Sports are mostly predicated searching for an alternate reality that allows us to live vicariously through the feats and accomplishments of others. At its core, the sports world is a pleasurable mix of the innately talented and the guys who had to scrap and claw for every inch. While these are not mutually exclusive, the latter group is far more relatable. It’s why the underdog or comeback story carries so much gravitas among casual and diehard fan alike. The best story of this sort may still be brewing near the top of the Cleveland Indians batting order.
This is not a proclamation to be taken lightly. The Columbus Blue Jackets just polished off a sweep of the NHL’s best hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, for their first playoff series victory in franchise history. Tiger Woods just stormed through Augusta at the age of 43 to win his first major in over a decade following a laundry list of injuries and moral missteps. These are nice storylines, of course, but pale in comparison to Leonys Martín’s April surge.
A shade over six months ago, Leonys Martín was hospitalized with a potentially incapacitating infection. At the time, concerns weren’t related to playing baseball again, rather there were whispers about his ability to step foot outside the hospital again. Hyperbole is not necessary in this case, as the infection carried a tone of seriousness that is not often matched in the sports world. Ultimately, Martín was able to push through the boundaries and turn the page back over to baseball.
On a team missing its two best hitters, one due to injury and another due to ineffectiveness, Martín was thrust into a larger role. He jumped into the leadoff spot of the order and took off. Examining what has contributed to his productive leap, and subsequently his comeback story, reveals that it is a very sustainable shift. He is utilizing a more diligent approach at the plate to optimize his output.
Specifically, the comeback story begins with a patient eye. Over time, he has carefully trended towards a more selective approach and is now reaping the rewards.
The immediate byproduct of swinging at fewer pitches is more free passes. Through increased patience, Martín has seen his ability to draw walks transform itself from slightly below league average to slightly above league average, providing a bankable baseline skill to improve overall effectiveness at the dish. The story is forged on the other end of this input, however.
The more significant effect of being more selective has been an optimization of contact. Martín has been more discretionary with regard to pitches in the zone in order to avoid ground balls, which are inherently harmless in the relative sense, while simultaneously capitalizing from a contact authority standpoint.
The pressing question relates to Martín’s ability to reproduce these gains in the contact authority department. Although 2019 is still much too small of a sample size to draw sweeping conclusions, the trend picking back up where it left off in 2018 is more than encouraging. The assumption that a profile change has cemented itself in front of our very eyes is a logical one.
In two short years, marred by an unfortunate bout with a potentially deadly infection, Leonys Martín has transformed his batted ball profile into one that can be feared, especially for a guy that made his living in previous years as a toolsy center fielder with a plus glove. His comeback story is a key component of the Indians staying afloat despite lackluster hitting and a pitching staff that has not fully ascribed to its lofty expectations. The most fortunate aspect for Indians faithful? His ascent to plate competence is not one that can be written off lightly, appearing at face value to be a very sustainable development. With an outfield perennially full of question marks, having a dependable center fielder will prove to be a boon as the battle with the Minnesota Twins for American League Central glory unfolds.