The playoff slugger crushing every mistake

October 20th, 2021

Of course, you never want to make a mistake to , one of the best hitters in baseball. But you really don't want to make a mistake to him right now.

In a Red Sox lineup that's been carrying the team through the playoffs, Martinez is batting .379 and slugging .759 with three home runs entering the pivotal Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros. And the way he's putting up those numbers is by leaving pitchers no room for error.

Martinez is crushing everything that pitchers are leaving up and over the plate in the playoffs. If you're facing him, you just can't miss with your pitch location. That adds even more pressure to Houston pitchers when the stakes of every pitch are already magnified, with the series tied and a World Series berth coming down to the final three games.

This postseason, against pitches in the upper two thirds of the strike zone, Martinez is batting .500 and slugging 1.056. Nine of his 11 postseason hits, and all three of his home runs, have come against those pitches.

He's seen 33 total pitches in the upper two thirds of the zone. One out of every four of those has gone for a hit. One in 11 has left the ballpark.

The mistake could be a hanging breaking ball -- like the Phil Maton slider he smoked over the Green Monster in Game 3 of the ALCS, or the Matt Wisler slider he drove out to dead center at The Trop in Game 2 of the AL Division Series against the Rays.

Or it could be a fastball that the pitcher just didn't elevate enough -- like his line-drive, opposite-field grand slam in Houston to open the scoring in the first inning of ALCS Game 2. If you don't hit your spot, Martinez is doing damage.

Now, you might look at his numbers and think, a hitter as good as Martinez probably just always crushes mistakes. And it's true that Martinez's numbers against pitches left up in the zone are always good. But what he's doing this postseason takes it to another level.

Martinez vs. pitches in the upper two thirds of the zone
Since joining BOS: .360 BA / .712 SLG, H on 1 in 8 pitches, 9% HR/PA
2021 reg. season: .339 BA / .675 SLG, H on 1 in 8 pitches, 8% HR/PA
2021 postseason: .500 BA / 1.056 SLG, H on 1 in 4 pitches, 17% HR/PA

There's one last thing, too: You won't be able to sneak anything by Martinez. He's swung at 32 of those 33 pitches in the upper two thirds -- 97%. So if pitchers are looking for a free strike, they're not going to get it there.

Compare that to Martinez's swing rate vs. pitches in the upper two thirds of the zone during the regular season, which was 80%. Or to his swing rate vs. those pitches since joining the Red Sox in 2018, which is 78%. He's always attacked them, but now he's attacking all of them.

So either keep the ball down, or get Martinez to chase (except he might hit those pitches, too, like the changeup well below the strike zone that he ripped down the line for a double in ALDS Game 2). And whatever you try to do against him, you absolutely have to execute. Otherwise a great hitter in a high-powered offense is going to beat you when it matters most.