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What to make of Starling Marte?

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SOUTH HILLS – It’s hard to label Starling Marte‘s first full season in the major leagues as anything other than a success. Despite missing 25 games with a hand injury, he finished 28th among position players in all of baseball with 4.6 Wins Above Replacement. He impacted the game at times with all five tools. He showed burgeoning power. He stole 41 bases. His bat was redhot to open the season and his defensive play in PNC Park’s deep left field was critical. But ….

…. there are some troubling trends, particularly since Clint Hurdle seems inclined to keep Marte as the everday lead-off hitter.

 

For starters, Marte’s strikeout rate surged to 29.7 percent in the second half. That’s Pedro Alvarez/Chris Davis territory. You can live with that if you have 8o-grade power. Marte does not.

 

Marte swung at nearly 40 percent of pitches that were out of the strikezone. His swing-and-miss rate of 12.2 percent supports his high strikeout rate. His approach declined as the season went on perhaps as pitchers made adjustment, perhaps because of his hand injury. Whatever the reason, it was trending down.

 

His on-base was a solid .343, but that was bumped up by 24 HBPs. Maybe getting hit by pitches is a sustainable skill, but even if it is, you don’t want an everyday player in harm’s way so often. The Pirates are working with Marte to reduce this number.

 

On the bases, Marte stole 41 bases, which was great. His speed is a true plus tool. But his instincts and technique are perhaps in need of refinement because he was caught stealing 15 times.

 

Some of this is nitpicking  because we are talking about a 24-year-old who demonstrated all five tools and would have been a 5 WAR player had he remained healthy. He’s a premium athlete, who had he grown up in the states, might be playing wide receiver in the NFL. His HR/FB rate was impressive considering the drain that is PNC Park on right-handed power.  He perhaps has 30-30 upside. There’s an Alfonso Soriano-like player here (with much better defense), which is a good thing. Also, Marte did improve his walk rate from 3.3 percent in the first half to 6.7 percent in the second half.

 

This is valuable package.

 

But I don’t think this is the profile of a lead-off hitter … at least not against right-handed pitching (my pick would be Neil Walker).

 

For me, Marte is  of course an everyday player. His defense and baserunning adds value regardless who is pitching. But for me, he should bat further down in the lineup against RHPs. He hit .254 against RHPs last season vs. a whopping .402 against LHPs. For me, he’s not an everyday lead-off hitter until he improves his overall approach and performance against RHPs. But can plate discipline be learned? Many believe, and the evidence suggests, it is an innate skill to a degree.

 

The other question is this: is Marte a core player worthy of a long-term contract? I lean toward ‘Yes’ though the plate discipline is a concern. Marte is not Andrew McCutchen 2,o, though, and I think Gregory Polanco is also clearly a more valuable asset when you factor in Polanco’s remarkable ability to control the strike zone.

 

Marte can still be part of a dream outfield for years to come. But he looks like the third most valuable piece there and down the road he could be a trade chip depending on the performance of Josh Bell, Austin Meadows and Harold Ramirez.

 

-TS

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Comments

  1. Nate83 says:

    I’m so glad you had the paragraph about nitpicking and his age. It brought the entry back to where it should be and that is the remaining questions about this very young elite player. He just as easily could improve in some of these areas as he could plateau.

    I think he will always be a free swinger but if he could just bring down his out of strike zone swing rate to 30% and his swing and miss to something like 10% it would go a long way towards him seeing better pitches and working deeper counts.

    It seems to me that all the Pirates really need to do to get better is face more left handed pitchers. Gaby, Mercer and Marte all destroy left handed pitching.

  2. Denis Cunningham says:

    Marte reminds me of Barry’s Dad–Bobby Bonds–but he doesn’t have quite the same home run power. Perhaps that will come when he fills out some–maturing with age. And–yes–the strike outs are definitely problematic, and putting the ball in play is a tad too challenging up and down the line-up–with the exception of ‘Cuth hitting 3rd.

  3. chethejet1 says:

    Marte needs to bat lower in the lineup. His talent is terrific and he will never be a great hitter, but he competes and will still play defense. The Pirates have talent in the outfield and with Bell, Meadows, and a surprise or two, Marte will be the player to trade for a first or third baseman in two years.

  4. cmat0829 says:

    Great points about Marte, and it underscores:

    1) The Pirates core is still young, and growing, and there is upside still across the board (save Cutch perhaps).
    2) Marte, with all of his holes in his offensive game, is still a huge difference maker for this team.
    3) How great is it that Marte may be a piece you can move in a year or two, with better talents displacing him?

    As to the point that Marte should not bat leadoff in 2014, who exactly on this roster WOULD you bat in the leadoff spot? Only possible options I guess would be Mercer, Tabata (if he plays every day) or Walker…and to me, it is very easy to say Marte is the best leadoff option of that bunch. But I’m sure someone will educate me why someone else is clearly a better option to bat leadoff in 2014 on THIS roster.

  5. Nate83 says:

    I guess the question is are the Pirates willing to sacrifice -.020 OPB and having strike outs in the lead off position in exchange for the speed Marte gives you when he does get on base. I personally like Tabata leading off myself but really think they lack any really obvious choice so Marte is as good as anybody at this point.

    Hopefully come late June it won’t be an issue with Polanco coming up. He has a much better approach at the plate and still has the speed. It will be interesting to see where they bat Marte when that happens. I don’t think they move Walker out of the 2 spot so it would have to be 5th or 6th.

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  7. NMR says:

    Great blog, Travis.

    I agree, almost doesn’t even need to be said at this point that Marte is a fine player. But I personally do not see much upside left, or at least practical upside, and that is because his offensive game is full of contradictions.

    If he just so happens to be one of a handful of players in the history of the game that can call getting hit by pitches a repeatable skill, then he’ll greatly increase his risk of injury.

    If he doesn’t get hit by pitches, he doesn’t have any way to get on base other than hits.

    If he continues to strike out this much, he won’t get enough hits to raise his OBP to above average levels unless he maintains very high BABIP.

    If he wants to maintain a very high BABIP, he won’t ever be able to hit enough fly balls to utilize his power.

    Sure, Marte is young. But he hasn’t shown a shred of consistant change to his batting profile despite all the feel-good stories of tweaking his approach. At some point, he is what he is.

