'IT'S BASICALLY HIS TEAM': J.D. MARTINEZ IS A FORCE IN EVERY WAY FOR THE RED SOX
By Tom Verducci
There is no Boston Break-in for J.D. Martinez. The Red Sox free agent addition has defied the conventional wisdom of Boston’s in-house stats gurus by hitting right out of the gate.
History and internal analysis in recent years prompted Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski to temper expectations for first-year performance in Boston for major additions (Edgar Renteria, J.D. Drew, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, et al.). But Martinez is tied for the league lead in homers and leads in RBI and total bases while hitting a career-high .325.
Not only has Martinez produced, but he also is the one finally filling the clubhouse void of David Ortiz—and doing so in his own way as one of the game’s greatest hitting wonks.
“He’s really stepped forward,” manager Alex Cora said. “Not in a rah-rah way, but you can tell that he has become comfortable as the year has gone on to speak up. He’s constantly helping others. And we need it.
“Look, we have a third baseman who is 21 [Rafael Devers], a shortstop [Xander Bogaerts] who is good but doesn’t understand how great he can be, second basemen who are sharing a role [Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt], a first baseman [Mitch Moreland] who is a veteran but is trying to prove his worth, Christian [Vazquez] and Sandy [Leon] are young catchers, Mookie [Betts] is not real vocal, Jackie [Bradley] may be our strongest personality but he has struggled at times and Benny [Andrew Benintendi] is only in his second year.
“It’s basically his team. In the clubhouse, in the cage, he leads in his own way, especially with hitting. The man knows his stuff.”
Just how hard does Martinez hit the ball? Check this out, because nobody is close to him as far as consistently hard contact:
Most Balls Hit 100+ MPH
Balls Hit 100+ MPH
1. J.D. Martinez, Red Sox
2. Jose Abreu, White Sox
T3. Marcell Ozuna, Cardinals
T3. Matt Olson, A's
T3. Manny Machado, Orioles
He turned around his career with not just a major swing change but also with focused determination to learn as much as he can about hitting and pitch sequencing. His default style is to get the barrel on plane with the pitch as soon as possible—catching fastballs deep and breaking balls out front, which happens to be the exact opposite of how many hitters (including Martinez) were taught as developing players.
This chart will tell you all you need to know about his approach. It’s a split of his home runs this year, not just by direction but also by the speed of the pitch. The harder the pitch, the more likely he is to hit it the other way. If the pitch is softer, the barrel remains in the zone so that he is able to pull it with power, rather than having the barrel already out of the zone. Great hitters such as Mike Trout and Aaron Judge work with the same approach.
J.D. Martinez 2018 Home Runs by Direction & Pitch Speed
Average Pitch Velocity
Finally, a quick story about Martinez’s leadership. Devers, who has tremendous raw power and a quick bat, happens to be the fourth worst hitter this year off fastballs (.192). That just should not happen with his skill set. But Devers is a mechanically flawed hitter. For the first two months he was hitting with his hands high and his stance open, and then he would pull his front hip open before his hands came through in attempts to pull home runs.
Martinez went to him with some setup changes about two weeks ago. Devers lowered his hands, ditched the open stance for a more neutral one, and focused on keeping his front hip in longer—something Martinez does as well as anybody in baseball. Devers has been better since then. In addition, the Red Sox banned Devers from taking batting practice on the field, where his love of putting on home run displays was developing his bad habit of flying open. He hits in the cage, where ball flight doesn’t matter.
In ways both obvious and subtle, Martinez has put his mark on this team—and done so immediately, where so many others had failed.
BUY, SELL OR HOLD? DECIDING THREE TEAMS' TRADE DEADLINE FATE
By Jon Tayler
With just over a month until the trade deadline, teams around the league have begun the process of figuring out what they need to stay in contention, or what to sell amid a rebuilding season. But for a few squads, the coming weeks will be all about deciding whether or not to go in on playoff dreams or call it quits early. Here’s a quick look at three teams in the middle and whether they should buy, sell or hold.
