Was J.D. most important player in 2018?

Although not an AL MVP Award finalist, career year, leadership set pace for WS champs

November 9th, 2018

Usually when I find myself agreeing with Scott Boras on just about anything, I simply lie down and wait for the feeling to pass. But when Boras is right, he's right. And he's right to make some noise about the fact that his client J.D. Martinez is not among the finalists for the American League MVP Award.
"There's a complete misunderstanding of the value of the player," Boras said the other day on MLB Network Radio.
Again: He's right. Absolutely.
Martinez just became the first player to be awarded Silver Slugger Awards at two positions, designated hitter and outfielder, in the same season. Now, everybody knows he is more DH than outfielder, especially on a team that has one of the great defensive outfields in history, with , and . But Martinez still managed to play enough games in the outfield (57) to make some history for himself.

Listen, nobody would suggest that Martinez is the kind of all-around player that the three AL MVP Award finalists -- Betts, , -- are. Betts and Trout, in particular, play baseball with a ton of Willie Mays in them, and there is still no higher baseball compliment than that. And there will always be debate in the game about whether you are supposed to be voting for the best player or the most valuable, and how in the world there is a difference between them.
But I will say this again: There was no more important player in baseball this season, in either league, than Martinez. The Red Sox made one significant addition to their batting order last offseason. It was Martinez, who had personal bests across his stat line: Hits (188), doubles (37), batting average (.330), on-base percentage (.402) and total bases (358). He ended up with 43 home runs. He knocked in more runs (130) than anybody in the game for a team that won 108 regular-season games and then went 11-3 in the postseason.

Most importantly, Martinez became the kind of dangerous middle-of-the-order presence that the Red Sox had been missing since David Ortiz retired. And when he got to the postseason with the best chance he'd ever had to win a World Series, Martinez was the same guy in October that he had been since the regular season started for the Red Sox in St. Petersburg at the end of March. Somehow, rather unbelievably, that got lost a little bit, just because there were so many other good stories and so much October drama with the Red Sox.
There was the redemption of . There were the bullpen heroics of and Chris Sale and even Joe (Fight Club) Kelly. There was the remarkable bases-loaded catch that Benintendi made to save Game 4 of the AL Championship Series. There was a catch-that-wasn't by Betts against in the first inning of Game 4, a play on which umpire Joe West (correctly) ruled fan interference. There were some theme-park ninth innings from , most notably against the Yankees in Game 4 of the AL Division Series. There were those incredible 18 innings against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the World Series.
And there was the night at Yankee Stadium when the Red Sox rang up the Yankees for 16 runs, as hit for the cycle.
Through it all, there was always Martinez. He may have made the biggest swing of his season in the first inning of Game 1 against the Yankees, with a three-run homer off J.A. Happ. And Martinez was just getting started. He would end up with five hits in each of the Red Sox's three series in October. Martinez ended up hitting a smooth .300 (15-for-50), and he hit three home runs. He played 14 postseason games and knocked in 14 runs, with an OPS of .923.

So Martinez really was the same guy in October that he'd been all year long. For my money, he continued to be Boston's most important player when all the money was on the table. The idea that somehow Martinez isn't viewed as one of the three most valuable players in his league is a notion that requires a laugh track.
"I think it was everyone," Martinez told NESN at the Red Sox's championship parade, talking about a Red Sox team that ultimately won those 119 games. "Everyone just being so humble. There were no egos -- ever. No one ever put themselves first and everybody kind of just pushed for each other."
So much of this culture started with the manager, Alex Cora, who had the best postseason any manager has ever had. But the more you talk to people with the Red Sox, the more you hear about how the clubhouse presence of Martinez, as serious a student of hitting as any current player, was as important to the wonderful culture surrounding the 2018 Red Sox, and he carried them to the parade as much as anyone in the room. Then he just kept delivering on the field, all the way until he hit one more home run in Game 5 of the Series against the Dodgers.
This is nothing against those ahead of him in the voting for an award his electrifying teammate, Betts, will likely win. But nobody was more valuable in baseball this season than J.D. Martinez.