Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (June 8, 2018 – Source: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images North America)
When the Boston Red Sox inked J.D. Martinez to a lavish contract over the winter, the team had high expectations for him. With less than a month left to go in the 2018 season, it is safe to say the right-handed slugger has exceeded them. In 2018, Martinez places second in homeruns (40), third in wRC+ (172) and 10th in fWAR (5.1) among qualified players.
Despite his defensive limitations and majority DH designation, he is very much in the American League MVP discussion. While it has been an ferociously amazing season for the former Detroit Tiger, his teammate Mookie Betts is the deserving winner of the hardware. The dude has a 181 wRC+ and 9.1 fWAR. Still, it has been one of the best offensive seasons witnessed in Red Sox history.
This brings up an interesting study. Given that he has primarily been a DH this year, how does his 2018 season compare to Red Sox legend David Ortiz’s best season?
Using wRC+, which is conveniently scaled for league and ballpark, we can roughly estimate Big Papi’s best year came in 2007. He posted a 175 wRC+ in 667 plate appearances. His next closest was a 170 wRC+ compiled in a partial season in 2012. It seems fairly irrefutable his reign of terror peaked in this Boston World Series season.
Anyway, let’s look at a fun table to compare Ortiz’s ’07 to Martinez’s ’18.
|David Ortiz (2007)||175||.401||.620||0.93||35|
|J.D. Martinez (2018)||172||.402||.636||0.46||40|
It is imperative to note that Ortiz and Martinez have compiled their seasons in very different eras. Rate stats like OBP and SLG were much better across the board in 2007 than this season, while homers and strikeouts have risen dramatically. That is why wRC+ is so critical. The fact it includes league and park effects makes it so we have a clean comparison of their respective seasons.
Ortiz slightly edges Martinez in it, despite JDM leading in almost all of those offensive categories. The other place where the lefty-masher reigns supreme is in the BB/K department. Ortiz’s plate discipline was much better, even if it is not a completely purified comparison. To reiterate, it is much easier to strikeout now than in the wonderful 2007 year.
In terms of batted ball aide, both posted BABIPs way north or the league-average. Papi’s was .355 in ’07 while Martinez’s is .372. For the former’s career, he posted a .300 BABIP while the latter has a .346. This seems to suggest maybe Ortiz was slightly more fortunate in his campaign than Martinez. Without StatCast to really dig into Ortiz’s underlying damage, it is difficult to tell how much luck he did or did not receive. For the most part, having a 170 wRC+ in a season requires some good fortunate.
Papi subscribed to the “flyball revolution” before it was cool. His 0.93 GB/FB, especially for the time period, was insane. This explains how he was able to do such prolific damage because he was putting balls where they can have the maximum effect. Martinez, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, has posted a 1.36 GB/FB this year. This is the highest ratio since his 2012 season with the Houston Astros. Regardless, it has not hindered him at all and he’s demolishing baseballs on the ground, on the line and in the air.
They have not used the same path to get to their best years in a Red Sox uniform (or any uniform), but they have contributed very similar offensive production. There is no definitive answer as to which season is better and there does not have be. This was designed to show that peak-season J.D. Martinez is as good as peak-season David Ortiz with the stick. That says enough on its own.