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Martinez aims to get his defensive groove back

Gold Glove Award finalist in 2015 had sharp decline in metrics last year
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- J.D. Martinez read the defensive metrics on him last year. His feelings on the drop were as stark as the numbers.

Martinez was ticked, he said.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- J.D. Martinez read the defensive metrics on him last year. His feelings on the drop were as stark as the numbers.

Martinez was ticked, he said.

"I was really bothered by that," Martinez said, "because I take pride in it. And for it to go down that much ... I want to really make it a point this year to go the extra mile in a sense."

Martinez was an American League Gold Glove Award finalist in 2015. He led all AL right fielders with a .993 fielding percentage, and he finished third among AL outfielders with 15 assists. He had a 7.7 Ultimate Zone Rating, or 8.0 UZR per 150 games -- third among Major League right fielders -- and four Defensive Runs Saved.

Those metrics plummeted last year. His UZR dropped to minus-17.2, his Defensive Runs Saved to minus-22, both easily the worst among Major League right fielders. He was so stunned by them that he asked around to figure out the difference.

Some differences were easy to spot. His assists dropped from 15 to three, and his errors rose from two to six, all fielding miscues. More subtle was the difference on how many plays he made as judged by degree of difficulty.

Even-chance plays, those judged by Inside Edge to be converted at a 40-60 percent rate, hurt him. Martinez went from 50-50 on even-chance plays in 2015 to 1-for-6 last year.

"I remember looking at it," Martinez said, "and it's like: You have a 50 percent chance of catching a ball, 75 percent chance of catching a ball, and no chance of catching a ball. And the reason you were so low was that 50 percent of the balls that you should've been able ... to catch, you didn't catch five or six of them. Who decides that? How close does the ball have to be in order for them to know you should've caught that, or that it was a 50 percent chance?"

Though it's early, Martinez is fielding plays in right field with a purpose this spring. He has unleashed a handful of strong throws already to either throw runners out at third base or hold them at second or third. He feels more agile, and he looks more comfortable in the field running towards the line or the fence.

There's a potentially big personal benefit if Martinez can turn his metrics around. He's up for free agency next winter, and as the last two offseasons have shown, defensive metrics and reputation are making a bigger difference in contracts for outfielders. Jason Heyward's megadeal with the Cubs a year and a half ago is a major example.

"The market's obviously changed in that sense," Martinez said, "but that's so far ahead, honestly my mind's not even there. Right now, I don't ... care about that. I just really want to worry about this season and this team. I think we have a really good chance."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.

Detroit Tigers, J.D. Martinez