Sell: Minnesota Twins (34–40, third place in AL Central; 11 GB in AL wild card)
This time last summer, Minnesota was over .500 and neck-and-neck with Cleveland in the division before ultimately selling at the deadline after a down July, then made the playoffs anyway thanks to a red-hot August. Flash forward a year, and the Twins once again look like they’ll be moving veterans thanks to a bad combination of injuries and poor performance from key contributors.
That said, there’s some upside currently on the shelf in Ervin Santana (who’s missed the whole year with a finger injury), Byron Buxton (who’s played just 28 games because of various maladies) and Miguel Sano (currently in the minors after hitting just .203/.270/.405 in 163 plate appearances). If those three can get right and back, and veterans Brian Dozier (91 OPS+) and Logan Morrison (78) can find their strokes, the Twins could make some August noise once again. However, it’d likely be too little and too late: Already eight games back in the Central and even further out in the wild card, Minnesota’s playoff odds are a mere 4.7%. A second straight second-half surge looks rather unlikely from here. Expect the Twins to be fielding calls in July instead of making them.
Hold: Los Angeles Angels (41–37, third place in AL Central; 6 GB in AL wild card)
The presence of Mike Trout alone should keep the Angels from falling into the seller column. He’s good enough to keep any team afloat, and he deserves a front office that will push to get him into the playoffs. Then again, he’s hit a brain-scrambling .403/.523/.687 in the month of June, and Los Angeles has gone just 11–10 in that time. If the best ball of Trout’s life isn’t enough to make the Angels winners, then what possible addition could?
Like Minnesota, a lot of Los Angeles’ problems begin on the disabled list, current home of Garrett Richards, Zack Cozart, Nick Tropeano, and—in the most crippling loss of them all—Shohei Ohtani. Poor years from veterans haven’t helped: Kole Calhoun, Ian Kinsler, and Albert Pujols are all letting Trout and the team down. With so many injured and underperforming, it’s hard to see what the Angels could move for actual value, and the idea of rebuilding with Trout on the roster is absurd. On the other hand, the Angels’ farm system doesn’t have much to offer to add either rotation help or a good rightfielder to replace Calhoun.
The AL West is gone, but the second wild card is still within reach despite two straight mediocre months of play. Los Angeles’ best bet may be to hope that the Mariners come back to earth in the wild-card race, wait for the injured to get healthy, and see if Trout can somehow find an even higher gear.
Buy: St. Louis Cardinals (40–36, third place in NL Central; 2 GB in NL wild card)
Finally close to full health after turning into a MASH ward in May and early June, St. Louis is still quite wobbly, having won just two series all month. Yet the team is still in the division and wild-card pictures. That owes as much to recent stumbles from the Cubs and Brewers as it does anything else, but the pieces are there for the Cardinals to get into the playoffs, and the deficits are manageable.
There are many areas of need to address, though. The bullpen is an unreliable mess without a dominant option beyond super-powered rookie Jordan Hicks. The rotation is leaking, with Michael Wacha out past the All-Star break due to an oblique strain, Carlos Martinez looking ragged since coming off the DL (an 8.10 ERA in 16 2/3 innings over his last four starts), and promising righty Luke Weaver struggling for consistency with a 4.69 ERA and 83 ERA+ on the year. And while the offense has mostly hummed when healthy, rightfield is a gaping hole thanks to Dexter Fowler’s inexplicable slide into being one of baseball’s worst regulars. He’s hit just .163/.271/.266 for a galling 49 OPS+ in 236 plate appearances.
Deciding which problem to triage first is complicated, but bullpen help is generally easy to find, and a veteran starter—a J.A. Happ type, perhaps—shouldn’t cost all that much. It’s do or die for beleaguered manager Mike Matheny and a front office that’s missed the postseason two years in a row. They can’t afford to make it three.
ROUNDTABLE: WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT MIKE TROUT?
Editor's note: It's hard to believe, but 26-year-old Mike Trout has surpassed 1,000 games played. As he puts together another mind-boggling season, we asked our staff to reflect on the best player in baseball.
Gabriel Baumgaertner: For me, it’s that Trout refines every part of his game to perfection. This slide against the Red Sox is probably my favorite example. Not only does he map out exactly when to move his hand, you can tell that this is something he’s envisioned and probably practiced at some point. His instincts and skills are incredible like any genius, but there’s no weakness that Trout refuses to address.
