Skip to main content
Menu
J.D. Martinez Doesn’t Need The Green Monster

When the Boston Red Sox signed free agent slugger J.D. Martinez this past offseason, it looked like a match made in baseball heaven. As a right-handed power hitter who’d recently embraced MLB’s fly-ball revolutionto great effect — Martinez fit perfectly into one of the Sox’s longest-standing narratives for building around the quirks of Fenway Park: that the team needs righty mashers to take advantage of the short 310-foot distance to the Green Monster in left field. It’s a strategy that, at times, Boston has been guilty of obsessing over too much — but it still holds a certain logic, given that about half of all home runs at Fenway are hit to left field by right-handed batters.

So with Martinez currently sitting one home run behind teammate (and fellow righty) Mookie Betts for the major league lead in dingers, you might think it’s just another case of marital bliss between a right-handed slugger and his favorite 37-foot-tall green fence. Except Martinez has barely taken advantage of Fenway’s looming left-field wall so far. He’s only hit three of his 15 total homers this season to left, period, and only two have been at home. Compare that with the seven dingers he’s hit to the other sectors of Fenway Park, including this one he tucked around the Pesky Pole in right field on Sunday:

For a righty power hitter on the Red Sox, it’s pretty unheard of for only 22 percent of his Fenway home runs to sail over the Green Monster. Going back to 2009,1 385 of the 456 homers hit by right-handed Red Sox hitters were sent over the Monster, good for a rate of 84 percent. That number was slightly lower (81 percent) for visiting righty hitters at Fenway, which perhaps speaks to the aforementioned strategy of Boston seeking out pull-happy right-handed sluggers. But it’s also much higher than the 75 percent rate of righty homers to the same left and left-center area at every other park, which is further evidence that the Monster attracts long balls from pretty much all righty hitters — except, apparently, J.D. Martinez.

And some of Boston’s most prolific home run hitters went to left even more than the overall Red Sox average. Adrian Beltre hit 11 of his 13 Fenway homers (85 percent) toward the Green Monster during his sole season in Boston. Dustin Pedroia, who’s hit more homers at Fenway than any other righty since 2009, launched 88 percent of his Fenway homers to left in that span. (Incidentally, Martinez already has as many non-Monster home runs at Fenway as Pedroia has tallied there since ’09.) Betts and fellow righty Xander Bogaerts have combined for 72 career home runs at Fenway, and only four of those blasts (two apiece) weren’t over the Monster.

Even David Ortiz, a lefty with such a reputation for pulling the ball that he faced constant infield shifts, hit 21 percent of his Fenway homers from 2009 to 2016 over the Green Monster. In that context, Martinez’s 22 percent figure is downright stupefying.

Martinez isn’t making much use of the Monster yet

Share of right-handed Red Sox batters’ home runs that went over the Green Monster at Fenway Park, 2009-18

Home runs
Player Total Over Green Monster Share of Total
Dustin Pedroia 60 53 88.3%
Mookie Betts 41 39 95.1
Hanley Ramirez 39 27 69.2
Kevin Youkilis 32 26 81.3
Xander Bogaerts 31 29 93.5
Mike Napoli 26 18 69.2
Jason Bay 15 11 73.3
Mike Lowell 15 14 93.3
Will Middlebrooks 14 12 85.7
Adrian Beltre 13 11 84.6
Cody Ross 13 12 92.3
J.D. Martinez 9 2 22.2
Jason Varitek 9 8 88.9
Mike Aviles 9 8 88.9
Jonny Gomes 9 8 88.9
Marco Scutaro 9 9 100.0
Darnell McDonald 8 7 87.5
Bill Hall 8 7 87.5
All Red Sox RHBs 456 385 84.4

Batters listed by name had a minimum of eight home runs at Fenway. Totals for all right-handed Red Sox batters include players not listed here.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group

Obviously, it’s still quite early in Martinez’s Boston career; he’s only logged 22 games at Fenway Park as a member of the home team thus far. (And he didn’t hit any home runs at Fenway in the seven games he played as a member of the visiting Detroit Tigers.) It probably won’t be long before he finds himself crushing a ball or two out onto Lansdowne Street.

But by the same token, Martinez will probably never rival Betts or Pedroia in terms of his tendency to go over the Green Monster. Even before this season, Martinez was the game’s pre-eminent opposite-field power hitter; from 2014 to 2017, he led all MLB batters (righty or lefty) in home runs hit the other way, with 37 opposite-field shots. (No. 2 was fellow righty Miguel Cabrera, at 30; no lefty had more than Chris Davis’s 20.) And that represents a pretty big change in the archetype for a right-handed Red Sox slugger — one who’ll make use of the entirety of Fenway’s peculiar dimensions, rather than always just taking aim at the enticingly close wall in left field.

Going to right will, no doubt, ultimately cost him some home runs, as Boston features one of the majors’ deepest right-field power alleys. But it hasn’t seemed to matter yet, at least not the way Martinez is swinging the bat right now. More so than perhaps any other team, the Red Sox have always coveted righty power bats who pull the ball; it’s about time they had one who spreads his souvenirs around to the rest of the park.

Footnotes

  1. The earliest season of statistics available in ESPN’s Stats & Information Group’s database.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

Comments