    He’s a strong canddiate to regress, but still should be a 3 WAR player.

  8. Nate83 says:

    I’m on board with most of what you say because as I commented I think he will always be somewhat of a free swinger. I agree at some point you have to admit he is what he is but I’m not sure we are to that point just yet with less then 700 major league at bat. The increased walks in the second half is a good sing. The decreased amount of balls he hit hard that corresponded with that is a little alarming. I’m hoping his hand injury attributed to that more then taking away his aggressiveness at the plate.

    It’s a good point about him being a walking contradiction. That is why I feel his plate discipline has to be where it starts even if it’s just moderate improvements he does enough other things really well to be excited about him.

  9. PetroSteel says:

    Marte is a stud and I think he will surprise us all with how good he really will become. He is not only very young but a raw talent. He will put it all together in the next couple years and we will see another Cutch or better. Forget about trading this guy until free agency comes around.

  10. Jim S. says:

    You nailed Starling with that analysis, Travis. He does so many things well that if he could just improve his plate discipline, he could be one of the top players in the game. But, plate discipline doesn’t usually improve much once you reach the big leagues. He can definitely improve upon his 25/138 BB/K ratio. In fact, he has to. But, he’s never going to be Cutch or Polanco, or even close, in that regard.

    When I see Starling, I think of another guy with very similar skills. A lot of people think he broke out last year to become an established star. That guy had the following slash line overall in 2013 – .284/.338/.506/.844.

    Starling’s slash line was pretty similar, except with less pop – .280/.343/441/.784.

    But, as we know, Starling hits in a pitcher’s park. The other guy hits in a hitter’s park. Their road slash lines were the following last year:

    Starling – .275/.333/.454/.787
    Player X – .274/.323/.442/.765

    Starling actually hit pretty well at PNC, although his slg% was definitely better on the road. The other guy, as you can see, saw a pretty big decline on the road. I’m not sure the other guy was a better hitter than Starling last year if you take park factors into account.

    I hear all the time now how great that other guy is, and I don’t hear that about Starling a whole lot. Can you guess who that other guy is?

    BTW, that other guy is 3 years older than Starling. That other guy’s slash line at 25 was: .225/.276/.403/.679.

    That other guy, of course, is Carlos Gomez. He might be the best defensive CF in MLB, and his hitting has improved quite a bit from when he was 25. If Starling can improve similarly, we could really have something.

  11. NMR says:

    Gomez has been my favorite comp since Marte entered the league. Dead on.

    Peter Bourjos is awfully close, as well.

  12. Nate83 says:

    Good comparison Jim. I’m sold on Marte’s floor being pretty good. He’s every bit as good as the Cards big off season pick up Bourjos on defense and has a better bat already. He has room for growth but that doesn’t mean it will happen. I’m greedy and want to see what his ceiling can be so I’m hoping for that growth. He also just looks the part when he’s playing. He looks like he was born to be an elite athlete.

    I can’t imagine how difficult it will be for NL central teams to make up the difference between the value the Pirates will get from their outfield if all three of these players are closer to their ceilings then they are to their floor. The exceptional play the Pirates would get at a very reasonable cost would be hard to match.

  13. Russell Rockwell says:

    Well done, Travis.
    I see Marte as the future of the Pirates… particularly when he becomes a better hitter. His brilliant speed and power potential appears to be a reason for optimism.
    I would like to point out that the 25 game injury to his hand occurred while he tried to steal third base in a late inning situation in which a successful steal gained very little. The 25 games lost to injury had a significant impact on the team’s fortunes, and probably made a difference in the standings. This buttresses your point about how his “intinct and technique” need some refinement, and stresses the need for him to be more disciplined in all aspects of his game…not just his batting.

  14. Jim S. says:

    I hadn’t thought of Peter Bourjos, but that’s a good one. Gomez is almost dead on for Marte, except he’s older.

    I really do think, though, that the ceiling is coming quickly for Starling offensively if he doesn’t at least get the walks up into the 45 range. I also think he needs to bunt more, particularly if he leads off. I remember seeing a stat last year about his bunting that was pretty startling. I don’t recall exactly, but I thought maybe he had a very high batting avg. on bunts. But, he wasn’t great at getting them down in play. That is definitely a skill that can be improved upon. And, if you can pull that 3b up a few feet, maybe you can get more balls between him and the SS.

    Get an APB out to Brett Butler, Bunt Instructor.

  15. JohninOshkosh says:

    Huge fan of Marte. Has the tools to become a bona fide superstar. Like the comparison, Travis, to a wide receiver.

    I also hope Tabata has a breakout season. Still like his skills set. Although, I think I’ve said this for a few of the past springs.

  16. Jim S. says:

    Maybe they should start instructing their pitchers to throw more 4-seam fastballs at home. :-)

  17. Andrew says:

    Good stuff here on Marte, a couple comments I’ll add.

    Getting hit by pitches is certainly a skill, has a higher year to year correlation than OBP, but as pointed out it is a skill with risks. I think Marte can sustain a high BABIP, he had the 10th lowest IFFB% last year (pop ups = strike outs) among qualified hitters and he should get his fair number of infield hits.

    Marte’s K% is very similar to a young Soriano when the average K% of league is considered, but it is definitely concerning because outside contact nothing else is as stable as swing rates. Agree with the power potential and potential to bring the K% rate down. My one worry is that there is some new data that shows players entering the MLB are closer to finished products and do not improve at the same rates as in the past, but I do not know how to apply that to individual players.

  18. JohninOshkosh says:

    So, does anyone want to post a projected OD line-up and batting order ?

    These things are fluid, of course, depending on a number of factors. Might be interesting to see how such projections change through the course of ST.

  19. Jim S. says:

    Interesting last point, Andrew. I agree that a lot of American players are closer to finished products now than in the past. I wonder, though, about a Dominican kid such as Marte. He likely wasn’t flying to a different tournament each weekend facing the best pitchers from across the country, on the best field conditions, with first class training, equipment and solid coaching until the Pirates drafted him. I wonder if those factors make a difference. I believe they do factor in for the many American kids that are exposed to the best environmental factors.