Michael Beller: My favorite thing about Trout is his Baseball Reference page. Specifically, this part:
Anything in bold indicates that Trout led the AL in that stat that season. If it’s bold and italics, he led the majors in it. Look at all those numbers in italicized-bold beauty. Don’t miss all those stars in the leftmost column, and high MVP finishes in the rightmost column. If Trout continues on this trajectory, he’s going to retire as the best player in MLB history. His Baseball Reference page will always be testament to that fact.
Jack Dickey: I will let others sing about Trout’s superlative statistics and standout moments. I will talk about his neck. I remember last spring asking Rangers general manager Jon Daniels about Trout for an oral history we were working on for the season preview issue . We were trying to sidestep what’s always been the challenge with Trout: He’s the greatest player of his generation, and yet he’s far from the best-known or best-appreciated. I mumbled something about this conundrum to Daniels in search of some guidance. On his phone, he pulled up a picture of Trout in his high-school basketball uniform . “Look at his neck,” he said, suggesting that it foretold the greatness to come. Indeed, look at that thing! It must be two feet around. It’s almost as wide as his noggin. I’m sure there are players whose prodigious cervices have led scouts astray. But if I were running a team today, I’d tell my scouts to trade in their radar guns for tape measures—I’d draft for neck.
Connor Grossman: Given Trout's incredibly well-rounded game, it's near impossible to quantify his greatness in one number. This piece from ESPN's David Schoenfield and Sam Miller does a great job of providing statistical context to place Trout among the game's greats. But if I could only show someone one play to summarize Trout's superhuman traits, I'd go with this catch (the one Jon Tayler highlights below is a close second). The incredible composure and physical abilities required to make this play can't be understated. Combine that with his child-like enthusaiasm after completing the catch, and you have all the makings of baseball's best player.
Jon Tayler: I could spend 10,000 words listing the best Mike Trout stats, like the fact that he recently passed Harmon Killebrew in career WAR, will eclipse Jackie Robinson within the next week or two, and should top Ernie Banks by year’s end. But USA Today’s Ted Berg already has a monopoly on ludicrous Trout happenings that he runs every Monday, and if I stray too far onto his turf, he’s going to go full Walter White on me and dissolve my body in hydrofluoric acid.
I know, too, that Trout’s greatness sometimes gets lost in those numbers, which can feel both unapproachable and totally insane. The idea that he’s already been more valuable in his career than 100 Hall of Fame hitters and pitchers—almost half of all the players ever enshrined—is hard to believe or understand, and a stat like WAR, while helpful, doesn’t have the same visceral punch as all our favorite simple benchmarks.
It can be hard with a player who does everything so effortlessly well to find the brightest diamond in a chest full of them. But here’s my pick—a play that shows off his breathtaking athleticism and even a little excitement for a player who’s temperament usually falls somewhere between “Scandinavian school teacher” and “well-behaved working dog.”
If you can watch that and not feel a massive stirring somewhere in your chest (or, hell, anywhere else for that matter), you might be dead inside.
Tom Verducci: Since Mike Trout was called up to stay in 2012, he has never played more than two straight games without getting on base. That’s both amazing and cool. But my favorite take on Mike Trout has nothing to so with the many statistical nuggets and Mickey Mantle comparisons you can find.
(Through 1,000 games: Mantle .315, 1,131 hits, 2,057 total bases, 1.000 OPS. Trout: .308, 1,126, 2,100 and .989).
My favorite part is that even after a thousand games Trout treats every game like it’s his first. He always makes time for kids before a game and plays with a joy that is obvious in his body language and smile.
NINE FACTOIDS ON EDWIN JACKSON AS HE SUITS UP FOR HIS RECORD-TYING 13TH TEAM
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
The A’s called up Edwin Jackson from Triple-A Nashville this weekend, making Jackson the second player to appear with 13 different teams in his career. The only other player to don 13 different uniforms is Octavio Dotel, who last appeared with the Tigers in 2013 and was traded with Jackson from the Blue Jays to the Cardinals in 2011. I personally do not believe Dotel is retired even if he last pitched in a game five seasons ago. You just never know when that guy is going to show up. The web you can draw with Jackson isn’t so much a rabbit hole in Baseball Reference as much as it is a journey to the core of Baseball Reference’s mission. Here we go.
