Struggling with your game? Watch better players

J.D. Martinez was the surprise story of the 2014 baseball season. On March 22 of last year he was released by the Astros and Houston GM Jeff Luhnow famously quipped, "We are victims of our own success." The comment didn’t make sense then and a year later it makes even less sense.

Martinez went on to have a career year in Detroit. He had more homers (23) and RBI (76) as well as a higher batting average (.315) and fWAR (3.7) than any Astros outfielder last season. The key to Martinez’s success was first admitting there was a problem, and second, trying to find a way to fix it.

He told me on the radio this week that after going on the disabled list late in 2013 he realized he had to take a long hard look at his results and the path his career was heading. He realized if things continued the way they were going, he probably wouldn’t be in the big leagues much longer.

He started watching video of his teammate Jason Castro. Castro was in the midst of a strong season, one in which he finished with an .835 OPS to go with 18 homers. When doing a side-by-side video comparison of himself and Castro, Martinez noticed how long Castro’s bat stayed in the strike zone. J.D.’s swing was in the zone much less, forcing him to rely on good timing of pitches. If his timing was off, he was making weak contact — if any at all.

Not wanting just one swing comp, Martinez began comparing his swing side-by-side to those of Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. He saw the same thing from each of those guys, a swing plane that kept the bat in the zone longer.

He took his new adjusted swing to winter ball in Venezuela, where he hit .315/.390/.576 to go with 6 homers in 105 plate appearances. Spring training didn’t go as well, and he was released. Two days later he was picked up by the Tigers and the rest is history.

I had been told this many times in my career: If you want to be great, watch great players. Sometimes your eyes are your best teacher and will tell you everything you need to know.