Here's why J.D. Martinez is a surprisingly good fit at Citi Field

March 26th, 2024

New Mets designated hitter J.D. Martinez is “the smartest hitter ever,” according to Mets reliever Jake Diekman, who was also teammates with Martinez in Boston in 2022. That's a reputation the slugger has long since earned.

That's why our eyebrows rose when we saw Martinez explain to’s Anthony DiComo why he’d declined to accept a reported offer from the Giants earlier this winter. It was, apparently, because he didn’t think pitcher-friendly Oracle Park would be a good fit for his skills.

“If I go there and I hit .260 with 20 [home runs],” Martinez said, “people are going to say that I’m old and I’m washed up and I’m kind of done, and [I’ll] find myself out of the game. I wanted to give myself the best opportunity.”

Fair enough. He’s not wrong about San Francisco, which rates 24th for right-handed hitters in park factors from 2021-23, and third from the bottom if we’re just looking at 2023 alone. There’s a reason that it’s been more than two decades since a right-handed Giants hitter managed to post a 30-homer season; it’s a deeply unfriendly place to hit. The problem is, Citi Field is just as tough, if not tougher; over the last three seasons, Citi Field is tied with Seattle’s T-Mobile Park for the least friendly place for right-handers to hit.

So while not wanting to play in San Francisco because of the park makes sense, following that up by agreeing to play in Queens seemed more than a little confusing. But it’s also hard to believe Martinez was mistaken or uninformed in his decision-making, because Diekman’s praise matches well with descriptions of Martinez’s attention to hitting detail that we’ve heard for years.

As it turns out, he’s onto something, unsurprisingly. Citi Field really isn’t a great hitters park, not for most right-handed batters. But Martinez, clearly, is not most right-handed batters – and going to Queens might just fit his particular style of hitting much better than it seemed on the surface.

How is that possible? Let’s investigate.

Consider the 34 homers Martinez hit last year, including the one he hit in the postseason against Arizona. If he played every game in Oracle Park, Statcast tracking suggests he would have only hit 24, his fewest of any park. (This figure is adjusted for the various effects of altitude, temperature and environment, as laid out here, and it primarily is about the different heights and distances of fences around baseball’s inconsistent ballparks. Think about it like this: A short porch homer in the Bronx might only be out of one or two of the other parks.)

That’s not really surprising. As we said, it’s been decades since a righty had a 30-homer season while calling Oracle home.

You might think that Citi Field would follow suit, that the 34 homers he actually hit would have come out to something like the 24 that Oracle would have yielded. But it’s quite the opposite, surprisingly – if Martinez had played every game in Queens, he would have hit 39 homers, which would have been the fifth-most of any park for him.

It’s like that almost every year, too. Martinez has six seasons since this kind of tracking became available in 2016 where he’s hit at least 20 home runs (including postseason), and every year, he’d have done better in New York than San Francisco.

  • 2016 // 22 actual // 24 NY // 19 SF
  • 2017 // 46 actual // 47 NY // 32 SF
  • 2018 // 46 actual // 44 NY // 34 SF
  • 2019 // 36 actual // 38 NY // 28 SF
  • 2021 // 31 actual // 33 NY // 24 SF
  • 2023 // 34 actual // 39 NY // 24 SF

All told, since 2016: His 238 total homers would have been 251 in New York, and just 187 in San Francisco. Obviously, there’s not a scenario where a player doesn’t play half his games on the road, and we’re not trying to adjust for the different schedules those teams may play, but the point here is clear: Even though the park factors are bad for hitters in both parks, the way he hits really does seem better suited to Citi.

Why? The answer can be seen, to some extent, in this home run he hit last year against Mets reliever Dominic Leone at Citi Field.

That’s a home run that would have been out of 29 parks in the Majors. But it wouldn’t have been out of Oracle Park, given Triples Alley – the high-walled, deep right-center canyon that probably still gives Brandon Belt nightmares – and it’s one of seven homers that Martinez hit last year that A) would have been out of at least 20 of the 30 parks and B) would not have gone out in San Francisco.

You can already guess what they look like. Here’s a Coors Field shot that would have hit Triples Alley (and remember, we’re reducing the distance that Coors provides). Here’s one in Dodger Stadium that almost certainly hits Triples Alley in San Francisco. Here’s another one, verbatim. Here’s one in Atlanta that would have hit – wait for it – Triples Alley. It’s not that San Francisco never gives back; for example, this double off now-teammate Sean Manaea would have made it out in San Francisco. It just takes more than it gives.

But it’s easy to see how this works for Martinez, when you first compare the fences of Oracle Park to Citi Field, with the excess space in San Francisco marked in pink. Triples Alley is 415 feet away from home, with a wall 20 feet high. The same point in Citi Field is about 380 feet, with a wall 8 feet high.

For most right-handed hitters, maybe that’s not a meaningful difference. But as we said, Martinez isn’t “most” hitters.

Over the last five years, 49 right-handed hitters have launched a hard-hit ball 300-plus feet away at least 250 times, which is to say, the kind of batted ball that might become an extra-base hit, or even a home run. You’ll be unsurprised to know that the pull-heavy Nolan Arenado has hit the lowest rate of those balls to center or right field, just 40% of them. You’ll also be unsurprised to know that Martinez is just about near the top of the list of those who go that way the most often.

Highest center/oppo rate, right-handed hitters, 2019-23

  • 84.8% // DJ LeMahieu
  • 76.1% // J.D. Martinez
  • 75.8% // Trey Mancini
  • 75.8% // Nick Castellanos
  • 75.7% // Tommy Pham
  • 75.1% // Bo Bichette

Of hard-hit balls hit at least 300 feet, min. 250

It’s no accident, either. It’s been this way for years. Way back in 2015, FanGraphs called Martinez a “Right-Handed Lefty Power Hitter,” noting his propensity for going the opposite way. In 2018, the Boston Globe pointed out that “there are other players who hit opposite-field homers ... but no one does it with the frequency, and on the types of pitches, that Martinez does.”

That being the case, it absolutely makes sense why he'd want to avoid Oracle Park as much as possible -- and why he might not consider Citi Field to be as damaging to his prospects as most righties.

Still, Citi Field really isn’t a great place to hit. (And Martinez hasn’t hit great there, for the record, with a .196/.229/.348 career line, although no one should put much stock into 48 scattered plate appearances, especially when a third of those have come against Jacob deGrom, Kodai Senga, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.) If the favorability of a home field was the only thing that mattered, Martinez would have looked to sign with the Reds or White Sox, setting aside the actual roster fits there.

But for Martinez, declining to play in a poor hitter’s park to go to another poor hitter’s park makes a whole lot more sense than it seems. Most hitters can’t conquer Citi Field. Martinez isn’t most hitters. He’s been proving that for more than a decade now.