Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez put up some outstanding numbers last season, helping his team reach the postseason and eventually win the World Series. During the regular season, he hit .330/.402/.629 with 43 home runs and a major league-best 130 RBI across 649 trips to the plate. However, he finished a distant fourth in AL MVP Award voting. Teammate Mookie Betts got 28 of 30 first-place votes, handily winning the award over runner-up Mike Trout. José Ramírez finished in third place.
Looking at traditional stats, it might be hard to see the justification for Martinez’s distant finish. Advanced statistics, though, paint a clearer picture. Martinez didn’t even outhit Betts or Trout, going by weighted on-base average (wOBA). FanGraphs rated him 10th overall in Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which factors in defense. On account of being a DH, Martinez didn’t often play defense. When he was in the outfield, he played it poorly. WAR also makes positional adjustments, debiting hitters for their production at positions where such production is more plentiful. Betts had 10.4 WAR; Trout 9.8; Ramírez 8.0. Martinez had 5.9.
The numbers are in part why Martinez feels BBWAA voters would never vote a DH for MVP, Chris Mason of The Eagle-Tribune reports. Martinez said, “The writers would never allow it. They’d get blackballed. There’s a reason why a lot of people didn’t. You’ve got to think of it like this: Writers want to be what?”
Martinez continued, “They want to work where? They want to work in the front office. They want to get jobs with teams and (expletive). These guys that do all the analytics and all the stuff like that. To me, that’s what they look at. That’s what they’re going to value. That’s my opinion. If you go against the grain and you’re the guy that says that, then you have everybody saying you’re bad at your job. It’s easier to go with the crowd.”
While it is true that BBWAA has in recent years opened its ranks to online writers (most with an analytical bent) and a sizable portion of those writers have gone on to take front office jobs with teams, it’s a pretty wide brush with which to paint. Most of the analytics wonks in front offices right now were dismissed early in their writing careers anyway. And if writers are guilty of one thing, I’d argue it’s being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, not trudging along with the general consensus.
Furthermore, it is only a recent development that major league teams have poached front office talent from newsrooms and websites. But DHs have historically had a tough time in MVP balloting because their contribution on only one side of the ball, so to speak, has been obvious since the inception of the rule. Jim Rice won the MVP in 1978 (49 of 163 games at DH), Don Baylor won it in 1979 (65 of 162), and Juan González won it in 1996 (32 of 134) and ’98 (38 of 154) spending a significant amount of time at DH. That’s really about it among AL MVP Award winners from the DH spot.
I will never fault a player for tooting his own horn. This is a business and the squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say. Martinez speaking up, however illogical I think it may be, may help him get more votes down the line. Winning the MVP Award, or placing higher than he otherwise would have, could help him land another contract for a longer term and more money after his current one expires at the end of the 2022 season. He might be more marketable. That being said, Martinez’s evaluation of his own production and his own position needs updating. Could it be true that the current popular analytics are flawed and could be undervaluing him? Absolutely. But it remains true that Martinez didn’t even out-slug his own teammate. Betts beat him there .640 to .629. Then factor in that Betts plays a premium position with terrific defense while running the bases well; Martinez had none of the above. You don’t need WAR to figure that out. Martinez wasn’t the MVP of his own team last year, let alone of the entire American League. Not even close. Blame the writers if it helps you sleep at night, I guess.