On July 31, 2018, the Cleveland Indians traded for Leonys Martin the midst of his best season at the big league level offensively. Just 17 plate appearances into Martin’s arrival in Cleveland, Martin collapsed into life-threatening sickness, and as for 2018, that was the rest of the story.
The greatest question carried by Leonys Martin entering 2019 was whether he would have the capacity and strength to be productive. At this moment, that question is unanswerable; in August it may remain unanswerable. If Leonys Martin can retain his strength, his 2018 season may have revolutionized his approach and altered his offensive ceiling.
First, Martin’s historic strength is being one of the best defensive center fielders in all of baseball by almost every metric be it DRS or UZR. In 2018, Martin was 29th in outs above average among all outfielders despite missing nearly two months. In 2016, Martin was 8th overall among outfielders. He is a plus defender.
Martin’s traditional offensive approach has been best described as slappy. In fact his career ISO is a mere .121, with the power often thought of when discussing a defense-first center fielder. His career walk rate is similarly meek at just 6.7%.
Yet, out of seemingly nowhere, Leonys Martin posted his first OPS above .700 of his career, and wRC+ above 100. Still further, he posted a .170 flashing league average power.
When a player makes such a leap as described above the question often raised is whether this was an aberration or if there wasn’t adjustment, a fundamental change.
First, you can see Martin’s career wOBA with the spike occurring in 2018.
Now, if we isolate average launch angle, you will notice a correlation of sorts.
Baseball’s most popular phenomenon, launch angle, has been the key to Martin’s success. With increasing launch angle has come increasing power for the athletic center fielder.
Not only did Martin’s fly ball and line drive frequency improve; his barrel rate spiked to 7.4%, good for 45th among 332 qualified hitters.
Often as a result of a contact authority improvement, hitters like Martin will see fewer pitches in the zone, and in 2018 Martin saw the lowest zone% of his career at 47.4% and thus, with some patience the highest walk rate of his career.
It is worth noting that the Indians center field production in 2018 was mediocre defense and a wRC+ of 68; the third worst offensive production at the position. Replacing 2018’s platter of awful offense of Rajai Davis, Tyler Naquin, Bradley Zimmer, and Brandon Guyer in center field/right field will improve the Indians offense significantly.
Ultimately, Martin has gone from a 45% ground ball type hitter to a 45% fly ball type hitter causing both power and walk rate spikes. If Martin can retain his strength; if Martin can hold the gains of his adjustment the Indians have improved center field significantly over 2018.