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Production Levels and Starling Marte

Off to a tremendous start, can Starling continue to avoid a sophomore slump?

Bob Levey

To come clean, I have never been much of a believer Pittsburgh Pirates' outfielder Starling Marte. The tools are all there, and they've been on display this season, there's no denying that. It's always been my thought though, that his approach would overshadow his talent, leaving him as a low end player in fantasy leagues. At this point in the season, I couldn't be more wrong, but I'm still not sure I'm buying long term success for Marte. Here's the table, including the 110% line in case anyone foresaw improvement in these categories.

Baseline: 2013 (162 game pace) 741 .316 .379 .485 134 20 69 41
110% 741 .347 .413 .533 147 22 76 45
90% 741 .284 .323 .437 121 18 62 37
80% 741 .253 .290 .388 107 16 55 33
70% 741 .221 .256 .340 94 14 48 29
60% 741 .190 .222 .291 80 12 41 25

Here's my argument against continued success at this same performance level for Marte: Walks. You look at his OBP and you think "that's pretty good even if there is a dropoff in batting average" - you're not wrong on that either. But if you dig a little deeper, you see that he's already racked up eight hit by pitches on the season. Sure, Carlos Quentin has shown that this can be a repeatable "skill", but in nearly exactly as many plate appearances and at-bats in 2012, Marte was only hit by three pitches. If we remove the HBPs from Marte's OBP, it sits in the .350s which is solid, but not nearly as good. Marte has improved his walk rate from 2012 to 2013, by about half a percent, which shouldn't be ignored. This is definite progress, but not as drastic as the added HBPs make it seem.

And should we worry about Marte's batting average regressing? Perhaps a little, though not a ton. His BABIP is up about 60 points as compared to last year, and is sitting at .392 which is likely unsustainable. However, Marte does fit the profile of someone who can sustain a higher than normal BABIP given how he keeps the ball on the ground and the speed he has to beat out infield hits. Additionally, he has dropped his K% from 27.5% in 2012 to 21.9% in 2013, and clearly putting the ball in play is a good thing for Marte.

I'm also skeptical that Marte will experience continued success in the stolen base department. It's not that he doesn't have the speed to swipe 30+ bases in a season, he does, it's that while he had a 71% career success rate in the minors, and is at 76% thus far in 2013, at the upper levels of the minors, Marte sat more in the 66% range. I'm not sure that I buy he all of a sudden figured out how to steal at a better clip against better pitchers and catchers. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility, as he could have better coaches, or be focusing more or any number of things...but I'm going to need to see more than six weeks of play to convince me.

Am I foolish in needing more proof on Marte? Is he really a top fantasy outfielder going forward? Let me know what you think in the comments.

Source Material
Baseball Reference