J.D. Martinez's elite ability to mash makes him the cream of this year's crop of free-agent hitters, but one of the most interesting things about him is where he crushed the ball in 2017: To the opposite field.
Martinez's 45 home runs and .690 slugging percentage would be enough to impress any suitor, but his all-fields ability especially stood out amid one of the best overall offensive seasons in baseball. It also raises the question: How might his bat play in the ballparks of the top contenders to sign him?
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Even with a quick glance at Martinez's spray charts, the cluster of home runs to right field, off the bat of a right-handed hitter, is eye-catching. And Statcast™ can help give some context for his opposite-field hitting, by dividing the field into three equal slices to sort his batted balls -- pull (left field for a righty like Martinez), center and oppo.
Martinez hit 19 opposite-field home runs this past season, the most of any hitter in the Major Leagues. Aaron Judge was next with 16. Compared to Judge, though, Martinez drove the ball out the other way at a much higher rate -- 43.2 percent of his home runs were to right field, compared to Judge's 31.4 percent clip. Of the MLB-record 117 hitters to hit at least 20 homers in 2017, only Eric Hosmer (48.0 percent) and Domingo Santana (44.8 percent) hit a higher percentage of them to the opposite field.
That also makes Martinez a different type of offensive force than, say, the free agent Mike Moustakas, who hit 38 homers last season but pulled nearly all of them (33) and hit only one to the opposite field. Martinez is far from a dead-pull hitter. Think about this: Only nine left-handed hitters in all of baseball had more homers to right field than Martinez in 2017. He had more opposite-field home runs than nearly every lefty had pulled home runs.
In fact, Martinez was the most productive hitter in all of baseball last year to the opposite field. He led the Majors in both OPS and wRC+ when hitting the ball the other way -- he had an 1.860 OPS to the opposite field, and a 361 wRC+ (league average is 100, meaning he was more than 3 1/2 times better offensively than the average hitter when going the other way). On "air balls" -- fly balls and line drives -- those marks jumped to a 2.028 OPS and 398 wRC+, also MLB bests.
But how would Martinez do in Busch Stadium, AT&T Park or Fenway? The Cardinals, Giants and Red Sox seem to be three of the most likely places for him to land this offseason. It's a similar list to the top trade partners for Giancarlo Stanton -- which is only natural, since both Martinez and Stanton are power-hitting right fielders -- with a similar list of pros and cons to the ones Stanton might face. No matter where Martinez hits, most of his homers would be going out, but his potential destinations still present interesting circumstances.
Despite the enticing 302 feet to Pesky's Pole in the right-field corner, Fenway Park might present some trouble to a hitter with Martinez's spray profile because the fence quickly moves out to 380 feet. A few of Martinez's 2017 homers might have trouble getting out to right at Fenway. As far as the Green Monster, Martinez would likely be in better shape than Stanton -- his average home run launch angle was a middle-of-the-pack 29 degrees, while Stanton's 26 degrees was one of baseball's lowest.
San Francisco could be one of the toughest places for Martinez to hit, at least from a power standpoint, due to its 25-foot-high wall in right field and "Triples Alley" in right-center. Of the 73 home runs hit by right-handed batters at AT&T Park in 2017, only four left the park to right or right-center, and none had a launch angle of 25 degrees or less (the high end of the "line drive" range). Five of Martinez's opposite-field homers last season had launch angles at least that low. Martinez hit a lot of long home runs to the right side of the yard, which would help him, but would he have always had the height?
And then there's St. Louis, with uniform dimensions and no high fences. It's not the short porch of Yankee Stadium, but there's plenty of room in right field for Martinez to drive the ball out at Busch. He's not losing many, if any, homers there. For a hitter with Martinez's 2017 spray profile, someone who drives the ball often and everywhere -- Martinez had 60 barrels this season, fourth most in the Majors, and the second-highest rate of barrels per plate appearance -- Busch Stadium is a fine place to play.
One important note for Martinez is that he thrived while with the Tigers and playing in Comerica Park, which is notoriously deep to center and right-center, so this doesn't mean he won't make an impact in Boston or San Francisco, it might just be diminished, from a home run standpoint, compared to a place like Busch Stadium.