By this point of the season, most useful players are owned. Alejandro De Aza types were gone by the third week in April, assuming they weren’t drafted by a savvy owner. Guys like Dexter Fowler are gone too, even if they’re close to useless in half of their games (.290 AVG, .885 OPS at home, .239 AVG, .684 OPS on the road). Not all hope is lost, though. Potentially useful players are still to be found.
One example is this week’s Creeper, J.D. Martinez. Owned in 21% of ESPN leagues and 18% of Yahoo leagues, Martinez is scheduled for 6 games – 3 home, 3 away. Due to the extremely short perch and odd angles in LF at Minute Maid Park, Martinez has a friendly home stadium for hits of the extra base variety, especially triples and HR. Statcorner pegs Minute Maid Park with park factors of 121 and 117 in those categories, respectively. One of the only stadiums more generous for right handed hitters is U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago (HR park factor of 138), and fortunately for Martinez, that’s where he’ll find himself for his road games this week. For a player who displayed decent power in the minor leagues – Martinez topped a .200 ISO at three different stops in the minors – frequenting such friendly environs will provide J.D. an opportunity to improve upon his current .137 ISO.
In addition to playing in favorable parks, Martinez has shown positive advancement at the plate. Specifically, his plate discipline. He’s swung at a total of 43.5% of pitches this season, down from a 51.2% clip last season. The bulk of that reduction has come on swings at pitches out of the strike zone (25.1%, down from 33.6% last season), and has made more contact when he does swing, sporting a 78.3% contact rate – nearly 5 points better than 2011’s 73.5%. Swinging less frequently and making more contact when he does let it fly have allowed him to walk in 12.3% of his plate appearances without a trade off of increased strikeouts (21.2% in 2011, 21.5% this season). He’s even shown a slight uptick in his HR/FB rate, pushing nearly 12%, after placing just over 10% of his flyballs into the bleachers last season.
Martinez has pounded left-handed pitching thus far in his career, putting up an impressive .972 OPS in 108 plate appearances. He’ll square off against two LHP this week, Jaime Garcia and Chris Sale. Garcia has done well in limiting the long ball in his career, with strong groundball rates leading to giving up only 29 HR in 438.1 IP. Of those 29, however, 26 have come against right-handed batters, and righties hit twice as many flyballs for homeruns (8.9% HR/FB) as do same-handed hitters (4.4% HR/FB). Sale is tough on whoever is up at the plate (2.79 xFIP against LHH, 3.06 xFIP against RHH), but batters from the right side of the dish have hit 11 HR off Sale in his 2+ seasons in the big leagues, as opposed to only 1 by same-handed batters. Gavin Floyd and Philip Humber have both been taken deep with regularity, Floyd possessing a 1.64 HR/9 mark this year, Humber a 1.21 HR/9 rate.
The answer to the question, WWJD?, is hopefully a couple of HR in your 5th OF/U slot this week.