Entering 2017, Jose Martinez was expected to be a fourth outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals. Entering 2018, Martinez’s role is expected to be largely the same as it was entering last season, but the cache surrounding the 29 year-old has grown exponentially.
In 307 plate appearances in 2017, the career minor leaguer belted 14 home runs, showed solid plate discipline (10.4% walk rate), and managed a 135 wRC+, second only to Tommy Pham among players with multiple plate appearances (*angrily shakes fist at Marco Gonzales’s one single in his one plate appearance last season*). His triple-slash line of .309/.379/.518 was one of the great, unexpected Cardinals performances of 2017.
While Martinez’s .350 batting average on balls in play might suggest a bit of regression (on top of the whole “nobody saw his 2017 coming” thing), Statcast data suggests that Jose Martinez is not only for real but that perhaps he is a stronger hitter than his 2017 results indicate. By 2017 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA, whose leaderboard Google informs me I “have visited many times”), only four players with more than 15 plate appearances ranked higher by expected offensive contribution than Jose Martinez—those players were Aaron Judge, Joey Votto, Mike Trout, and J.D. Martinez. They’re pretty good.
Martinez doesn’t have value on the bases and isn’t much of a fielder—like Allen Craig, he can play both corner outfield positions and first base as long as he is hitting well enough to justify it, but nobody is confusing him with Alex Gordon, Jason Heyward, or pulls out contemporary reference of a good defensive first baseman for all the kids out there Keith Hernandez (swish!) in the field. But if he can hit like he did in 2017, or even like what xwOBA thinks he can be...I’m not crying, you’re crying.