1. The 20-year-old Jackson defeated Randy Johnson in his big league debut (on his birthday) when the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks, 4-1, on September 9, 2003. That game featured two current MLB managers (Alex Cora, Craig Counsell), another former MLB manager (Robin Ventura) and one current player (Adrian Beltre). Current Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was on that 2003 Dodgers roster, but was not playing that night.
The game also featured Paul Shuey, who made his MLB debut in a 1994 game that featured Eddie Murray, Lee Smith, Harold Baines and Cal Ripken Jr. Murray made his debut in a 1977 game that featured Bert Campeneris, who made his debut in a 1964 game that featured Harmon Killebrew, who made his debut in a 1954 game that featured Johnny Pesky, who made his debut in a 1942 game that featured Jimmie Foxx, who made his debut in 1925 in a game that featured Roger Peckinpaugh, who made his debut in 1910.
2. The first home run Jackson surrendered came off the bat of Luis Gonzalez, who hit his first career home run as an Astro off of Cubs starter Greg Maddux on May 1, 1991. That game also featured a relief appearance from Astros pitcher Curt Schilling, whom the Astros would trade that offseason to the Phillies for pitcher Jason Grimsley, whose house was raided by the FBI in 2006 in connection with baseball’s steroid scandal.
3. The two hitters Jackson has faced the most in his career are Ryan Braun and Johnny Damon (47 PAs each). His most successful matchups include Chris Davis (0-for-17, 8 Ks), Alexei Ramirez (0-for-21), Buster Posey (1-for-17), Jason Varitek (2-for-20, 9 Ks) and Ryan Howard (1-for-17, 7 Ks). His biggest struggles have come against Yadier Molina (15-for-30, 3 HR), Andrew McCutchen (15-for-39, 3 HRs), and Jim Thome (8-for-13, 2 HRs).
4. His career line against Barry Bonds is 0-for-1 with 1 K, but he allowed a home run to pitcher Joe Blanton the only time he faced him.
5. He’s given up home runs to Rhys Hoskins, who was born in 1993, and Gary Sheffield. In 1993, Sheffield finished third in NL MVP voting and was elected to the first of nine All-Star teams.
6. Jackson started Game 4 of the 2011 World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals, where he’d compile one of the oddest lines in recent World Series memory. Over 5 ⅓ innings, Jackson surrendered just three hits and three earned runs but walked 7 in a laborious 109-pitch outing.
7. But that paled in comparison to Jackson’s 2010 no-hitter. Pitching for the Diamondbacks, Jackson tossed 149 pitches and walked eight Tampa Bay Rays to author his only career no-no. The Rays’ lineup that day featured Matt Joyce, whom Tampa acquired from Detroit in exchange for Jackson in 2006.
8. Now that he is appearing for the A’s, Jackson will have played for at least one team in every MLB division.
9. In his one All-Star appearance as a member of the Tigers in 2009, Jackson tossed a 1-2-3 inning against Hanley Ramirez, Ryan Zimmerman and Yadier Molina, who has otherwise tortured Jackson for most of his career. The starting pitchers of that All-Star Game were Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum
BEST THING I SAW THIS WEEK: DON'T TELL THE REDS THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO BE 'TANKING'
By Jack Dickey
The funny thing about tanking—the phenomenon on which so many baseball writers have dispensed so many righteous words, the phenomenon that may very well characterize the 2018 season—is that the players have little or no hand in it. Anyone can look at, say, the Marlins and conclude that the front office has expended no effort toward making them a competitive club in 2018: They’re a starter or two short; none of their bench players can hit; and so on. This team cannot win. But the players, well, they still play like the games matter, even though the games don’t matter as much as the games played in D.C. or Philly or L.A. or Milwaukee. It’s sometimes helpful to be reminded of this.
