Cora wasn’t in the dugout this year but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t watching. Now that he’s returned to his managerial role with the Red Sox and had the chance to connect with Martinez, Cora is confident that his star designated hitter will return to form next season.

"“He’s very important. I’m not a gambling man, but I’ll bet you a dollar that J.D. will have a better season,” Cora told reporters, per NESN. “I watch a lot of games, I’m watching a lot of videos, it was a different hitter. One thing for sure, he’s going through his offseason as normal as possible. He’s swinging the bat already, working on a few things. I know he recognized towards the end of the season, probably during the whole season, what was wrong with him, but he wasn’t able to take it through the batter’s box.”"

Martinez was an All-Star in each of his first two seasons with the Red Sox. He earned a Silver Slugger award in 2018 when he led the league with 130 RBI and was a dark horse candidate for MVP. The talent is clearly there, which made it all the more perplexing that he suddenly fell off a cliff this year.

You would be hard-pressed to find an offensive category where Martinez didn’t regress but one that stands out the most is his inability to hit a fastball. Martinez hit .186 with a .372 slugging percentage against the fastball last season compared to a .318 average and .574 SLG the previous year. His drastic decline in exit velocity and hard hit percentage are at least partially related to failure to punish pitches he historically has obliterated.

More from Red Sox News

While age is creeping up on the 33-year old, his struggles don’t appear to be the result of any physical decline. It seems more mechanical with Martinez looking uncharacteristically uncomfortable in the batter’s box and unable to find his timing.

Martinez has blamed these issues on the COVID-19 restrictions that prevented him from having access to video during games, a routine he often used to make adjustments between at-bats. MLB might implement similar rules to start the year but the league shouldn’t need to enforce them for the entire season as a vaccine for the virus becomes more widely available. Even if Martinez isn’t allowed access to video, at least he should be used to it by now and more adaptable to the change.

He was swinging a hot bat in the small sample we saw in spring training, only for camp to be interrupted for months by the pandemic. Players were rushed through an abbreviated summer camp in July and the highly unusual circumstances left many unprepared. Martinez was hardly the only superstar to struggle in the shortened 2020 campaign.

Martinez is a creature of habit so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he didn’t respond well to having his routine severely disrupted. A normal offseason should allow him to get back on track and give him time to explore what was wrong with his swing. A full training camp that hopefully won’t include a three-month hiatus will help Martinez hit the ground running when the season begins.

Next. Six-man rotation should be on the table. dark

Cora is confident that Martinez will show up next season prepared to deliver the type of results he came to expect during his last stint as manager of the Red Sox. While some may view that as coach-speak in an effort to build up the player’s confidence, I’m siding with Cora on his bet that Martinez will bounce back. If I were a gambling man, I’d wager more than a dollar on that bet cashing in.