J.D.'s incredible season hidden in plain sight

September 19th, 2017

Maybe this statistic will blow you mind like it did mine: does not lead the Major Leagues in slugging percentage. Well, technically he does, because the two players ahead of him don't quite have the plate appearances to qualify.

One of the two players ahead of Stanton is -- no surprise there. Trout's .638 slugging percentage is just a shade better than Stanton's .632. Trout, incredibly, is having his best offensive season yet. But it won't look that way, because he missed almost 50 games with injury.

Esurance MLB Awards: Vote J.D.

But the other player's slugging percentage is 45 points ahead of Stanton.

The other player is the first Major League history to win a Player of the Week award four times.

The other player is hitting a home run every 9.8 at-bats -- an even higher rate than Stanton. He is the first player since Barry Bonds to average a home run in less than every 10 at-bats. He is also the 18th player in baseball history to hit four home runs in a game. He also has three opposite-field home runs this year of 425 feet or more, which isn't exactly a statistic, but it's plenty awesome.

The other player, as I'm sure you could tell from the headline and various photos and videos surrounding this, is Arizona's J.D. Martinez.

Martinez's season is staggering -- 40 homers and 91 RBIs in 109 games; that .677 slugging percentage; he's hitting an impossible .388/.470/.906 against lefties -- and few can see it, because it is almost the perfectly camouflaged season.

The concept of camouflage is fascinating; there is camouflage where you are trying blend into the background, but there's another kind -- a more familiar kind -- called "disruptive coloration." I'll probably get this wrong, but as I understand it, the concept behind disruptive coloration -- used in army fatigues and hunter's camo, for instance -- is to use a bunch of contrasting colors to break up the view. The eye sees the colors without seeing the whole.

Well, Martinez's season is broken up in several ways. First, his season didn't start until May 12. He missed more than five weeks with a foot injury. So there was no April buzz about him.

Second, Martinez was traded midseason from Detroit to Arizona. When a player gets traded, his year-long statistics are rarely considered. D-backs fans only really care what he has done for Arizona (and he's been ridiculous, hitting 24 home runs in 52 games).

Third, Martinez has been an underrated, under-the-radar player for years. He wasn't a hot prospect. Martinez was released by Houston in 2014. He began hitting immediately once he joined Detroit, but even the Tigers were a bit skeptical and took time before making him an everyday player.

Martinez's rise reminds me a bit of my friend Raul Ibanez -- they are similarly sized players from the Miami area. Both were late Draft picks, both could really hit, neither could really run and both were hard-working but limited defenders who had to work very hard to prove to teams that they could help by playing every day.

Video: 2017 MLB Awards: Best Performance - J.D. Martinez

And Martinez is -- I don't think Ibanez would disagree -- an even better hitter, because of his immense power, especially to the opposite field. He feasts on four-seam fastballs. Martinez is slugging .958 this year on four-seam fastballs -- the harder the better. Using Statcast™ numbers, Martinez has the second-highest barrel rate in baseball behind (barrels, you will recall, are balls with an exit velocity of at least 98 mph and with a launch angle that produces extra-base hits -- usually home runs).

For pitches 95 mph or harder, Martinez has the best barrel rate.

Throw all that together, and you have an amazing season that is so broken up, the eye has a trouble time finding it. Sure, everyone perked up a bit when Martinez hit four homers in a game against the Dodgers, but generally, he has been out of sight. (I mean "out of sight" literally here, not as a 1970s Ohio Players reference -- though in this case, that works, too.)

Here's another interesting part of Martinez's amazing season. Take a look at some of his raw numbers for Detroit (57 games) and for Arizona (52 games):

Tigers: .305 average, .630 slugging percentage, 16 homers, 1.018 OPS

D-backs: .290 average, .725 slugging percentage, 24 homers, 1.086 OPS

By those numbers, it looks like Martinez has been better since he got to Arizona. But his OPS+ -- that is, his OPS adjusted for league and ballpark context -- is the same in both parks: 163 OPS+. Martinez is the same hitter, but he moved from a somewhat neutral home run ballpark to one of the best homer parks in the Major Leagues. He moved from the American League to the National League; there are numerous numbers and facts that show the AL is the tougher league.

And so Martinez's power numbers go up while he remains constant.

You do have to wonder what Stanton, who plays half his games in extremely pitcher friendly Marlins Park, would do if he played half his games at Chase Field instead. Or maybe you don't have to wonder. Maybe Martinez is showing us.