    I have also heard scouts say that if they see a kid from a Northern US climate performing identically to a kid from a Southern US climate at the same age, they feel the kid from the Northern climate has more room to grow as a player still. Seems logical. Maybe that argues against my point about a Dominican kid maturing in his baseball skills later. Maybe the Dominican kids progress earlier because they get to play 365 days a year. I’d be interested in what others think about that.

    I am leery of a novice like myself going by the eye test very often, but to me Starling seems to hit the ball hard on the ground a high % of the time. Maybe I’m imagining it, but he just seems to me to hit a lot of hard ground balls compared to a lot of guys. I wonder if that contributes to him possibly maintaining a high BABIP. Just a guess.

  20. Jim S. says:

    Marte
    Walker
    Cutch
    Pedro
    Lambo
    Snider
    Martin
    Mercer
    Frankie

    Assumes opposing starter is a righty (Jeff S.) for the Cubs.

  21. theplanisworking says:

    I am just glad the Pirates have Marte.

    And, I hope he stays healthy………. all year.

  22. NMR says:

    “Getting hit by pitches is certainly a skill, has a higher year to year correlation than OBP…”

    Mind explaining how this statement was determined?

  23. Nate83 says:

    Marte
    Walker
    Cutch
    Pedro
    Gabby
    Martin
    Tabata
    Mercer
    Frankie

    I think Gabby will sit against most righties but I think the veteran gets opening day start. I still think there is a chance Lambo doesn’t make the opening day roster and Ishakawa breaks camp as the platoon partner. I don’t think they want empty outs behind Pedro and if Lambo is sriking out 33%+ in spring training I could see him getting work in AAA. It’s a shame Dacker isn’t a little bigger and able to play first.

  24. Nate83 says:

    Amen…truly blessed to possibly have this outfield playing for the Pirates for the next 4 or 5 years.

  25. theplanisworking says:

    You forgot Polanco. ;)

  26. Nate83 says:

    I would even take it a step further and say if Lambo isn’t able to stick that Ishakawa is not looked at as a majority split of a platoon. Gabby could be the one getting 450-500 at bats meaning he would get half of the right handed pitcher at bats along with the all the left handed unless they make a trade.

  27. Nate83 says:

    I didn’t mention him but that is the outfield I was referring to.

  28. theplanisworking says:

    Ok, gotcha.

    Care to venture a guess as to when Polanco comes up?
    Mid-year?
    Next year?

  29. theplanisworking says:

    Marte
    Walker
    Cutch
    Pedro
    Gaby
    Tabata
    Martin
    Mercer
    Frankee

  30. theplanisworking says:

    Subject to change, of course………. ;)

  31. Marte’s 2 strike approach is to lean into pitches. 20 of his 24 HBPs were in 2 strike counts. 7 times he was hit in an 0-2 count. No way can that continue. Pitchers will wise up or he is going to get injured, but either way these HBP totals will regress.

  32. JohninOshkosh says:

    Does Mercer project to the 2 hole at all ? With Walker moving down a bit.

    Now that I see the line up in black and white, I feel better about the upcoming campaign, especially vis a vis the other teams in the Central.

  33. NMR says:

    Interesting thought, Jim.

    I see that he already was second in the league with 10 bunts for base hits last year. Wonder how far he could push that?

  34. Andrew says:

    I had the same thoughts about Latin American players versus North American players, and I think more research is needed to overturn the established notion that most position players peak around 27-28.

  35. Andrew says:

    Skill is an overstatement, but generally I think performance indicators that have higher correlations are: 1)More likely to be measure an underlying skill, 2)more predictive going forward. Mainly because the correlations gives you an idea of how much you should regress the numbers toward league average.

    http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2011/9/1/2393318/what-hitting-metrics-are-consistent-year-to-year

  36. NMR says:

    I could certainly live with Jordy there against LHP, but he was under .300 OBP against righties. I gotta have more than that in front of Cutch.

  37. NMR says:

    In fact, I want the guy with highest OBP in front of Cutch, not at the leadoff position.

  38. Jim S. says:

    Higher than that this year, I think. He should be shooting for 20 or so, I think. Of course, that is only if it is working. I would think he has to hit well over .300 on the bunts to be effective in pulling up the opposing 3b.

  39. Jim S. says:

    I think that is a good call, Nate. Gaby will get a shot at mostly full-time duty if Lambo struggles.

  40. Jim S. says:

    Of course. Right up until game time.

  41. Jim S. says:

    +++ to both of your comments, NMR.

  42. Nate83 says:

    His play in Winter ball convinced me that he comes up as soon as Super 2 is past. They brought Marte up a little later then that 2 years ago but Polanco has a much more advanced approach at the plate. Also the Pirates currently are competitive and have a perceived hole in right field. Even if Tabata plays well Polanco’s defense makes him a more valuable player. It also moves Tabata to the bench which is a better option then Snider.

  43. Jim S. says:

    I wonder if it is a skill for most guys, or just that something they do at the plate, such as lean in too far with their hands or something else that just makes them more subject to being hit than other guys.

    But, I would also say that it seems to me that when Starling sees a hanging curveball way inside, he seems to turn that torso and get plunked in the thigh or butt. Maybe he can’t think that fast, but it sure seems like it to me. Some guys instinctively jump out of the way of every pitch they think might hit them.

  44. theplanisworking says:

    Which means we need the Gaby of 2010, not the Gaby of 2012.

  45. Nate83 says:

    I brought that up last year. I really like Mercer’s approach at the plate and think it fits well in the 2 hole. It definitely will give them the option to sit Walker against lefties and move Mercer over to second and just take Walker’s spot in the order.

  46. NorthPirateFan says:

    Hear me now, believe me later … Far to much of Marte’s value is tied up in his speed, whether it in the ground he covers in the field or the “power” that is heavily weighted by the triples and speed doesn’t last usually age and injuries eventually steal it over time.

    Can he improve in the areas he needs to, possibly sure. But with the reckless way he runs the bases and plays the field the safe money is on him pulling a hammy, turning an ankle or dinging a knee and becoming and utterly replaceable low average, zero patience, no power hitter before he does.

  47. Nate83 says:

    I don’t know how healthy the Gabby of 2012 was. His 2010 was a split season I believe. I think he really fell off after the all star break. I like Gabby a lot myself. I think he brings some other tangibles to the team. He seems to be pretty motivated this year. I by no means think he adds value over other first baseman around the league but I don’t envision him giving us worse results then we got last year from first base.

