By: Chris Larson
When you look back at this past off season, there were many experts and fans alike throughout baseball who worried if the Cardinals would have enough offense. After all, many were strongly voicing the idea that St. Louis should sign then free agents, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, or J.D. Martinez, to give them another bat after their acquisition of outfielder, Marcell Ozuna, from the Miami Marlins.
While those concerns were somewhat justified at the time, it now appears as though the Cardinals might have done the entire organization a favor by electing to stay out of the free agent pool and give their internal options a chance to play everyday. One of those internal options was Jose Martinez who continues to not only provide the Cardinals with an everyday power bat, but someone who needs to be in the discussion for NL MVP.
Heading into play today, Martinez is batting: .327/.397/.531 on the year over the span of 257 plate appearances with 71 hits, 16 doubles, 10 home runs, 42 RBI, 26 walks, and 34 strikeouts. In addition, Martinez has an Offensive Wins Above Replacement (oWAR) value of 1.7 and a Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) value of 154. Certainly superb numbers and ones that put him at the front of an elite class of National League first baseman.
Looking at wRC+, Jose Martinez currently ranks third behind only Freddie Freeman and Brandon Belt, ranks second behind only Freeman in batting average, and is fifth in BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) with a value of .346, so far this year. Furthermore, Martinez ranks 6th among first baseman in walks-to-strikeouts (0.76) and is second in Weighted Runs Above Average (wRAA) with a value of 17.3. Those might not be statistics that the average baseball fan looks at, but luckily for Jose Martinez, the baseball writers are the ones voting and you can guarantee that many of them are going to take all of those things into consideration, when trying to determine who to vote for NL MVP.
While Jose Martinez will have a significant amount of competition from others around the league, let's take a look at where he ranks from a league wide perspective in the above categories. In terms of batting average (.320), Martinez ranks 9th among all qualified major league hitters and is ahead of guys like Nolan Arenado, Michael Brantley, Manny Machado, and J.D. Martinez. From an on-base perspective, Martinez ranks 8th with his (.397) OBP, which is ahead of guys like Nick Markakis, Jose Ramirez, Brandon Crawford, and yes once again, J.D. Martinez.
Remember when some were suggesting that the Cardinals would be a good fit for JD Martinez? It seems as though they have done just fine relying on internal outfield options and Jose Ramirez provides them with more offense that JD Martinez might have, is a year younger at 29, and considerably less expensive. Just this year alone, Jose Martinez is making slightly more than league minimum ($560,400 dollars) compared to J.D. Martinez ($23.75 million dollars). Granted, J.D. Martinez signed with a team in a much larger market, the Boston Red Sox, but still you can start to see the argument about how sometimes we overreact and don't necessarily always think that sometimes the internal options are the better way to go for teams.
For the St. Louis Cardinals, who are currently in third place in the NL Central, Jose Martinez is the perfect bat to plug into the three hole just before Marcell Ozuna, their cleanup hitter. Both Martinez and Ozuna have the ability to cause a lot of damage in those spots and the emergence of Martinez and acquisition of Ozona, has basically lengthened the entire Cardinals lineup. No longer is St. Louis having to rely on guys such as, Jedd Gyorko, to fill the three spot in the lineup and cause issues with trying to create runs and score when it matters most.
In fact, you could make the argument that the Cardinals might have one of the Top 5, 3 and 4 hitter combos, in all of baseball when both Jose Martinez and Marcell Ozuna are healthy. That puts Martinez/Ozuna on equal playing field with the combos of, Jose Ramirez/Francisco Lindor, Anthony Rizzo/Kris Bryant, Freddie Freeman/Nick Markakis, and Joey Votto/Scooter Gennett, in the rest of the league. When you look at all five of those combos, you know exactly what kind of hitters you are getting on an everyday basis and all of them have a track record to back up what they're doing this season.
Now, none of us truly know if this season will be a fluke or not for Jose Martinez, but what we do know, is that he is quietly having a superb season and might have finally turned the corner, as he becomes one of the games best players. His name might not jump out at you on paper, but don't sleep on him because he could easily be a sleeper NL MVP candidate.