J.D. Martinez Is the Most Dangerous Hitter No One's Talking About

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistSeptember 7, 2016

DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 28: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Detroit Tigers bats during the fourth inning during the second inning of the game against the Los Angeles Angels game on August 28, 2016 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. The Angels defeated the Tigers 5-0. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
Leon Halip/Getty Images

When you share a lineup with Miguel Cabrera, it's easy to get overlooked. Two-time MVPs tend to cast long shadows.

So J.D. Martinez is probably used to toiling in relative anonymity.

He's having a monster month-plus, though, and has helped propel the Detroit Tigers into the thick of the American League playoff race. 

"He's been outstanding. He's been a lot of the offense since he's returned," manager Brad Ausmus said, per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.

Martinez went down in June with a fractured elbow and didn't return until Aug. 3. Since then, he's hit .387 with a 1.114 OPS. 

Entering play Wednesday, the 75-63 Tigers trail the Baltimore Orioles by one game for the second wild-card spot. And they're only 4.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians for the AL Central lead.

Martinez doesn't deserve all the credit. But he gets less than his share, as Fox Sports' JP Morosi underscored in March when he named the Detroit right fielder the fourth-most underrated player in the game.

Martinez, who turned 29 Aug. 21, isn't a flash in the pan. He made the All-Star team and bashed a personal-best 38 homers with 102 RBI last year for the Tigers.

It's not as if he needed a dramatic reinvention, in other words. 

Martinez's accomplishments with the Tigers have been somewhat overshadowed by Miguel Cabrera.
Martinez's accomplishments with the Tigers have been somewhat overshadowed by Miguel Cabrera.Duane Burleson/Getty Images

As FanGraphs' August Fagerstrom elucidated in April, Martinez teased a more patient approach early in 2016. That's since leveled off.

Still, he's swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone (32.8 percent this year compared to 35.5 percent in 2015) and making less soft contact (12.6 percent in 2015 to 9.7 percent this season), per FanGraphs.

In addition to Cabrera, left fielder Justin Upton has been stuffing the stat sheet for Detroit after failing to live up to his nine-figure contract for much of the year. 

Tigers' top hitters (by OPS) post-All-Star break
NameOPSAVGHRRBI
J.D. Martinez1.114.387817
Miguel Cabrera1.064.3581334
Justin Upton.815.2471229
Stats courtesy of MLB.com

The Tigers, who are tied for fourth in the AL in OPS (.764) but eighth in runs scored (637), need all the thump they can get.

Martinez may be the key. On Sunday, in a pivotal 6-5 win over the division-rival Kansas City Royals, he cracked a mighty home run "that could be heard all the way from the press box," per Jason Beck and Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com.

Detroit has its flaws, including a pitching staff that sports a middle-of-the-pack 4.17 ERA.

For now, however, this is a team that's capable of going places in the wide-open Junior Circuit. And Martinez's shoulders could be strong enough to carry it there.

We know he's capable of a hot streak. Last year, he hit 19 home runs and drove in 46 runs in June and July, and he posted a 1.003 OPS in July alone.

Mixed in with his latest baseball-bashing spree, Martinez clubbed his 100th career homer Aug. 14 in a 7-0 win over the AL West-leading Texas Rangers.

"It's a great accomplishment for me, coming through what I had to go through but, obviously, it's just a number," he said, per Fenech.

He's right. On the other hand, numbers can translate to wins, which can translate to playoff spots. For a Detroit team looking to avenge last season's cellar-dwelling finish and charge back onto the October stage, that's sweet music.

Martinez leads the Tigers in several second-half stats, including batting average and OPS.
Martinez leads the Tigers in several second-half stats, including batting average and OPS.Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Cabrera is around, doing Cabrera things. On the pitching side, Justin Verlander is cranking back the clock.

Martinez, however, leads all Tigers in second-half doubles (12) and slugging percentage (.677). If there's such a thing as a secret weapon that finished 15th in AL MVP voting last year, he's it.

Martinez is standing in a long shadow. Clearly, it's time for him to step into the light.

    

All statistics current as of Sept. 6 and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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