    All things considered I would almost rather roll the dice with him then give up much of anything to get the Ike Davis, Justin Smoak type players. Lind would be interesting but I think he comes at a steeper cost.

  48. Jim S. says:

    I think it means we need to trade for a lefty 1b at some point, plan. But, we’ll see.

  49. Nate83 says:

    The Pirates only need him to keep his speed until age 29 which isn’t unreasonable. Even if he signs an extension it’s not a given he’s not traded before the more expensive years.

  50. theplanisworking says:

    Here is an alternate Opening Day lineup.
    Thoughts?

    Tabata
    Marte
    Cutch
    Pedro
    Gaby
    Walker
    Martin
    Mercer
    Frankee

  51. Jim S. says:

    Jordy is an ideal #2 hitter vs. LHP – if last year is an indication of his ability going forward.

  52. NMR says:

    Generally speaking, I completely agree.

    However, I don’t believe HBP falls into this category, or at least not HBP pertaining to Marte in the manner it was calculated in that study.

    The overwhelming majority of big leaguers rarely get hit, relative to the level Marte got hit last year. In 2013, the MLB average was one per 120 PA. Marte’s was one per 24 PA. Without doing the math, that rate has got to be many standard deviations from the mean, and at that point, I’m not sure the correlation applies.

    I feel like the better question is how well HBP correlates year to year above a certain value that can be considered relevant to overall OBP, say 10. I could be wrong, of course, but there seems to be few examples of players who can maintain high numbers year to year.

  53. Jim S. says:

    Plan:

    If we are facing a RHP, and we should in Smardzija, that is only 2 lefty batters (not counting Frankie). If not Snider, then I think at least Lambo has to be in there.

  54. NMR says:

    I think I’d want his success rate to be a good bit higher than that, given the fact that bunting completely nullifies his power potential.

    I’m sure some nerd out there could compute the break even point. ;)

  55. theplanisworking says:

    Was Smards announced as their starter?

    If so, replace Gaby with Lambo.

  56. Nate83 says:

    If he can think fast enough to get hit by a pitch why can’t he think quick enough to lay off an outside pitch. Again the guy is a walking contradiction (who ironically rarely walks)

  57. Jim S. says:

    There really have not been a ton of guys who got hit so much that it appeared to be a strategy, I would say. I scanned the all-time leaders, and these are the recognizable names near the top of the list. I left out the guys who were not famous.

    Biggio – 285; Armor Boy
    Baylor – 267; “Go ahead and hit me, I won’t feel it.”
    Kendall – 254; Armor Boy II
    Ron Hunt – 243; 50 in one season, I believe
    Frank Robinson – 198; Same as Baylor, except an even badder dude.
    Minoso – 192
    Giambi – 179
    Galarraga – 178
    DelGado – 172
    ARod – 169
    Jeter – 164

  58. Nate83 says:

    But only if the trade makes sense correct Jim. The trade shouldn’t be made just to be made and throw more things at the wall to see what sticks.

  59. Jim S. says:

    I don’t know, but I assume he will be if he is not traded before then. He started last year vs. the Bucs.

  60. NMR says:

    Platoon advantages only help if the hitter is good. :)

    The Shark is an awfully tough opening day assignment for Lambo, regardless of which side of the plate he hits, and Tabby has clearly shown to be a better hitter than Snider at this point. Might be outsmarting themselves in looking specifically for platoon advantage.

  61. NMR says:

    Plan, I like that lineup except for Marte in the 2-hole. Really don’t like anyone running in front of Cutch.

  62. Nate83 says:

    A couple fat guys in there. Maybe they just didn’t have the agility to move out of the way. ARod probably got half of his because of pitchers hating him.

  63. theplanisworking says:

    Hence my earlier comment, lineup subject to change. ;)

  64. theplanisworking says:

    I was just tinkering……… making these lineups is a bit tougher than it appears at first glance.

    Maybe that’s why I should give it more than one glance? ;)

  65. theplanisworking says:

    +1.

    It does make one think, huh?

  66. NMR says:

    Absolutely! Great thoughts to have on a blustery February afternoon, I may add.

  67. theplanisworking says:

    Just remember, if we trade for someone, or someone gets hurt, my lineup cards go into the fireplace to keep me warm.

  68. Andrew says:

    There are definitely guys more likely to be hit, hitters who struggle with inside pitches, guys who step up closer to the plate, Shin-Soo Choo comes to mind. And if Marte is using it as a volitional strategy with two strikes, I would expect less regression.

    Still it is a risky if not dumb way to supplement OBP. As it pertains to batting order I think Marte’s lack of walks make him a less than ideal leadoff or two hole hitter. However, as everyone is discussing the Pirates do not have many ideal leadoff, second spot candidates, outside Walker vs RHP, Mercer vs LHP.

    Additionally I remember reading that in Colorado Hurdle was known for putting fast low-OBP guys leadoff, so Marte.

  69. theplanisworking says:

    The trade candidates do not excite me in any way.

    Either they are lacking, or a pick would have to be forfeited, in addition to the $$$.

  70. Nate83 says:

    Wasn’t it Pierre that was the fast low OBP guy in Colorado? I’m not sure who the team was comprised of but that is a really fast guy. I don’t know if he had many other options that would off set the tremendous speed of Pierre.

  71. Steelkings says:

    Hold up on that car wash fella’s. Let me get Marte’s back here a little.
    Since 2010, Marte has played on 8 different teams. From the Dominican summer team, hopping and skipping through a short sampling of AAA ball. Now in Pittsburgh he is getting his 3rd hitting coach for a total of 10 different dudes. Now I think that with just a season of at bats in the Majors, pitch recognition will get easier. Keep in mind he is in a position at the lead off spot where he becomes a pitchers most important out.
    Im going to say this. If Marte would have been in the Braves organization, or the Cardinals, or the Yankees, Red Sox..ect, he would have been given more time in the minors to work some of that out. But as a testament to him, he was better than most everyone else the Pirates had at the time. Give the kid some time. He will get better and better.