Which brings me to the Cincinnati Reds. Entering the season, they were branded tankers—management had done hardly anything to tinker with the group that had finished 68-94 for two straight years—and the team immediately set about proving its doubters right. On April 22, their record stood at 3-18. (Manager Bryan Price had been fired when the team was 3-15 and swept in two of the last three series, and then in the their first series under Jim Riggleman they were swept again.) If the Reds games hadn’t projected to matter much, the 10-game divisional deficit they faced just 21 games into their season ensured that they wouldn’t. Indeed, that 10-game deficit now stands at 13 games.
But since April 22, the Reds are 29-27. That’s a better record than the Cardinals or Pirates in that span. And they are especially hot at the moment: The Reds have won seven in a row and 10 of their last 12, this weekend sweeping the once-division-leading Cubs. How have they done it? The offense has crackled, posting a batting line of .285./.372/.457 in June. (Their team OBP this month is by far the best in the majors.) Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, and Eugenio Suarez have proven a formidable 3-4-5—the latter two are in the midst of career years, and Votto has turned back into Joey Votto, home-run power aside. Even the pitching has shaped up. The back end of the bullpen is strong, with Amir Garrett and Raisel Iglesias good bets to protect any lead, and since arriving from New York Matt Harvey now looks every bit the credible fourth-starter type.
None of these improvements, though, is what put tanking on my mind. No, it was Cincinnati’s seventh inning against the Cubs on Sunday. The Reds entered the bottom half of the frame trailing by six. Then this happened: Gennett singled; Adam Duvall doubled; Jose Peraza singled (Gennett scored); Jesse Winker homered (Duvall and Peraza scored); Billy Hamilton singled; Scott Schebler walked; Tucker Barnhart singled (Hamilton scored); Votto doubled (Schebler scored); Alex Blandino struck out; Gennett walked; Duvall lined out; Peraza walked (Barnhart scored); Winker struck out. That’s 13 men who went up to the plate; seven of them got hits. It’s the kind of rally any team would kill for, and it was posted by a team all of us had left for dead. The scourge of tanking may be harming the game overall, but even in Cincinnati it can mercifully leave the games themselves alone just long enough for something amazing to happen.
RANK 'EM: ODUBEL HERRERA'S FIVE HOME RUNS IN FIVE GAMES
By Michael Beller
Odubel Herrera is in the midst of a breakout season that will almost certainly earn him a second trip to the All-Star Game in his four-year career. The Phillies centerfielder boasts a .305/.358/.505 slashline with 13 homers and 45 RBI after knocking two hits in Sunday’s loss to the Nationals, putting the cap on the marquee week of his 2018 breakout. Herrera homered in five straight games from June 17 through June 22, going 13-for-22 with eight RBI in addition to the five bombs.
Not all homers are created equal. With that in mind, here is a definitive ranking of Herrera’s five homers in five days. The jacks, each one impressive in its own right, are presented below in reverse order. Each homer was stripped of game context on judged only on its sheer beauty.
5. Friday, June 22 off the Nationals’ Tanner Roark
This homer broke a tie early in a game the Phillies would run away with, 12-2. It looked like a no-doubter off the bat, but landed just in the Nationals bullpen in straightaway right field. It wasn’t a mammoth blast, but it got the job done. Perhaps he was just running out of homer steam after leaving the yard in four straight games before this one.
4. Monday, June 18 off the Cardinals’ Miles Mikolas
Herrera took this 1-1 changeup just over the wall, which is part of the reason for its relatively low ranking. Also, look at that pitch again. It was begging to be hit at least 370 feet or so, which is exactly the treatment Herrera gave it.
3. Tuesday, June 19 off Cardinals’ Luke Weaver
This one looks awfully similar to the homer Herrera hit off Mikolas. So why did it get the third spot over the previous homer? Well, this wasn’t really a bad pitch from Weaver. It’s a curveball that dives down out of the zone. It didn’t have the sharpest break, but it was still an above-average curve that Herrera had to go down to get. This one also traveled about 30 feet further than the previous one in true distance, giving it another leg up on No. 4.
2. Wednesday, June 20 off the Cardinals’ Sam Tuivailala
The result of this ugly cement mixer slider was predictable. Even though it was a slider, it was impressive to see Herrera get on top of a pitch at the top of the zone and drive it 422 feet off the video board in right. This one also gets major style points with Herrera admiring his handiwork for a few steps before adding a classy bat flip.
