FORT MYERS, Fla. — Even for J.D. Martinez, know widely for his obsessive approach to hitting, there can be too much. Too many hours spent looking at video, too deep a quest to understand why he missed a pitch — or why he didn't.
Speaking to NBC Sports Boston at JetBlue Park, Martinez explained his outlook on hitting preparation with some of the same type of incisive analysis he applies to his swing. Some players eschew detail, Martinez seeks it.
"Definitely, it’s a double-edged sword in my opinion,” Martinez said while promoting the clothing brand Carhartt. “It’s my strength, but it’s also my weakness. I’m very studious. It’s paying dividends, it’s paid off for me. Because it’s been how I’ve gotten to this level. If wasn’t that way, I probably would have went home after Houston [released me in March 2014] and been doing something else right now. But at the same time, you’re right: you can overanalyze. There’s that expression, [paralysis by analysis].
“You cripple yourself because of it. You’re constantly diving into video, you’re trying to find something wrong. There’s nothing wrong. There’s times where kind of I’ve learned now, I’ve matured I feel like as a player: ‘Hey, you know what, I got something going right now. I’m doing well. I’m on a little roll, let’s not overanalyze this. Let’s not go in there, and break down the video. Let’s just ride it out, let’s just ride the wave.’”
The unknown, the inexplicable of sports performance, sometimes should be embraced. But Martinez’s initial reluctance to step back is understandable. The 30-year-old is a relatively late bloomer. He revamped his swing in the 2013-14 offseason, but his team at the time, the Astros, didn’t give him a real chance that spring training. He was cut, and Dave Dombrowski’s Tigers picked him up as a minor leaguer.
Everyone wants to understand failure. There's something incredible about wanting to know why something went so well: insecurity that he can do it again? A hope for repetition? Four years of success since Martinez was cut has allowed him to graduate to a slightly different mindset. Slightly.
“I’ve gotten to a point now in my career where, before, I kind of would say, 'OK, why am I doing good? I want to know why I’m doing good,’” Martinez said. “‘Is it because of this, is it because of that?' Just so I can remember how I was doing good,” Martinez said. “But sometimes, when you know you’re doing good and you know the moves you’re making and what you’re doing, you tend to think about it, and then you stop doing good. It’s like they say: When you’re in the zone, if you’re aware of the zone, you’re not in the zone anymore. So, it’s kind of one of those things where I’ve matured and say, ‘Ride the wave.’”
Hearing how Martinez goes about his day, it’s a wonder he has time for much of anything in his life besides hitting.
“Man, it literally starts from after the game,” Martinez said. “I get every at-bat sent to me from the game. I’ll go home, I’ll watch every at-bat, kind of break down the game, kind of see, OK, what did I do? Why’d I miss this pitch? Why’d I hit that pitch? OK, that’s — I see what’s wrong here. Like now I’m OK, I see what’s wrong. I see why I was able to hit that pitch hard … and why I fouled that one off. So it’s kind of one of those things where I’ll study my mechanics, analyze my swing, seeing what I have to work on the next day, look at my swing and say, ‘OK, this is what I want to work on, it’s a back hip, this is my elbow, whatever it might be.’”
He literally goes to sleep thinking about hitting.
“Then after that… I want to look at the pitcher that day and see what he’s featuring, see what his stuff is. Then after that it’s kinda go to bed and you know visualize in a sense of me facing that pitcher and what I’m trying to do off the pitcher and kind just go to bed thinking about that. Then it’s you know, on the way to to the park or before I come to the park, I’ll study film again, you know, looking at all his tendencies, looking at how he likes to get hitters out. Then come to the ballpark, now I have work on my swing, my mechanics and what I try to grind on. What I figured out that night from the video. Do that, during BP, you know, study the mechanics side of it again, try to really just get my body to do what I was planning on doing for that day. Then after that, it’s back to the pitcher again, and studying the pitcher right before the game starts. Really, then it’s just like the cycle starts over again the next day.”
Exhausted yet? Martinez doesn’t seem to tire, but he has gained a sense of when perfection is too much to ask.