    AA Altoona stats
    Starling Marte 22 years old ( 572 PA) (.332 BA) (.370 OBP) (.870 OPS) (100 SO) (24 BB) (11HBP)
    Greg Polanco 21 years old ( 280 PA) (.263 BA) (.354 OBP) (.762 OPS) (36 SO) (36 BB) (1HBP)

    Eerily similar.
    I know, I know! Yins will point to the Polanco 36/36. But that was one year and 68 games at that. To small a sampling. But I’m not bagging on Polanco here. Just the opposite. The guy that the TRAV-A-NATORS are all bagging on wasn’t that far off from where the guy everyone is drooling over is now.

  72. NMR says:

    Um, yes, yes he was.

  73. Nate83 says:

    Although I agree with most of what you posted I’m not sure about the Pirates bringing up players to quickly. I’ve heard the exact opposite. They have been accused of being too cautious and waiting too long. In fact many where begging for Marte to come up earlier that year. The Red Sox generally do a good job. The Yankees never rush anybody because they don’t really have prospects or they are blocked by high end free agents.

  74. Steelkings says:

    What do you mean by running in front of Cutch? If Tabata gets on, it will be one base at a time. in 121 at bats last year in the lead off position, Tabata did not steal a base. Right now it has to be Marte in the lead off.

  75. Steelkings says:

    Nice Monte Python style argument! Well presented.

  76. NMR says:

    And the Braves might be the most aggressive team in baseball. McCann, Freeman, Simmons, and Heyward all debuted at 21, Teheren and Wood at 22, Minor at 23.

  77. Jim S. says:

    I don’t want to just make a trade for the sake of a trade, Nate. I agree with you there. We don’t know that our internal options can’t get it done at 1b.

    But, if Lambo doesn’t get it done vs. RHP for the first 50 games or so, I’m pretty sure they would turn to Gaby. I know people have said Gaby might still hit RHP because he has done it in the past. But, he has definitely not done it for the last 2 years. So, I’m a bit skeptical of his ability to hit RHP well enough to play every day at this point.

    I don’t think it would be wise to accept the production again this year that we got from 1b last year. This is all a judgment call, I know. That’s why NH makes good coin. He and Hurdle need to figure it out and be right. I think he is waiting and seeing if a trade comes to him at a reasonable price, rather than reach and pay a hefty price, which is what I think you are saying. I’m ok with that for now. Who knows? Maybe Kendrys really will go unsigned until after the draft and be an option if we need him. Hopefully, we won’t need him.

  78. NMR says:

    I say ni!

  79. NMR says:

    Running, as in attempting to steal a base.

    Having a player who attempts often directly in front of Cutch is gonna take the bat out of his hands.

  80. Steelkings says:

    No Nate…Your spot on. Marte was absolutely good enough to play here. But you have to look at it this way. He may have been blocked where there is a little more veteran talent. And the development would allow the pitch recognition to improve.

    And there is always this:

    22 years old in his (Basically) rookie season, Hit lead off, Hit .280 – with 12 HRs and 41 Stolen Bases. He’s better that 1/2 the center fielders in baseball now. If he was a free Agent tomorrow, by the time the smoke cleared, he would get PAID!!!!!!!

  81. Steelkings says:

    HA HA!

  82. Nate83 says:

    Maybe I’m off on this one but I would think if it’s something he gets to do on a more regular basis he may become a little better at it. Getting 3 at bats a week against right handers doesn’t allow him to get comfortable. It would be like a 400 meter runner running the 800 meter every third race. The races are similar but have a very different feel to them. Repetition of the 800 meter would allow for muscle and mental memorization on how to run that race.

    Repetition in sports is so important it takes away the thinking and allows your mind and body just to do what naturally it has been trained to do over and over and over again. Without the repetition your just not as comfortable. Like I said I could be way off on this one. It’s just a thought.

  83. Jim S. says:

    I think NMR was referring to Marte batting directly in front of Cutch, Steel. I wouldn’t like that, for the reasons NMR mentioned. Tabata would not be running, as you pointed out.

  84. Jim S. says:

    Valid points about Gaby and batting RHP, Nate. We won’t know if he can or can’t still do it well enough unless/until he gets an extended oppportunity.

  85. Jim S. says:

    I love that. A walking contradiction.

  86. Nate83 says:

    Just to be clear. I’m thrilled with the season Marte had last year in his first full year. Only a handful of rookies each year put up numbers like that. From what I know about Travis I think he is a supporter of Marte and was just pointing out a chance for regression. He did a nice job of counterpointing his own argument later by mentioning Marte’s age and the fact he was nitpicking.

    Travis has done an excellent job of coming up with new topics to talk about each week. We get 3 or 4 blog post a week and almost all come with a little different slant. Some of it’s repetitive but how could it not be. Sometimes a post like this is simply stating the chance of something happening not that he thinks it actually will. A .360 balls in play average is almost impossible to maintain. It’s hard to argue that doesn’t have a chance to regress. It’s almost as probably as the Cards not batting .320 with runners in scoring position.

  87. Steelkings says:

    Sarcasm Sheldon!

  88. Jim S. says:

    There was a fangraphs thing awhile back that showed the top babip guys of all-time. It was mostly high batting avg. guys. Those are generally the line drive guys. Not a ton of HR hitters, since babip doesn’t include HRs. (I hate that about it, btw). Clemente was way up the list, for example. Tony Gwynn. Guys like that who you figure probably square it up a lot populated the list, as I recall.

  89. NMR says:

    Haha, another favorite of mine.

  90. Nate83 says:

    Jim I’m actually hoping we do not find out. Lambo being productive is still the best chance for this team to get positive value from that position. Gabby is definitely a better platoon player then an everyday option. I’m just not sure I wouldn’t rather him playing everyday instead of giving up something to have him platoon with Smoak or Davis.

    At the end of the day with repetition I think he could be passable from the right side. Good teams don’t have a lot of components that are just passable but most do have a few so I’m OK with having it at first base instead of giving something up and having maybe better then passable but probably not.

  91. Jim S. says:

    Like Sheldon, I am often incapable of detecting sarcasm.

  92. Nate83 says:

    Saberbucs also had a nice breakdown of Marte BABIP from last year and how unlikely it was to maintain. Interesting stuff on that web site. I take most of it with a grain of salt because I’m not a huge Sabermetrics guy but I do see value in it.

