Lakeland, Fla. — J.D. Martinez knew he had an uncharacteristically subpar defensive season last year. He made some mistakes early and never really regained the form that made him a Gold Glove finalist in 2015.
That said, the metrics — the sheer gaudiness of the number — still shocked him. Research by FanGraphs and Baseball Reference had Martinez at the bottom of the charts among right fielders with a minus-22 rating in defensive runs saved.
“When I saw that, I really looked into it,” he said Friday, on report day for position players. “I was like, “How is that possible?’”
The deeper he looked into the methodology behind analytic, the less the actual metric readings bothered him. Which is not to say he absolved himself, in any way, for his poor play.
“The way they measure it, it’s all just sight,” he said. “Where you are positioned and this and that. You have no control over that. There are certain plays they wrote down, ‘Oh, that’s a ball he might’ve been able to catch.’ Well, who determines that?
“There is no firm way to determine those numbers. That’s my observation on that.”
For a player as competitive and proud as Martinez, though, seeing his name at the bottom of any list or ranking at his position is a call to action.
“For me personally, I take a lot of initiative in my defense, and I take a lot of pride in it,” he said. “And I wasn’t proud of the way I played last year. It was one of those things where I made some mistakes early, then I got hurt, so I didn’t get the same scale to measure up against.
“I never got to make up for it. It was like starting off in a slump, then getting hurt and not getting enough at-bats to make it up.”
He made a career-high six errors last season, a couple of them on balls that either banged off his glove or took an errant bounce past him.
“Quite frankly, it was probably a lack of concentration at times,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “A couple of balls hit his glove and bounced out, that kind of thing. I think he had an off year. I don’t want to say he took a step back defensively. I think he will be fine this year.”
His defensive zone rating was a minus-21.5 last season, an indication that he didn’t cover nearly as much ground as he has in past seasons. That is a number Martinez took to heart.
“I definitely paid a lot more attention to defense this offseason,” he said. “I worked a lot harder on it. I spent more time on it than in the past — for that reason. It has motivated me.”
He worked his body differently, as well. Doing more agility work than usual.
“Just working on my athleticism, I guess you could say,” he said. “Last year, I was sidelined in the offseason with a sprained ankle and I wasn’t able to focus on that part of it. This year I’ve felt good and I could push myself more.
“I was on the field more doing outfield work. I started throwing earlier. Just doing stuff to help me get ready for it.”
Martinez gets paid to slug, and in that department he has not disappointed — hitting 83 home runs and knocking in 246 runs in three seasons in Detroit. But his nature is such, he will never be satisfied with being just a one-dimensional threat.
“I am not worried about him at all,” Ausmus said. “He takes pride in his defense and I think you will see a return to form.”