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Should Starling Marte be leading off? Liriano impresses scouts, and the Bryce is (all) Right

HIGH ATOP MT. LEBO – Pirates outfielder Starling Marte has saved his best for first this season.

 

But should the Pirates save him for later in the batting order?

 

Marte enters today’s series with Washington (buy a ticket this weekend, folks) with an MLB-best .609 average in the first-inning. I wouldn’t suggest moving Marte out of the lead off spot while he’s on such a first-inning tear. But I do wonder in the medium-, to long-term if it’s the best place for the Pirates’ burgeoning 24-year-old star in a lineup.

marte

The first inning has been a party for Marte this season … but should he take that party down the order in coming seasons (Or later this season)?

 

I wrote in today’s paper about Marte’s maturation as a hitter. Case in point was his eighth-inning at bat against John Axford on Tuesday, when he ripped an 0-2 slider to center on a line for a base hit. A year ago, Marte might have flailed at such an offspeed pitch. But as Clint Hurdle noted he’s able to now think fastball but also be “cognizant” of offspeed pitches. He better understands what pitchers are trying to do to him, pitch sequence, he better recognizes breaking balls, and he’s doing a better job of not getting out in front of pitches.

 

Don’t believe me? Just see the numbers: Marte has cut his out-of-zone swing rate from 34.5% last season to 29% this season, and he has cut his strikeout rate from 27% last season to 21% this season.

 

He’s never missed pitches in the strike zone. He’s making contact with 90 percent of swing offerings against pitches in the strike zone. But now he’s not chasing offspeed pitches out of the zone as often. This is a big deal. He’s only 24. What is he going to be at 27?

 

Last season he was fringe-average hitter against curveballs. This season he ranks 23rd among MLB hitters against the curve, trailing Bryce Harper and Lance Berkman, ranked 21st and 22nd. Not bad company.

 

And, yeah, Marte can still hit a fastball.

 

What does all this tell us? It tells us that Marte is maturing as a hitter, and doing so rather quickly in his career. He has tools. And he’s showing baseball acumen.

 

In batting practice Marte shows raw plus power.  Hurdle said he has a future home run total in his head for Marte but he didn’t want to share it with reporters in Milwaukee. I think that means he’s thinking of an impressive number. 25 home runs? 30? To go along with 30 steals and perhaps a .300 average. He’s only going to get stronger and fill out his 6-foot, 190-pound frame.

 

He’s becoming a better hitter … but is he too good of a hitter – batting .327 with a .491 slugging mark – to bat leadoff?

 

Marte doesn’t walk much. He never has. He’s going to have more power. He’s going to be able to drive in runs. At the present he’s an unconventional leadoff hitter. He’s aggressive, though that aggression is now more controlled.

 

This doesn’t sound like the profile of a lead-off batter to me. This sound like a future middle-of-the order bat. I think down the road, perhaps as early as this season, Marte might have more value as a guy who is in more RBI situations.

 

So who should bat lead0ff? How about another unusual candidate: Travis Snider.

 

Snider doesn’t have speed, but he has the patience and on-base percentage you want as a lead-off man.  Snider has a .386 on-base percentage this year right in line with his minor league on-base part of .383.

 

Again, I wouldn’t move Marte at this very moment. He’s too hot. And maybe he just really feels comfortable in that spot and that’s where he does belong. And there’s also the argument of getting your better hitters the most at bats possible.

 

But down the road, and perhaps down the road this season, maybe Marte should save his best for later: No. 2, No. 4 or No. 5 positions where his burgeoning bat has a chance to do more damage.

 

LIRIANO IS IMPRESSING MORE IMPORTANT FOLKS THAN MYSELF  

 

Francisco Liriano isn’t just putting up good numbers in Triple-A – 11Ip, 8H, 2R, 0BB, 17ks – he’s also impressing scouts, writes John Perrotto here.

 

“I know it’s Triple-A but he’s been really good,” said a scout who saw Liriano’s start Tuesday against Gwinnett in the International League. “His stuff looks as good as it ever has and he’s throwing strikes with all his pitches.”

 

He’s always had swing-and-miss stuff. Has he learned how to throw strikes? If he has he’s a major bargain.

 

THE BRYCE IS (ALL) RIGHT

 

I know the Pens are playing tonight, but you might want to buy a ticket this weekend for the Nationals series. For one, Stephen Strasburg is probable for Saturday’s start, and you’ll also get to see a possible once-in-a-generation talent early in his career in Bryce Harper.

 

Here’s the 20-year-old Harper’s first 162 games: .284 average, .356 on-base, .518 slugging … 31 home runs.

 

Not bad.