  93. Nate83 says:

    Shall we start talking to you by using (knock, knock) NMR (knock, knock) NMR (knock, knock) NMR.

    I really thought I would hate that show when it premiered 6 years ago based on the previews but it’s one of my favorites along with Parks and Rec. and Sunny in Phili.

  94. Steelkings says:

    Nate = TRAV-A-NATOR

    I’m not knocking Travis. Not at all. If I read into what he said and “Nut Shelled it”, I would say Travis said Marte Stikes out too much. He also said he might regress in some areas.

    But none of that does not mean he wont be a better player. He could easily cut down on the Strike outs. He could learn to run with his chin up at the first step. They will quit throwing it inside if he gets better at the jump and turns every HBP into a double. All Im saying is that when Martes whole game comes together, he will be pretty darn good.

    And I am going to disagree with you about Travis just a little. Its not Travis that makes this a great site. Its Travis, NMR, Nate, Jim, Grote, Andrew, SK, The Plan, chethejet1, Cmat and a host of others that make it the place to be. Baseball Knowledge and the ability to read and listen and post varying view points without anger and mostly without insult is what does it.

    And Nate….Its Ok to be a Trav-A-Nator…
    Hell..I’m a Trav-A-Nator too! ;)

  95. Jim S. says:

    That’s a good article, NMR. He is definitely an outlier on a list like that. I think we have had it right all along. He needs to get the walk rate up somewhat, and he needs to do that by not swinging at so many pitches out of the zone. I also still contend he should be bunting often.

    I do think they are right that he has some of the characteristics of a consistently fairly high BABIP guy. But, .360+ seems unsustainable.

  96. Jim S. says:

    This is a fun blog. No matter the disagreements, when the smoke clears everyone seems to be ok with one another. I appreciate that. Travis does a great job of presenting interesting topics.

    Also, I left Zack Greinke a voicemail apologizing for questioning his statement yesterday. As a show of good faith, he’s going to leave me 4 tickets for when the Dodgers come to Chicago.

    Well, not really.

  97. NMR says:

    Hey Travis, the Hardball Times published an article today right up your alley: Expanded 2013 Infield Shift Data

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/tht-live/expanded-2013-infield-shift-data/

    The article looks at the effect “Major shifts”, as defined by three players on one side of the diamond, had on BABIP.

    One question/comment to you and the group: why include all batted balls in the analysis? Seems like that skews the results, given that infield shifts have no effect on fly balls and some line drives.

    For instance, Pedro Alvarez is a major outlier in that his BABIP w/shift on was considerably higher than with shift off. I’ve seen this fact referenced as justification that shifts did not hurt him last year. I’m not sure if that is correct. Seems completely possible that shifts took away base hits on the ground, which would be masked bby success in the air.

  98. Jim S. says:

    I think everything counts because if it changes a guy’s strategy to make him into more of a flyball hitter, isn’t that part of why you shift? Dare a guy to beat it. I hope I am stating that coherently. It’s been a long day.

  99. NMR says:

    Three of my favorite comedies in the last few years, Nate!

  100. theplanisworking says:

    Jim, I won’t give Greinke a torch, if it makes you feel any better.

    Also, I don’t come here every day, just pop in when a topic interests me. Always like conversation about young players who have a bright upside, like Marte. I am not talking about prospects……….. Marte has at least shown much his rookie season.

  101. Steelkings says:

    @ Jim … Greinke
    A Ha Ha!

    “””” He needs to get the walk rate up somewhat, and he needs to do that by not swinging at so many pitches out of the zone.””””””

    And for me that’s why there’s a great deal of hope. That pitch out of the zone is typically a slider that takes experience to deal with. Consider that Liriano makes some veteran hitters look pretty foolish.

  102. Andrew says:

    To sum up how I feel about Marte is he is not McCutchen but Fangraphs had Marte as 31st most valuable trade asset (with a Gomez comparison) and I think the Keri at Grantland had Marte just outside top 50 for trade value. He has flaw but is still a damn good player.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/2013-trade-value-35-31/

  103. NMR says:

    @Nate, good points on Gaby and Lambo.

    To add, I also think you have to consider the scarcity of roster spots. Only 25 of ‘em. Two 1B-only platoon players are a pretty terrible use of limited spots UNLESS both can absolutely mash, and I’m not sure that can be said of the potential trade candidates.

    Lambo can play LF and RF as well as (potentially) 1B, which makes him a better option than most of the candidates if he can hold his own at the plate.

  104. NMR says:

    If true, should be able to verify that by checking FB rate, no?

  105. NMR says:

    @Jim

    “I do think they are right that he has some of the characteristics of a consistently fairly high BABIP guy. But, .360+ seems unsustainable.”

    And if I understand the argument correctly, that is why many predict some regression to his game. Even if his BABIP regresses to “only” the .330 range, that produces a significant drop in BA without a corresponding decrease in strikeouts.

    Couple that with the potential for HBP to decrease as well and you could easily end up in a situation where his OBP drops to the .320 range, which is barely average for big leaguers.

    Now I personally could see a situation where a couple percent gain in walk rate offsets less HBP and a couple percent loss in K rate offsets a decrease in BABIP, but that doesn’t seem to be the kind of guessing that the projections take.

  106. Andrew says:

    NMR I agree BABIP on groundballs would be better, and the average on all batted balls might understated the effect of shifting. I think it is done this way because that is all the data that was publically available.

    I think that is the raw data from the Hardball Times Annual article I mentioned before. The other variable looked at was decrease in extra base hits. For Alvarez shift didn’t hurt his BABIP but his extra base hit percentage declined 1.0% with the “major” shift on. That was actually on the low end of the 20 hitters listed, Chris Davis -6.9%, Ryan Howard -9.0% were guys on the higher end.

  107. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks for sharing, NMR

    I agree, it would be better to focus on groundballs and certain line drives, (though I wonder if shifts alter hitters’ GB/FB ratio. Alvarez’s FB ratio has increased the last three years.) Shifts should provide incentive to lift the ball. As Ted Williams once said “You can’t get high enough in a shift)

    I think this is a useful study … but it’s also important to consider the Pirates were shifting their base alingments, too, in addition to traditional shifts.

