Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez ends home run drought

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 18: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a two run home run during the sixth inning of game three of the 2021 American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on October 18, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 18: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after hitting a two run home run during the sixth inning of game three of the 2021 American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on October 18, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /
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Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez powered up against the Yankees

J.D. Martinez found his power swing just in time to help the Boston Red Sox split a four-game series with the New York Yankees at Fenway Park.

The Yankees jumped out to another early lead but the Red Sox were able to chip away on a night where the ball was flying out of the park. After an RBI double from Christian Vazquez brought Boston to within two runs in the fifth inning, Martinez followed with a two-run homer that tied the game.

Martinez swung at the first pitch from Yankees starter Jameson Taillon, a 90 mph cutter that he left belt-high over the middle. The ball traveled 393 feet to right-center field, landing in the Red Sox bullpen.

This was the first home run by Martinez since June 14 against the Oakland A’s. He had homered three times in a four game span, then his power stroke mysteriously vanished. Martinez had gone 25 games, 93 at-bats and 103 plate appearances without a home run, his longest drought since 2013.

Martinez is still having a strong season despite the dip in home runs. He’s hitting .311 and his 27 doubles are tied with Rafael Devers for the second-most in the American League.

The uncharacteristic power outage has been concerning though. If we ignore his miserable performance during the shortened 2020 season, Martinez is on pace for his fewest home runs lowest slugging percentage and lowest ISO since 2013, which was before he revamped his swing to revitalize his career with the Detroit Tigers.

Statcast data shows Martinez is still a power threat but he’s well below his normal production. Martinez typically ranks in the top 10 percent of the league in Hard Hit percentage and average exit velocity. He’s still well above-average in the 73rd percentile but his 44.8 HardHit% and 90.2 average exit velocity would be his worst non-2020 rates in the Statcast era, per Baseball Savant.

His home run against the Yankees is notable not only for snapping his homerless streak, but also for where it landed. This was only the second home run that Martinez has hit to right field this season. He’s hitting the ball to the opposite field at a career-high 33.0% rate but it has mostly been singles with some scattered doubles down the right field line. His power has been predominately from the pull side. Using the entire field hast been a boost for his batting average but he isn’t tapping into his power to left field.

He’s a complete hitter who is capable of driving the ball to right-center, although that’s not typically the territory Martinez should be targeting at Fenway. Pulling the ball toward the inviting green wall in left field is the best way for him to pile up doubles and homers in this park. The right field wall angles sharply as it moves toward right-center, which makes it more difficult for a right-handed hitter to hit one out to the opposite field. Martinez has developed a frustrating habit of hitting fly balls in that direction that turn into long outs.

Martinez has proven he can hit the ball out of the park to all fields in previous seasons. While the results from this season and declining Statcast data suggest that ability might be dwindling, Sunday’s homer could be a sign that he’s getting his timing back to return to his previous form.

It’s possible that this is merely an outlier on a night where the teams combined for five home runs. Martinez’s opposite-field home run could also be the spark he needs to regain his power stroke for the second half of the season.

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