Inside the matchup: J.D. Martinez vs. Price

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

J.D. Martinez has watched a lot of balls fly away of late.One of the hottest hitters of the past month will face one of the hottest pitchers of the past month on "Sunday Night Baseball." The former is not someone who immediately comes to mind when you think of big bats in the Detroit Tigers lineup -- outfielder J.D. Martinez.

The latter is a pitcher who is often thought of as one of the best in baseball and who figures to be involved in a lot of trade talks over the next few weeks -- Tampa Bay Rays starter David Price.

Let’s look at what our broadcast crew will be focusing on when it comes to this matchup tonight.

Martinez is raking

Martinez is hitting in a manner similar to that of someone who shares his last name, teammate Victor Martinez.

J.D. is hitting .383 with eight home runs and 11 doubles in his last 24 games. His 1.161 OPS in that span (which represents the past month) was the best in MLB entering Sunday, just ahead of Angels center fielder Mike Trout.

We use a video-tracking service used by major league teams that rates every batted ball as hard, medium or soft. The two Martinezes have the highest hard-hit rates in the majors this season among players with at least 150 plate appearances. Victor Martinez ranks first at 27 percent. J.D. ranks second at 25 percent.

J.D. Martinez’s numbers are vastly different from anything he did over the previous two seasons (as noted in the chart on the right).

J.D. Martinez Last 3 Seasons

The difference has come in Martinez’s results when an at-bat ends with a pitch in the lower half of the strike zone (or below the knees).

His miss rate on those pitches is nearly identical (30 percent in 2012 and 2013, 29 percent this season), but he is mashing the ones he does hit.

Martinez had eight home runs on the 1,864 lower-half pitches he saw in 2012 and 2013. He has seven against the 430 he’s seen this season.

One odd quirk to keep in mind: Martinez has not fared well against left-handed pitching this season. He is 8-for-47 against lefties this season but 4-for-8 in his last three games.

Price right

Price has a 2.18 ERA in his last seven starts after starting the season with a 4.42 ERA in his first 11 starts.

He has struck out at least nine hitters in each of his last six starts, the first pitcher with a streak that long since Johan Santana had a run of seven straight starts in 2004.

One of the keys to Price’s success has been the performance of his cutter. Opponents are hitting .175 in at-bats ending with that pitch this season, an 89-point improvement from 2013.

Price has already struck out more hitters with his cutter this season (37) than he did last season (33), despite throwing 23 fewer two-strike cutters than he threw in 2013 (160 versus 183).

J.D. Martinez is one of several interesting matchups for Price tonight. He is 3-for-7 against the Rays lefty, a smaller sample than Victor Martinez, who has crushed Price for eight hits and three home runs in 17 at-bats, and Miguel Cabrera, whom Price has dominated, holding him to one hit in 14 at-bats.