1. Sunday, June 17 off Corey Knebel
This one speaks for itself: 453 feet of roundtripping goodness. This is one of those homers that makes you laugh the moment it leaves the bat. Unless you’re Corey Knebel, of course.
WHAT'S ON TAP: WHO ELSE? IT'S THE YANKEES AND RED SOX
By Michael Beller
Hitter to Watch: Nolan Arenado
Arenado has homered in five of his last six games, going 11-for-29 with 13 RBIs. He’s hitting .318/.403/.595 with 18 homers and 55 RBI on the season, and will soon be an All-Star for the fourth straight season. The Rockies spend the entire week on the road, visiting the Giants and Dodgers. Arenado is hitting .276/.375/.493 with six homers away from Coors Field this season.
Pitcher to Watch: Trevor Bauer
Bauer has made himself into one of the best pitchers in the majors this season. He's been on full display over the last six weeks. Bauer has made eight starts in that time, striking out at least 10 batters in six of them. He’ll take a 2.44 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 31.7% strikeout rate, and AL-leading 140 strikeouts into his start on Friday in Oakland.
Series to Watch: Red Sox at Yankees, Friday through Sunday
It may seem obvious, but it's for all the right reasons. Along with the Astros, the Yankees and Red Sox comprise MLB’s great triumvirate as we approach the mathematical halfway point of the season. The two AL East behemoths haven’t seen one another for nearly two months, and have split their six games thus far this season. Assuming they both stay on schedule, the Red Sox will throw Eduardo Rodriguez on Friday, Chris Sale on Saturday and David Price on Sunday. The Yankees will counter with CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray and Domingo German.
TWEETS OF THE WEEK
FROM THE VAULT: RECALLING THAT TIME JETER AND AROD SHARED THE COVER OF SI
By Connor Grossman
Let's turn back the clock to a time when Derek Jeter wasn't under fire as the CEO of the Marlins. The year is 1997. We're weeks away from Derek Jeter, 23-year-old Yankees shortstop and reigning AL Rookie of the Year, beginning his second full season in the big leagues. He's holding a slam-dunk competition with Alex Rodriguez in Miami and ... I'll let Tom Verducci's story tell the rest of the tale.
Jeter turns 44 on Tuesday. When he appeared on the cover of SI in 1997 with Rodriguez, even the most adventurous prognosticators couldn't have envisioned what would unfold over the next decade-plus for the friends-turned-foes. But at the time of this piece, Jeter and ARod were the posterboys of a vibrant crop of shortstops around baseball. Enjoy the excerpt below and find the entire piece here.
Measuring Derek Jeter, the 1996 American League Rookie of the Year, against Alex Rodriguez, the league's batting champion, is as unavoidable for the foreseeable future as it is on this February night inside the steamy cinder block gymnasium at the Boys Club of Miami. "Let's see what you've got," Rodriguez says to Jeter, his friend and foil. Dressed in jeans and leaning on the bleachers, Jeter is reluctant to take the court. He came here only to watch Rodriguez in one of his regular pickup basketball games, which ended abruptly in its second hour after a hard foul ignited three fistfights, none of which involved the Seattle Mariners shortstop.
Jeter cannot resist the challenge. "All right, Al," he says. The shortstop of the world champion New York Yankees grabs a ball and starts draining jump shots. Within a minute or two, Rodriguez and Jeter are battling each other in a slam-dunk version of H-O-R-S-E. The 6'3", 185-pound Jeter stands flat-footed about four feet from the basket, takes two short steps and easily power slams the basketball—blue jeans be damned. Rodriguez, 6'3" and 205 pounds, matches that move, but he gets less height on his jump than Jeter does. Rodriguez then stands at the foul line, throws the ball down so that it bounces off the floor and then the backboard, before he catches it and jams it in one vicious swoop. On his first two attempts Jeter fails to get the proper bounce. His third try is only slightly better, and he is left too far from the rim to throw the ball down. "I've got to go," Jeter says, mindful of his flight home to Tampa.