Thursday, June 26, 2014

Did the Astros Make a Mistake with J.D. Martinez

J.D. Martinez is on quite a hot streak right now, and has his current line up to .320/.356/.648. Needless to say, that's a bit better than the Astros current left field production. Did the Astros blow it? Well, from a results standpoint, it seems like they did. But, as I have argued before, while they obviously hope that the results work out in their favor, no GM can predict the future.  The proper question is whether they made the right decision at the time, based on the information they had.

It's easy to remember the promise of J.D. Martinez. At a time when the farm system was barren, Martinez and Altuve were bright lights. In 2011, the team needed help, and Martinez and Altuve were both called up straight from AA. Martinez had a solid debut, hitting .293/.328/.509 in his first 30 games. Thing is, he never really got back there. He slumped the rest of 2011, and was abysmal in 2012 and 2013.

It is difficult to overstate how bad he was that last two years. His combined line of .245/.295/.376, combined with close to league worst defense, resulted in -1.8 WAR for those two years total, placing him in the bottom 10 in the majors for that period. He was the worst player on a very bad team in 2013, as his walk rate plummeted to 3%, his k rate went up to 26% and he continued to demonstrate almost no power.

When J.D. was released, Luhnow said he was a victim of the Astros success. That seems odd now, with the Astros getting no production out of Grossman/Hoes, but looking at the end of the 2013 season, its easy to see why he said that. LJ Hoes and Robbie Grossman both performed well enough at the end of the 2013 season to deserve extended chances, Springer was on his way, and Dexter Fowler had been acquired via trade. That doesn't even include Domingo Santana, Preston Tucker, DDJ, Austin Wates, all of whom were getting closer. And there was nothing in his previous 2 years of playing that indicated J.D. should get the nod over any of them. J.D.'s reduced stock was illustrated when he was not protected by the Rule 5 draft, and was not chosen, and was not claimed on waivers.

Again, it looks like a mistake, now. All the talk of J.D. retooling his swing this offseason seems like it is paying off.  Hoes and Grossman have both regressed. I still like J.D., and if this turn around is legit, I will be thrilled for him. But I won't be upset at the front office. These things happen. Happened to the Rangers with Chris Davis. Happened to the Pirates with Jose Bautista. Hopefully, Domingo Santana will make us forget all about it soon.


Anonymous said...

I'll bet Ausmus passed on his hitting prowess to JD.
Or it could be that JD just feels like a new person with a new team.1oldpro

Anonymous said...

Personally, I really don't get the criteria you use here: not whether it worked out, but whether it made sense at the time. I've read it on other sites, and have now read it here. Frankly, it kind of disturbs me, on many levels. It is a completely vacant criteria when applied to GMs as GMs are solely judged by "how things work out." Hell, that is all that matters.

Is this a big screw up? Probably not. Is it a big relative to all the other moves he must make? Probably not. Is this a screw up I would have made? Certainly. However, Luhnow is thankfully held to a higher standard than some anonymous dude on the internet, or a known writer for that matter.

Bottom line, it no doubt goes on the negative side of Luhnow's ledger, as it should. Putting it into perspective is one thing, rationalizing it away is another thing entirely. That road leads to non-accountability for those who by definition, must be held accountable.

t4stywh34t said...

I am inclined to agree more with Anonymous #1 above than #2. Player success does not happen in a vacuum; there has been something in Detroit that Martinez is getting that he didn't/couldn't get with Houston. Would he have been able to re-tool his swing if he'd stayed in the Astros system, continually bouncing between AAA and the majors? I doubt it. There's a mindset there that says "I just need to work harder." When you get utterly let loose by your team, and nobody claims you on waivers, your mindset changes to, "Crap, I need to start over." And that's what made the difference.

I am hesitant to chalk the situations like Martinez, Davis, Bautista, et. al. up to "losses" for the team that let them go; though they're certainly "wins" for the teams with which they have found success. I can't give Luhnow (or the other GM's) an "L" for this because the Martinez he knew got wrecked. He didn't lose a good player; he lost a player that figured out how to be good because of that very situation.

Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight: a GM who oversees all the conditions which (might have) prevented JD from reaching his potential, can be excused for JD not reaching his potential, because there were conditions preventing JD from reaching his potential.

I like Luhnow, but in most places on the internet, he is the Teflon GM.

t4stywh34t said...

The problem you may be running into here is trying to apply objective categories to a subjective aspect of baseball. Since we can agree that Luhnow is not omniscient, and that the only person, in the end, who can change Martinez for the better is Martinez, I cannot place blame solely on Luhnow. Luhnow himself, with every single coach on the team, could have been telling J.D. for the last few years that he needs to fix his swing, or the way he was seeing the ball. Suddenly in Detroit, he does those things. Since we're not omniscient, we need to be able to admit that we simply don't know what happened instead of trying to pin this on Luhnow and saying he messed up. He's not made of teflon, but it is a bit absurd to pin this particular thing on him. It would be wholly different if Luhnow was making this mistake over and over and over again. That's all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

J.D. revamped his swing long before he was released by the Astros. He had success in winter ball with it. Astros knew that, even promoted it. I can't blame the Astros for giving someone else a chance (Springer) instead of Martinez, but I have a problem with cutting ties with him in exchange for claiming Presley off waivers. Throwing away a player you have invested so much into, for another team's throwaway. That, was the mistake.

The General said...

.370 BABIP. 132 PA's. Let's cool this out for a bit.

Anonymous said...

BABIP: the myth that just won't die. It's become core language of the cult.

The position is often: Is JD's performance unsustainable because he has an unsustainable BABIP? This is a completely non-sensical question or supposition, uttered by people who give almost magical qualities to a poorly conceived statistic. JD's BABIP is high because he is knocking the crap out of the ball. Witness all his non-BABIP homers.

So the rational question instead should be: Is JD likely to continue to knock the crap out of the ball at this rate? I'd bet against it, but it has absolutely nothing to do with some magical attribute of a meaningless stat.

One day, this term will drop out of the vernacular of the cult, and the world will be a better place.

(Not Hank) Aaron said...

In this case, I don't think BABIP is the right thing to look at it. You regress his BABIP down to career levels, he still has all the home runs, which of course do not come into play in the BABIP calculation. The main difference between J.D. now and last two years is a HR/FB rate of 23% (up from roughly 10% last three years), which, if he qualified, would place him in the top 10 in the league. It's obviously a small sample, but HR/FB stabilizes faster than BABIP, and there is a clear swing change that could explain it. Notably, you saw the exact same increase in HR/FB, after a swing change, in Jose Bautista at the time of his breakout. I'm not saying it IS legitimate, but I don't you can discount it just looking at a high BABIP.