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From Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

JD Martinez is Back with a Vengeance

JD Martinez wants to forget, and for you to forget, about 2020. I’m not speculating here. He told Rob Bradford during spring training, “I just want it to be a normal season. I’m kind of tired of being judged on two months.” For the DH whose first two seasons in Boston resulted in two All-Star nods, two Silver Sluggers (both in the same year!), and a top-5 MVP finish, 2020 was a flat-out disaster.

Martinez batted a career low .213 and his .680 OPS almost reached the lows of his injury-shortened 2013 season, his last year in Houston before he morphed into the slugger he’s known as today. His 7 homers in 54 games extrapolated to 21 over a full season, again his lowest total since 2013. The Sox finished in the basement and the talking heads wondered if the 33-year-old had fallen off a cliff. But JD knew the only way to silence the haters was to go out and deliver. He’s blown expectations out of the water to start 2021.

2020= An Aberration

Whether you attribute it to the logistical weirdness of the season, a swing flaw, or something else, JD Martinez was clearly not himself in 2020. Thankfully he’s taken his rightful place atop the AL’s best offense through the first two weeks of this season. Some context (through the Red Sox’ first nine games, one of which he didn’t play):

  • JD holds or shares the Major League lead in hits, home runs, RBI, doubles, total bases, and WAR. The WAR lead is particularly impressive considering he’s only played one game in the field and he’s, uh, how do I put this – not known for his speed.
  • JD has at least one extra-base hit in all eight games he’s played. He’s one away from setting the MLB record to start a season and several games past the previous Sox record. Stretching back to his final game of 2020, his active XBH streak of nine games matches a few guys you might know: Papi, Teddy Ballgame, Bill Mueller, and Butch Hobson.
  • JD already has a walk-off under his belt in the young season. He ripped a two-run, two-out double with the Sox down one in the 12th to cap off a thrilling come-from-behind win over Tampa Bay last week.
  • In the middle of his hot streak, JD was forced to sit a game for COVID-like symptoms. He responded the next game by going bridge three times. He become the fifth player ever to notch a triple-dinger game with three different teams.

He’s Back

Red Sox Notebook: J.D. Martinez hits three homers but still doesn't feel hot
From Julio Cortez, AP Photo

So not only is JD mashing at a historic pace, he’s doing it in big spots and while overcoming adversity. His contributions are a huge reason the Sox sit on top the AL East on a six-game win streak that started with a sweep of the defending AL champion Rays. It’s important for young players like Verdugo and Devers to see how a veteran responds after a down year. It’ll also be interesting to watch how this impacts JD’s offseason. With another MVP-caliber year on a downright bargain salary of $19.4MM, and after (hopefully) a full season of consistently increasing stadium capacities, don’t be surprised if JD looks to finally exercise his opt-out clause before the last year of his contract. But let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.

DISCLAIMER 1a

It’s April 12! We’re still playing baseball games in the snow for crying out loud. No, I don’t think JD Martinez will maintain a .472 BA for the whole year or hit 90 home runs. But it’s exciting to watch one of the best hitters of the last decade return to form and show early signs that last year was a fluke. Baseball is by far the best sport for too-early overreactions and spicy opinions.

The Sox now start a brutal test with eight straight games against the Twins and White Sox, two of the top three preseason favorites to win the AL. They are also two games into a 16-day stretch without a break. But even if he’s cooled off by their next off day on April 26, I’ll still be riding the the high of the JD Comeback Tour 2021.

DISCLAIMER 1b

I reserve the right to change my mind on that last statement multiple times over the next month. This will be based on emotions and little evidence. That’s what sports fandom is all about.