Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez form the unstoppable duo that put the Boston Red Sox as the best team in baseball. Why have they been so great, though?
After a 5-4 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park on May 2, KC manager Ned Yost said about Betts that he’s a, “Special player, special player… he’s definitely up there with the upper-echelon players in this league. He’s just fantastic, talented, athletic, quick hands, great power, good swing.” Betts hit three home runs in that game, so it’s pretty clear why he’s great. He has two 3-HR games this year, four in his career, and he’s second in all of baseball in homers with 17.
As Yost said in his comments after the early season game that Betts’ swing is incredible: he starts by throwing his body forward, but he still keeps all his weight on his back foot (basically gearing up for a massive power swing). As he does this, he does a very Pete Rose-esque diagonal holding of the bat; he pulls his back elbow up and the barrel of the bat behind his head, and then he masterfully swings his hips around, with the bat carrying behind for a perfect swing. He also keeps his bat in the strike zone longer than most players, allowing him to put the ball on his bat for longer and that gives him more force and more power.
Because he’s also an aggressive hitter, he rarely gets caught looking at strike three. His Pete Rose aggressiveness and swing, combined with his strength and stability (how he manages his weight and how he keeps his bat in the strike zone) leads to a player who has a higher batting average and a higher on-base percentage. He also is a great all-around hitter, as his he can easily tap the ball through the infield, but he just as easily hits for power (although he refuses to participate in a home run derby because he doesn’t want to risk messing up his swing, which I think is astute).
As for Martinez, he’s a more typical power hitter, yet he shares Betts’ aggressiveness that helps prevent large strikeout numbers. This season, he’s only struck out 56 times, which is rather staggering for a power hitter; it’s very low for a power hitter.
With the Tigers, Martinez had a low stance that’s more average oriented, but in his time in Arizona and his time in Boston, he, like neanderthals to homo sapiens, evolved into a more upright stance. He has a very different swing than Betts does, as Betts stays lower, brings his elbow up and his bat back much more, and he throws himself forward during his swing (mind that Betts still manages to keep his weight on his back foot). Adversely, Martinez brings his elbow up and his bat back only slightly, he’s very upright, and he barely moves forward at all during his swing.
While his swing is very different from Betts, that doesn’t mean that he’s a worse hitter; in fact while Betts is number two in homers, J.D. is number one. Martinez is of a breed of batter that lifts the ball more and hits for distance.
Being a power hitter, he likes to pull the ball (Betts is an all around hitter, so he’s very good at hitting to all fields), so when he doesn’t bring his elbow up or his bat back, that allows him to get his bat to the ball quicker and launch it down the left field line. Not moving forward allows him an easier means of keeping his weight on his back foot and gives him a swing more oriented at lofting balls into the stands, rather than hitting line drives into the stands, as Betts does. Staying tall during his swing does a similar thing as it lets him lift the ball (fun fact, of the 14 longest home runs in MLB history in the age of televised baseball, eight were hit by batters with upright stances).
Obviously, Alex Cora has a lot to do with these stars’ success, for the changes in their stats from last year are staggering. Approximately one third of the way through the year, Betts and Martinez have inarguably good stats:
Martinez has 18 home runs, is batting .317, has an on-base percentage of .377, has a slugging percentage of .654, has a 1.030 OPS, and has 47 RBIs. Betts has 17 home runs, is batting .359, has an on-base percentage of .437, has a slugging percentage of .750, has an OPS of 1.187, and has 37 RBIs. Betts is first in baseball in batting, Martinez is 13th, Martinez is first in homers, Betts is second, Martinez is first in RBIs, Betts is 18th, Betts is second in OBP, Martinez is 27th, Betts is first in slugging, Martinez is third, Betts is first in OPS, and Martinez is third.
Last year, in the entire season, Martinez had 45 homers, batted .303, and had an OBP of .676. Last year, again, in the ENTIRE season, Betts had 24 homers, batted .264, had a .344 OBP, drove in 102 runs, had a .459 slugging, and a .803 OPS. Clearly, under new management, the stars’ stats have taken a major turn for the positive.
Great swings and better management clearly have played a huge factor in the development of these definite all-stars. The new management has also fueled the team because, as Red Sox Nation has been guessing for the last four years, John Farrell is not a first-place-in-all-of-baseball manager.
Betts and Martinez and their incredible swings and stats show baseball that the Red Sox will be a force to be reckoned with for the next decade or so. Not to mention that they have what is possibly the best farm system in baseball (I mean, it bred Mookie Betts, himself, for God’s sake!), but their constant production of future greats will also place an incredible team for years to come around these two and under Cora. Boston’s pitching is also key in their success as the play of Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and David Price has greatly, greatly improved from last year, putting them as one of the best rotations in the league.
Yes, Boston is in good hands and Betts and Martinez are absolutely instrumental in their success of the present and the future.
Jesse A. Cook
June 1, 2018
“Behind Betts And Martinez’ Incredible Year”