  108. NMR says:

    Wow, that’s counterintuitive to me. I would’ve thought shifts would have a negligible effect of xbh%.

    I suppose that drop comes from the 1b/3b playing closer to the line?

  109. NMR says:

    That’s a good question, Travis, and Jim wondered the same above. You both could very well be correct. I love that about the saber world. Using data to learn new things about a game that has been played for generations.

    I also love your second point about the Pirates’ specific shifting style. I think most people hear “shift” and assume the standard 3-man alignment. Your article on Dan Fox showed how the Pirates take it even further, and that is an advantage they may retain even if other teams begin adopting traditional shifts.

  110. kr70 says:

    BRING IT Travis….then olympics are over and DK is on vacation. From what I’ve seen so far you can be a WAR reporter! let’s go!

  111. Steelkings says:

    Further More:

    To all you Saber-metric guys,
    Dont forget to factor in Human-matrics. A lot of players, Marte included go from playing 75 or so games a year, to 130+. Where are they “hitting the wall?” Where does fatigue set in? I when down a list of well known active CF’s. Just picked guys I have heard of at random. I choose CF’s because Marte fits that bill better than others.

    The rules are as follows. First full year in the majors (Games Played) with the amount of strike outs. Strike out are what Im focusing on, but I threw in the other stats too.

    MARTE ————(135 games)—-(138 k’s)—-(.280 BA)—-(12 HR)—-(41 SB)—–(.363 BABIP)

    TROUT ————(139 games)—(139 k’s)—-(.326 BA)—-(5 HR)—-(4 SB)—–(.383 BABIP)

    UPTON ————(129 games)—(154 k’s)—-(.300 BA)—-(24 HR)—-(22 SB)—–(.393 BABIP)

    BORNE ————(138 games)—(111 k’s)—-(.280 BA)—-(5 HR)—-(41 SB)—–(.290 BABIP)

    CHOO ————-(156 games)—(151 k’s)—-(.300 BA)—-(20 HR)—-(21 SB)—–(.370 BABIP)

    GOMEZ ———–(153 games)—(142 k’s)—-(.258 BA)—-(7 HR)—-(33 SB)—–(.330 BABIP)

    HARPER ———-(139 games)—(120 k’s)—-(.270 BA)—-(22 HR)—-(18 SB)—–(.310 BABIP)

    KEMP ————-(155 games)—(153 k’s)—-(.290 BA)—-(18 HR)—-(11 SB)—–(.361 BABIP)

    McCUTCHEN — (108 games)—(83 k’s)—–(.286 BA)—-(12 HR)—-(22 SB)—–(.327 BABIP)

    Marte is in some pretty good company. Those are Stars and not prospects. They have the same basic numbers as Marte when they were in their first full season.

  112. Steelkings says:

    When you look at it like that…Marte looks pretty darn good.

  113. Steelkings says:

    Who Line is this? —> (143 games)—(27 k’s)—–(.406 BA)—-(37 HR)—-(2 SB)—–(.378 BABIP)

  114. Steelkings says:

    In looking at that group. Most of those players Strike out ratio stays about the same as their careers roll on. They dont have much of a drop in BABIP either. They each (with enough history) have a bad BABIP year, but for the most part it jumps right back up.

  115. Steelkings says:

    Also, From Baseball – Reference, When you take that group above and look at their WAR numbers from their first full year, only Trout gets away from Marte. Heres what it looks like in order:

    Trout – 10.9
    Choo – 5.5
    Marte – 5.4
    Harper – 5.2
    Upton – 4.4
    Kemp – 3.9
    Cutch – 2.3
    Borne – .6

    And then the real reason I truly hate the WAR stat, and think its complete hog-wash.

    TROUT ————(139 games)—(139 k’s)—-(.326 BA)—-(5 HR)—-(4 SB)—–(.383 BABIP) —> (War 10.9)
    SPLINTER——– (143 games)—(27 k’s)—–(.406 BA)—-(37 HR)—-(2 SB)—–(.378 BABIP)—> (War 10.6)

  116. Jim S. says:

    Marte is pretty darn good. You are right about that, Steel. No doubt about it. The question is whether he will end up being one of the very best players in the game. Defensively, no question. He’s probably close already, and I believe most in the Bucs’ organization feel he would be a better defensive CF than Cutch. He probably has one of the top arms in the game for OF as well.

    As for his legs, the guy can absolutely fly and this has a chance to help every part of his game. If he can improve his base stealing ability, and get that up into the 80% range, that is another feather in his cap. As I said before, if he can become a good bunter, that is another potential lethal weapon for him. I would not want to be the 3b that has to play up a few steps on him every time up. He will get more hits in the 5.5 hole that way. And, if you stay back, he will beat out a high % of bunts toward 3b. I certainly hope that is a greater point of emphasis for this year.

    I just don’t think he will ever get to the heights as a hitter that will take him to the very top of the game. I am not saying that as a put down, because I think he will have a lot of value as a hitter. He will be, in my opinion, an XBH machine. I see a consistent 60 XBH from this guy, which is a big number these days. I think he’ll have a hard time, though, in maintaining a .270+ batting average over time if he doesn’t develop much better plate discipline. He is still young enough to improve, but it is not as though he is 21 or 22, like Harper and Trout. So, he probably won’t improve as much as them. The BB/K ratio needs to improve, or it will limit his hitting success.

  117. Jim S. says:

    I assume that is Teddy Ballgame. Tough to expect anyone to put up those kind of numbers … because, well, first of all, that was Ted Williams … and, also, the game has changed. Every pitcher on a staff pretty much throws 90+ now, and several throw 95+. You might see 3 different pitchers in a game, and each of them has a different, yet equally nasty arsenal. That didn’t happen in previous eras. Pitching is light years better now than ever before, IMO. Strikeout numbers are through the roof compared to previous eras, and the overall quality of pitching and speed of pitches is the biggest reason, I believe. I am not saying superstar pitchers in the 40’s or 50’s would not be superstar pitchers now. Of course, they would. But, the depth of great arms now is so much greater than ever before. I’ve been following MLB since the late 70’s, and I don’t think the pitching I saw as a kid can come close to matching the quality today.

    This is also not to criticize Williams or any great hitter of previous eras. Ted Williams would be a superstar hitter in any era. But, he would not strike out 27x per season now. Neither would Stan Musial, and he would still be a superstar as well.

