Over at some yahoo fantasy baseball article , Brad Evans surmises that Victor Martinez has stopped swinging for the fences and has simply settled on being a singles hitter. He backs it up with some convincing evidence, and what all of us have seen with our own eyes as well. Victor's LD% is sitting at 25.3% for the season, which is roughly 5% higher than his avg. for the last three seasons, and substantially above league avg. Its nice and all that Vic has learned how to put good wood on the ball as often, as line drives result in base hits more often than any other type of batted ball, but this has come with a cost in power.
Looking at his GB/FB/LD numbers over his career, the one season that stands out is his '05 season. He was hitting GBs about as often as this year, and wasn't hitting FBs much more than this year (roughly 4% more) yet he managed to hit 20 HRs and slg .475. If Vic can turn things around and start using his power stroke of old, we could see a turnaround still, but he's going to have to do more than just starting hitting the fly balls farther...
Beyond the fact that Victor hasn't hit a single home run this season (Victor has never had a drought this long ), he's also hitting doubles at a lower rate (6.7% of his BIP compared to 7.8% of BIP in '07). So yeah, it shouldn't be to anyones surprise that his slugging percentage is over .150 points lower this year than last year, and over .100 lower than his three year avg. He hasn't slugged this poorly since his 2003 season
Why is this happening? Is this a change in hitting approach, maybe something the team or Victor alone worked on this offseason and inadvertently drained his power? Did he somehow catch whatever Hafner had and participated in spreading it all around the clubhouse as an unaware carrier, like a bad case of HPV?
I found it interesting that he's seeing slightly more pitches per plate appearance this year at 3.9 P/PA, vs. 3.8 last season and 3.7 in '06, although this is not effecting his walk rate as would be expected. Victor never really walked a ton, but his walk rate from this season was 9.6% and now is an abysmal 5.5%.
Victor is not being selective in his approach to hitting, and instead is swinging and fouling off pitches that are likely going to be balls rather than strikes more often than he has in the past three years (the '06 and '05 numbers resemble '07 pretty close, also a statement to Victor's consistency over the years). Unfortunately, the pitch f/x data for Victor isn't up yet, as I would have like to look a little closer at where he is "reaching" for pitches and what type of pitches he may be reaching for.
And all this brings me back to this fanshot , which links to this article , where Wedge is quoted in response to Peralta joking about having to start hitting all homeruns instead of linedrives as saying, "I want to see him be a more consistent hitter. I'll take a few more of those line-drive outs." Is it possible that they (batting coach, etc.) screwed with Victor's mechanics, over-emphasizing solid contact vs. free swinging? Or is it more likely just Victor being in a slump and trying to hard to hit that first HR of the season, getting himself into bad hitters counts, and settling for trying to make linedrive contact for singles?
Edit: I really didn't buy into the Wedge or hitting coaches messing with his mechanics thing that much as I noted in a comment response below, but its brought up below that Wedge has hinted at the hamstring injury as potentially being the culprit for Victor's loss of power. But what about the nosedive in walk rate? I"m thinking more and more that Victor is trying to carry the burden of turning this team's offense around maybe viewing himself as the leader of this sinking offensive ship (with Wedge running around re-arranging the chairs as Jay noted).
There is some hope here though, as I kind of alluded to above. His 2005 season also saw Victor struggle mightily through the first half with a .236/.312/.380 batting line before exploding in the second half for a .380/.449/.578 line.