Victor Martinez continues to quietly climb ranks of hitting leaders

catching-hitting-leadersVictor Martinez continues to be one of the most overlooked players in baseball.

Of course, not overlooked by opposing pitchers, but overlooked by writers and even fans.

Why is he overlooked? Because V-Mart is a designated hitter.

It seems like there is just one memorable designated hitter per generation in baseball and David Ortiz has that covered and has overshadowed Martinez. Before Ortiz, a handful of DHs ruled the game (but usually not more than one at a time) from Paul Molitor, Harold Baines, Edgar Martinez then Frank Thomas. I’m not suggesting that V-Mart is as good as Big Papi, but definitely deserves to be known as one of the top hitters in the game.

How good is Victor Martinez? In my opinion good enough to join the Hall of Fame discussion. I’m not saying he is a Hall of Famer, but his numbers are better than most people think.

First of all, we need to check the DH tag at the door for a minute. Martinez played 858 games at catcher, more than 200 more than he has as a DH. He also has about the same number of games and innings at catcher that Joe Mauer does, who with three batting titles as a catcher, is in the Hall of Fame discussion.

Martinez is closing in on 2,000 career hits, he should get it in 2017. He also has more than 1,000 career RBIs and five 100-RBI seasons. Those statistics aren’t earth shattering, but when you think of Martinez among catchers, they look pretty impressive, especially when you consider he missed the entire 2012 season with an injury.

Meanwhile, Martinez simply continues to hit. He has a .301 career batting average and has nine seasons hitting .300 or better in his 14-year career. He would need a hot finish to reach .300 this season, sitting at .291 with a week to go, but it is possible.

He has played five seasons in Detroit and since arriving, he has continued to be one of the game’s great clutch hitters. While the definition of a “clutch” hitter is something that has been debated about in recent years, Martinez seems to come through in late innings and in big moments. So much so that he led the American League in intentional walks with 28 in 2014. Now that is coming with him batting after Miguel Cabrera. So even with Cabrera on base, pitchers would rather put another runner on than pitch to Martinez.

It was a smart move because he led the American League in on-base percentage at .409 and on-base plus slugging (OPS) at .974 that season. He batted .335 with a career-high 32 home runs, adding 103 RBIs and making his fifth All-Star team in 2014 when he finished second in MVP voting.

After a year struggling with injuries and inconsistencies last year, he has been one of the key hitters for the Tigers again with 26 home runs and 82 RBIs.

If you look at him as a DH, he is a really good hitter. If you look at him as a catcher, it changes a bit. Only ten catchers have reached 2,000 hits and 21 have 200-plus home runs. Martinez already has 200 homers and could reach 250 next year, the same year he’ll get hit #2,000. He’d be the ninth man to catch at least 800 games and reach both 2,000 hits and 200 home runs. Seven of those catchers are in the Hall of Fame.

Martinez’s numbers would put him in an elite group of catchers.

The problem is, Martinez is both a DH and a catcher, with several strong seasons in both spots. That clouds the Hall of Fame debate and will leave him looking in from the outside. But there is no debate that V-Mart has been essential to the Tigers’ success since arriving in Motown.