Sunday Notes: J.D. Martinez’s Swing Adjusts Every Day To His Body

J.D. Martinez received a lot of props this year for how he helped his Red Sox teammates approach at bats. A direct correlation between the cerebral slugger’s arrival in Boston and the increased offensive production from the likes of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts is impossible to prove, but there’s no disputing his influence. Few hitters hone their craft as studiously — and pass on their knowledge as effectively — as does Martinez.

A question about his mindset jump-started a conversation this summer. I asked the outfielder/DH if he processes information in much the same manner on both sides of the ball. In other words, does he approach defense — 83% of his career games have been in the outfield — like he approaches offense.

“That’s kind of a weird question,” opined Martinez. “I think I evaluate them the same, but you’re not going to be as analytical with your defense, because there’s not nearly as much data to help you go about it.”

I countered that a lot of work goes into defense, including how to position opposing hitters against certain pitchers, and in different counts.

“Yes, but that’s more the coaching staff telling you,” responded Martinez. “Players don’t do that research. That’s more of how the organization wants to position you. Hitting is ultimately on your own. 100%. A hitting coach is watching nine guys every day for 27 outs — he can’t see everything — and isn’t going to know you as well as you know yourself. I’m one of the most analytical people in the game as far as studying my swing. I videotape everything I do. I break everything down as much as I can, every single day.”

Martinez described the swing that has produced 88 home runs and a 1.046 OPS over the past two seasons as “taught, not natural.” The fact that he’s honed it to near perfection doesn’t mean it’s not a continual work in progress.

“The moment you stop stop growing, you start dying,’ Martinez told me. “The moment you think, ‘My swing is perfect’… I mean, it doesn’t work like that. You have to stay on top of it. I’m keeping my swing the same, but at the same time, it changes every day. That’s because your body changes every day. You can’t go out there and have the exact same swing, because your body isn’t always the same. Some days you’re tired. Some days you’re sore. Some days your hand bothers you, or your wrist, your hip, your knee. Your swing adjusts every day to your body.”

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Paul Goldschmidt is among the players who have gained from Martinez’s presence. The two were together with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the final months of the 2017 season, and despite being an elite hitter in his own right, Goldschmidt was more than willing to tap into his contemporary’s expertise.

“I was talking to him every day,” Goldschmidt told me this summer. “He’s one of the best hitters in the game, and being right-handed-hitting, middle-of-the-order power guys, we shared a lot in common. There were similarities as far as how teams would pitch us, and what we were trying to do against certain pitchers. He takes a lot of notes, probably even more than I do. I was in awe of the way he went about things, and the way he played.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

John Henry went 2 for 3 against Iron Davis.

Newt Hunter went 2 for 5 against Nap Rucker.

Johnny Groth went 2 for 6 against Connie Grob.

Heinie Sand went 2 for 9 against Rosy Ryan.

Chappy Charles went 2 for 24 against Orval Overall.

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I didn’t include it in Thursday’s interview as I wanted to stay on point with the subject at hand, but Chad Pinder praised a pair of Houston Astros pitchers in our recent conversation. He was especially complimentary of a former Cy Young Award winner who deserves to have more than just one on his resume.

“Going up against the Astros staff was crazy,” the Oakland infielder/outfielder told me. “The first time we faced Gerrit Cole… first off, this guy is absolutely disgusting. But I was like, ‘He’s learning from Verlander.’ He was an elite talent before that, and this year he was even better. He took whatever information Verlander and the Astros gave him and became even more elite.”

The specifics of that information can only be speculated upon, but one thing is certain: Cole’s two-seamer usage plummeted. Previously in the high teens, it was a paltry 3% in his first season in Houston. Elevation became a bigger part of his game than ever before.

“He did that in a hitter’s park, too,” said Cole. “Same with Justin Verlander — a lot of four-seamers. But he’s pitched that way for a long time. Verlander is Verlander. He’s going in the Hall of Fame someday.”

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Meanwhile, I realized after the fact that I neglected to include a good line in Wednesday’s Thomas Pannone feature. I’d written it down on a copy of the Blue Jays roster, having already turned off my digital voice recorder, when the southpaw — describing his approach to pitching — uttered a quote that has been attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

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Here’s a followup to December 9th’s column, where Rochester Red Wings broadcaster Josh Whetzel shared a story about the legendary Steve Dalkowski:

Joe (Altobelli) managed the 1971 Rochester Red Wings, who were led by Bobby Grich and Don Baylor,” said Whetzel. “They also had a utility infielder on the team named Ron Shelton, who would later write and direct ‘Bull Durham.’ Shelton says that he got the idea for the Nuke-Crash relationship from stories Joe told about his days trying to ‘babysit’ Dalkowski on the 1963 Red Wings team.”

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BONUS HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS — BROTHERS EDITION

Jesus and Matty Alou went a combined 8 for 11 against Tom Parsons.

Lloyd and Paul Waner went a combined 9 for 10 against Lynn Nelson.

Dom and Joe DiMaggio went a combined 12 for 15 against Bump Hadley.

Ted Uhlaender went a combined 1 for 19 against Joe and Phil Niekro.

Rusty Torres went a combined 2 for 30 against Jim and Gaylord Perry.

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The Today’s Game committee voting Harold Baines into the Hall of Fame has elicited some snarky, ‘Hey, then Nick Markakis belongs too’ comments on social media. While not entirely fair to either party, the longevity-and-consistency similarities driving the comparison do have some merit (the degree to which snark has merit is debatable). The value of such workmanlike careers was touched upon in this space by Joe Torre last Sunday.

