St. Louis Cardinals: Deciphering Jose Martinez’s 2019 season
By Matt Graves
Jose Martinez had his first down year with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019. With a deeper dive into statistics, why did the year go this way?
Jose Martinez’s story will always be a great one filled with perseverance. From starting with the White Sox Rookie league team in 2006 at 17 years old to two other teams before finally being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016, still at AAA. While Martinez did play in 16 games that year, he was debuting at age 27 after 10 seasons in the Minors.
The one thing that Jose Martinez always did was hit and smile. In his first three years with the Cardinals, that was no different.
In those first three years, Martinez hit a combined .309/.372/.478 slash line with 32 homers and 130 RBIs. He played first base and outfield, but I think we all know that he is never going to win a Gold Glove. However, when you hit as he did, the team could live with his subpar defense.
2018 was Martinez’s best year where he played in 152 games and finished top-10 in the league with a .305 batting average. His 17 homers and 83 RBIs were a solid pairing with the average and he looked to have carved himself out a role in the outfield rotation of Dexter Fowler, Harrison Bader, and himself.
However, that was not the player he was in 2019. In 2019, Martinez’s OPS fell to .751 as his slash line fell to .269/.340/.410. Martinez had about 66% of the at-bats he had in 2018, but it was a large enough sample to tease out some conclusions.
First off, Martinez was at least slightly unlucky. Looking at baseballsavant.com, Martinez’s batting average should’ve been three points higher at .272 and his slug should’ve been way higher at .466. Adding to this, his BABIP fell from .351 to .328 in 2019. With BABIP, both those numbers are technically “above average” meaning he was slightly less lucky in 2019.
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In any hitting, it can never be a bad thing to hit the ball hard. In his previous years, Jose Martinez’s average exit velocity sat right at 90.5 mph. In 2019, that dropped almost 2 mph to 88.6 mph. In general, a way to get luck on your side in baseball is to always hit the ball hard. That makes mistakes easier to happen. When you lose, on average, 2 mph on all your hits, luck can run out.
Coming along with the drop in exit velocity is a 5% drop in barrel percentage and a jump in strikeouts, as you would expect. There was no change in how often Martinez pulled the ball or hit the other way, there was also no change in what pitches were thrown to Martinez.
In 2018, Martinez faced 63% fastballs, 27.4% breaking balls, and 9.6% offspeed pitches. In 2019, it was 61% fastball, 29.5% breaking balls, and 9.4% offspeed.
If you click here, you can see that in 2018, pitchers pitched around him more and did so all over the zone. By comparison, there is a clear difference here which illustrates that pitchers attacked him down and away and threw him more strikes (which is backed up with statistics) in 2019.
So basically, MLB found out how to attack him, and that is to go for low and away which makes sense for a tall hitter who has an upright stance.
Therefore, that is what Martinez needs to fix. As far as how to do that, I haven’t the slightest idea, but there is the problem and the explanation for his struggles in 2019. It all makes sense though. If Martinez struggles to get to pitches on the lower outside quadrant, that would lead to weaker contact off the end of the bat and would also explain the drop in launch angle from 8.0 degrees to 6.8 degrees.
Again, I’m no swing doctor, but I can tell you why and what made Martinez worse in 2019. Looking to 2020, he is going to have to make the adjustment and fix this weakness. Adjustments like these are what separates the boys from the men in terms of length of time in the league.
Martinez will be a big part of the bench this year, even if he never has the chance to start regularly. When he’s on, he can carry the offense. When he’s off though, there is no justification to play him because of the defense he provides. To play, he’s going to have to hit.