Sunday, May 11, 2014
Victor Martinez Accomplishing Rare Feat Early in Season
Photo credit: FreePress.com
My friend Charles Liston, a frequent poster at Motown Sports, remarked yesterday that Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez has more home runs (8) than strikeouts (5) through Saturday's action. It's still early and it will be a difficult pace for the Tigers veteran to maintain, but it's worth noting that he is the only regular in the majors who can lay claim to this statistical oddity to this point.
Old timers will point to Joe Dimmagio's 1937 season where he he hit 46 round trippers versus just 37 strikeouts. In fact, Dimaggio had seven seasons with more homers than strikeouts and had nearly as many homers (361) as strikeouts (369 ) in his career. More home runs than strikeouts was a noteworthy accomplishment even then, but not as rare as today. Several players did it multiple times including Reds and Giants backstop Ernie Lombardi (four times in the 1930s and '40) and the legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra (five seasons in the '50s).
The only Tiger to accomplish the rare double over a full season was Hall-of-Fame second baseman Charlie Gehringer with 19 homers and 16 strikeouts in 1935 and 15/13 in 1936. Pinch hitter Gates Brown had 6 circuits and 4 strikeouts in 1968 in just 104 plate appearances.
Since the 1950s, the sport has changed dramatically from a game of pitch to contact and hit for contact to a one of power pitching and power hitting. Contributing factors are harder throwing pitchers, lighter bats, more lively balls some years, smaller parks, bigger and stronger hitters, the growth of reliever specialization and more recently a larger strike zone being called. The result has been more emphasis on swinging for power and pitchers striving to avoid contact in response. Strikeouts have risen from 3.86 per team per game in 1950 to 5.18 in 1960 to 5.75 in 1970 to a whopping 7.85 today. In other words, there are a twice as many strikeouts today as there were in 1950.
The last player to accumulate more home runs than strikeouts over a full season was the great Barry Bonds with 45 homers and 41 whiffs for the Giants in 2004. Prior to Bonds, Royals superstar George Brett had 24 bombs and 22 K's in 1980. Those are the only two players to do it since 1960.
Martinez does not strike out much by today's standards never whiffing as many times as 80 in a year. His lowest total in a full season was 51 for the Tigers in 2011. However, he is on a pace for 25 strikeouts in a full season which would be unprecedented for him. He is also on track for 40 home runs which would exceed his previous career high of 25 in 2007 by 15.
So, it's unreasonable to expect Martinez to maintain either his current home run or strikeout pace, but for the moment, he is locked into something quite remarkable.
Data for this article were extracted from SeanLahman.com and Baseball-Reference.com.