Today we’ll hear from Atlanta’s Brian Snitker. He’s one a handful of managers I broached the subject with during the Winter Meetings. Perhaps not surprisingly, he namechecked Markakis.

“All these guys, they want to play as long as they can,” said the Braves skipper. “Look at Nick Markakis, the longevity he has, the success he’s had, how he goes about it… I’m still amazed by the boring pros that played this game for a long time and how much respect I have for them. You can’t appreciate them until you see them on a daily basis — that steady, even-keel attitude that they bring to the game, their approach and their work ethic.”

Snitker wasn’t saying that Markakis is on a Hall of Fame track — nor am I — but his admiration for players of that ilk was evident. Understandably so. What manager wouldn’t want a player he could comfortably pencil onto his lineup card day after day, year after year?

Boring as he may be, Markakis has averaged 154 games played, 253 total bases, and 2.5 WAR annually over 13 big-league seasons. Cooperstown worthy? No, it would be a stretch to suggest that he is. Deserving of respect? That shouldn’t even be a question.

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Asked during the Winter Meetings about his team’s pursuit of free-agent relievers, Derek Falvey made it clear that leaping headfirst into the fray wasn’t part of the plan. The Twins’ executive VP said they were “surveying” the scene, and based on direct conversations with agents had “a decent feel for where the market is.”

A few relievers have come off the market since that time, although that may not be particularly impactful to the Minnesota baseball club. Falvey and company would certainly like to acquire a big-ticket item like Craig Kimbrel — or even a tier-below asset like Adam Ottavino, Zach Britton, or David Robertson — but the purse strings are probably too tight for such an acquisition. Falvey hinted at that by pointing to internal options — Trevor May in particular — who could, assuming full health, step up their games and fill any existing voids.

As for how the Twins project the performance of potential additions —
year-to-year volatility being a given for bullpen arms — that’s something Falvey wasn’t about to go into detail about. He was willing to address the subject in general terms.

“It’s tricky, right? Relief pitching has always been, as you alluded to, a little more of an up-and-down area relative to some of the other positions in term of projection,” he told me. “The term we use is ‘optimize.’ There are some pitchers out there you may look at and say ‘That’s maybe not the optimal usage for his stuff.’ You bring that up in the conversation during the course of (a possible) acquisition. You don’t want to sign a guy with the idea that you want to optimize what he’s doing, and then realize that he’s not willing to have that conversation.”

I asked if any such conversations had taken place so far this offseason.

“We’ve had one,”answered Falvey. “It was just broad topic, kind of ideas of how to use the stuff. He was (receptive). At the end of the day, players just want to be good. If there’s a path to a player being a better version of himself, most of the time they’re going to be open to it.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Was Joe Kelly’s October success small-sample luck or the result of actual changes? Mike Petriello explored that question — in typically nerdy fashion — at MLB.com.

At The Seattle Times, Geoff Baker wrote about why Dr. Lorena Martin, the Mariners’ former high-performance director, is suing the team for racial and gender discrimination.

Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler battled depression throughout a challenging 2018 season. Derrick Goold wrote about it at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Over at The San Francisco Chronicle, Susan Slusser wrote about how top prospect Jesus Luzardo is drawing raves and appears to be a lock for the Oakland A’s starting rotation.

The Phillies are rebooting their minors hitting program with a 28-year-old who’s never played or coached pro ball. Matt Gelb has the story at The Athletic.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

On this date in 1986, Dave Stapleton signed as a free agent with the Seattle Mariners after seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox. Stapleton subsequently retired after being released in spring training, thus having played his entire career with decreasing batting averages: His yearly BAs, beginning in 1980, were .321, .285, .264, .247, .231, .227, .128.

Playing primarily for the Philadelphia Phillies, “Indian Bob” Johnson logged a 139 adjusted OPS from 1933-1945, and was All-Star seven times. He topped out 0.8% in Hall of Fame balloting.

In 1977, Red Sox right-hander Reggie Cleveland pitched a nine-inning complete game in which he allowed 18 hits and fanned just one batter. Boston beat the Tigers by a score of 12-5.

From 1934-1940, in his age 21-27 seasons, Cleveland Indians first baseman Hal Trosky batted .314, had a 136 adjusted OPS, and averaged 29 home runs and 122 RBIs annually. Dogged by severe migraine headaches, Trotsky went to play just 312 more games over the next six seasons.

Jim McCormick had a won-lost record of 20-40 pitching for the Cleveland Blues in 1879. The following year, he went 45-28. The Glasgow, Scotland-born hurler tossed 1,204 innings over those two seasons.

George “White Wings” Tebeau batted .326 for the 1885 Cleveland Spiders. His teammate, and younger brother, Patsy Tebeau, batted .318.

Kevin Santa, a 23-year-old infielder who attended the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy, has slashed .298/.364/.386 since being selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 19th round of the 2017 draft. No one with the surname of Santa has played in MLB.

Holly Hollingshead played for the Washington Nationals from 1872-1875.

Dasher Troy played for three teams — the Detroit Wolverines, Providence Grays, and New York Metropolitans — from 1881-1885. Troy drew his last breaths in Ozone Park, NY in 1938.

Per his page on baseball-reference.com, Rudolph Claus Blitzensen played from 2009-2014 in the Woodshop Summer League, Arctic League, and Holiday League. In 2008, he was “not allowed to play in reindeer games.”

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: J.D. Martinez’s Swing Adjusts Every Day To His Body by David Laurila!

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