 

The 31 home runs ties him with some guy named Ted Williams near the top of the list of players through their age 20 season. The difference is Harper’s age 20 season is just getting started. (Harper injured his side Wednesday but he played last night.)

 

What impresses me about Harper is not just his 80-grade p0wer but by the amount of contact and adjustments he’s making before he’s legally able to drink. (Well, he can drink in Canada. Someone should ask him if he has). A lot of folks in the scouting community thought his violent swing would lead to a bushel of strikeouts. It hasn’t.

 

Again, buy a ticket and come early for batting practice. You won’t regret it.

 

13 Comments

  1. Snider is not leadoff material and outside of Marte at the moment, no one else on the team is. I think keeping him in at leadoff for the time being will eventually better his patience and ability to draw walks, especially since pitchers will keep giving him less to swing at as his offensive numbers increase. His speed also is the real reason to keep him there. Most long singles can move him to 3rd easily and with a team that is still hitting too inconsistently in the top of the order out side of Marte, getting your leadoff hitter to 3rd base quicker and able to score on a ground ball or decently hit fly is more important than him batting further down in the order with no one to move along. I’d say give him a full season of getting comfortable where he’s at now and to grow more confident with the bat, before moving him down in the order. Finding another reasonable alternative in the 1 spot needs to happen too.

  2. Neither Snider or Marte fits the prototypical lead off guy but I would take on-base over speed and at the end of the year I do believe Snider will have the higher on base. Also Marte hits for more power then Snider so for that reason as well I would like Marte’s triples/home runs driving in two runs instead of it being a solo shot or someone having to get him in from third.

    I agree it shouldn’t happen right now but maybe sometime later in the year. Problem is Snider doesn’t play everyday. Do you move Walker to lead off on days Snider is not playing or do you lead off Tabata. I would hate to move Marte around too much.

    • Excellent points, Nate.

      Neither is typical lead off. and if Snider is not everyday, the impact to the lineup ripples down the order. Ballplayers thrive on routine and that could mess with their ‘juju’

    • Great comment! … as I agree with it in totality

  3. I heard during spring training that Marte credits going to the Dominican winter league and the high amount of off speed pitches that he faced there

    • John, Hurdle mentioned something regarding this as well. Hurdle is a big believer in players utilizing winter ball, and notes there’s a lot of breaking stuff thrown there. Surely didn’t hurt Marte.

  4. Great look inside the numbers look, Travis, especially on the % inside strikezone vs outside. That recognition of pitch sequence for a young hitter in the majors is key.

    Would love to have seen the Bucs this weekend, but am scoping out the talent in the Midwest League in 2 new ball parks for me. Byron Buxton is moving up fast and is seeming to rise to the challenge quite easily. Could be a midseason move-up. Looking forward to Berrios pitching Saturday night in South Bend.

    • Sounds like a fun trip, Roberto. …. Buxton seems like the real deal, and the numbers/reports on Berrios last year were very intriguing. Twins system is much improved (and we all know about Sano laying waste to the FSL)

  5. Snider won’t even be starting come July. He’s an extremely fragile flower.

    • We’ll see. When he does play he belongs at or near the top of this lineup, I think, because of his on-base skills. Hurdle has played him quite a bit in the No.2 hole, which I think is smart. And if Marte is every moved down the lineup I think Snider could be an unconventional leadoff option. … My bigger concern with Snider is his outfield defense

      • ——Snider does not hit the curve ball well, but he sees more fastballs in the 2-hole batting in front of McCutch and with steal threat Marte on base.
        ——As a lefthanded batter, Snider gets a bigger hole to shoot at when Marte is on base ahead of him.
        ——Snider runs like my grandmother——who is fast for 82, but not for a ballplayer. Snider would clog up the bases as a leadoff hitter, thus taking away the speed factor for Bucs on the bases.
        .

        Batting leadoff, Snider will see less fastballs, and have less of a hole on the right side, thereby lowering his on base %. He will clog up the bases when he does get on.
        .
        You are allowing your “numbers” to take away your common sense. Snider would not be “an unconventional leadoff option”: he would be a poor leadoff option.

  6. Enjoyed this read and the one on defensive shifts, too. Great, geeky info. Thanks!
    As for moving Marte to the middle of the lineup, I like it. Of course, we see this with players as they mature. Barry Bonds started out as leadoff in Pittsburgh so many years ago. Hardly saying Marte will follow Bonds’ trajectory, but it’s fun to note Barry went from 65 and 54 walks in his first two seasons, respectively, to shattering the single-season and career record for walks with 232 and 2558, respectively. Not planning on seeing something like that again soon anywhere. But Marte is going to get better at drawing walks

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