By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
As Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez have taken turns assaulting opposing pitchers this season, we thought it might be interesting to explore a couple of questions.
First, even though they don’t bat next to one another in the Boston lineup, how well do Betts and Martinez complement one another?
On the surface, after all, it seems like they’re a near-perfect match.
As we all know, the Red Sox had one of the most fearsome duos in history from 2003-2008, when David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez batted alongside one another in the lineup. The Red Sox obviously ended up trading Ramirez roughly halfway through the 2008, but the success of the Sox in those six seasons was indisputable. Boston went to four American League Championship Series and won two world titles. They made the playoffs five times.
In the case of Ortiz and Ramirez, one was left-handed (Ortiz) and one was right-handed (Ramirez). Combined with their individual blends of skill and power, those variables made the tandem almost impossible to navigate through, especially in big spots.
Which brings us back to Betts and Martinez.
So far this season, while battling for the major league lead in home runs, Betts (16 homers) and Martinez (15) have combined for 31 home runs. Somewhat incredibly, they’ve only homered in the same game twice. At least one of them has homered in 23 of the Sox’ 50 games, and the Sox are 19-4 in those contests.
So here’s the question: how is that two skilled hitters with that many home runs have only homered in the same game twice? In a relatively small sample – a quarter-season – the possibilities are many. Maybe it’s all just coincidence. Or maybe there is a more concrete explanation.
We’ve showed you these charts before, but they’re worth looking at again. Here is a spray chart of Betts’ home runs this season:
Now here is a spray chart of Martinez’ home runs:
Pretty striking right? Of all Betts’ home runs, a stunning 15 of 16 are to the left-field side second base – his power is dead-pull power. Meanwhile, Martinez sprays the ball more, though the majority of his home runs (9 of 15) are to the right field side of second base.
If we were to blend those two charts, it would look like this:
If you’re a pitcher, know what that third chart is?
Here’s the point: while Betts and Martinez are both right-handed, they have very different approaches. Betts needs the ball in to do his most damage. And while Martinez can drive balls on the inner half of the plate, pitching him away is pitching to his strength. You’re damned on one side of the plate against Betts, damned on the other against Martinez.
Years ago, while working for Boston.com, I wrote a story on the challenges for pitchers in pitching to both sides of the plate. (You can find that here.) After many good pitching performances, that phrase – He worked both sides of the plate … – is uttered so frequently that it has become something of a cliché. But the bottom line is that most pitchers can’t do it because they’re usually stronger on one side of the plate than the other.
And in 2018, against the Red Sox, someone is always waiting for them on their weaker side.
Sometimes it’s Betts.
Sometimes it’s Martinez.