  118. Steelkings says:

    “””””” He is still young enough to improve, but it is not as though he is 21 or 22, like Harper and Trout. So, he probably won’t improve as much as them.””””””

    Human Factor Jim, !

    Marte is from a poor family in the Dominican. Harper is from Vegas and Trout is from Jersey. I’m going to suggest that Trout and Harper have had some of the best technology and training available all their lives while Marte is still catching up. That could easily go the other way, Jim.

  119. NMR says:

    Jim, I can’t help but picture Mitch Williams when I see Steelkings handle pop up. ;)

  120. Steelkings says:

    splain?

  121. Steelkings says:

    Do you have a problem with me?

  122. NMR says:

    No, I have a problem with using counting stats over rate stats.

  123. Jim S. says:

    I think there is some merit to that, possibly, Steel. Actually, I brought that up yesterday. I wonder if guys from other countries develop slower as a result of the many advantages kids here often have, as you mentioned.

    But, tearing up the league at 19, 20, 21 – like Trout and Harper – that’s elite stuff in any era. Those are the guys that end up being Griffey, Jr., ARod, Yount, etc.

    I think the older a guy is, the shorter the time frame for him to keep developing because everyone stops getting better and stops declining at some point. Some guys can hold it off longer, and maybe the late bloomers hold it off the longest.

    It’s a good question, and I don’t really know for sure. But, I would bet everything I have that Marte will never have consecutive offensive years like the 2 Trout had at 20 and 21.

  124. Jim S. says:

    Oops! Meant “starts” declining in that 3rd paragraph.

  125. Andrew says:

    Steelkings my reading of this discussion is it focused mostly on Marte and his AVG/OBP, and whether he can maintain the .280/.340 rate. No one is saying he will not get better but I think the consensus is he will need to improve his plate discipline to maintain those numbers, because getting hit by 24 pitches 80% in two strike counts, and a .363 BABIP are more than likely going to regress back toward league average.

    Like I said above, even with these flaws, he is incredibly valuable, elite defender (maybe a better CF than McCutchen), great on base paths, I would like to see then caught stealing drop, but had 7th highest runs created by base running runs last year.

  126. Steelkings says:

    Based on the fact that I used CF’s who hit primarily at the top of the order. Their “at bat” average is primarily the same. Rate stats wont change the big picture presented much.

  127. NMR says:

    Yes, yes it will.

  128. Jim S. says:

    Don’t get me started on Mitch Williams, NMR. That might lead to a Kimbrel salary rant and the % of Braves payroll that now goes to him. None of us want that.

  129. Nate83 says:

    Good explanation Andrew on what I think a lot of us are talking about in regards to Marte.

  130. Steelkings says:

    Ugh!

    Is Billy Hamilton going to be the starting CF for the Reds because of his rate stats or a counting stat?

    Is Pedro Alvarez going to hit in the 4 hole because of his rate stats or a counting stat?

    I think rate stats are fine in most regards. I also think that in a lot of cases while the base rate is the same the ingredients are different. IE for Marte, Fan graphs has one set of rate stats while B-R is completely different.

    I’m a fan. A casual observer. I dont want to have to figure how or what certain stats mean based on how they are put together. I would prefer to rely on what I see and the simple stats I know. It takes away from the magic.

    If it takes the “familiarity of function” of rate stats to not draw an “UGh” everytime I post, then perhaps this place is not for me.

  131. Steelkings says:

    Thanks for the time taken for your response Andrew.

    Couple of things
    1. He’s the lead off guy and he is going to get to two strikes a lot. He will learn to deal with the breaking pitch off the outside corner. That’s about recognition and pitcher familiarity. I’m sure they are working on it.

    2. When you consider yourself as a base stealer and you see a two strike pitch coming inside. Yeah you want that to hit you. That’s instinct. The coaching staff will have to coach that out of him….If they want to.

  132. Steelkings says:

    Posted before I wanted to.

    But you are right that he wont Maintain the .363 BABIP. Nobody does.

  133. Jim S. says:

    I hope a disagreement over how much to weigh rate stats vs counting stats doesn’t drive you away, Steel. I fall in the middle, myself. I usually think I have enough of the in depth rate stats already in my brain that I don’t want to add any more of them. Then, guys on here go into some depth about something new, and I find myself delving into it and adding it to my list of things I like to consider. My ways of looking at things gets changed all the time here – sometimes by old school ways of looking at things and sometimes by new ways.

    There are a million ways to analyze baseball, in my opinion. That’s one of the things I love most about the game. But, I don’t think anyone has the market cornered on how best to do it in every situation.

  134. Travis Sawchik says:

    @Steel … You’re right. It’s a collection of voices that makes a blog work best, not just one. I start the fire but y’all have to keep adding the fuel

  135. NorthPirateFan says:

    I’m doubtful he’ll make it that long. He’s already injured his hand stretching out a triple and it impacted his performance at the end of last season and he’s hurt himself stretching out to catch a ball in the field. I’ll wager he doesn’t make it through any full season without hurting himself this year or any other through age 29 and if he hurts a leg he’s done.

  136. Nate83 says:

    Fair enough. I don’t think it’s as likely as you that he will be a risk for injury. He played pretty regular in the Minors.

  137. Jim S. says:

    I’m a big Parks & Rec fan, Nate.

  138. Nate83 says:

    Ron Swanson is my hero and if my wife would let me my food consumption would be exactly the same as his.

  139. FlBucco says:

    Hmmmm…

    Well I guess it is a slow news day and we have to Post SOMETHING!

    I find it fascinating that so many Pirate fans are drooling over the possibility of adding Polanco – who by most measures I have looked at is not Marte II yet – he may be in the future – but not yet.

    And the same fans seem to be ready to trade the 28th rated position player…

    Let me do the glass is half full side of things – Travis did the glass is half empty side…

    1. He is 24 years old – his age 25 and age 26 seasons should be BETTER if the aging curves are to be believed.
    2. We ALL – Marte – Hurdle – fans know he is not a natural lead off hitter – but name me a better option from the Pirate
    roster [that is actually a trick question because the GM in me has a better option]
    3. He can get the strikeouts down – it has been done in the past – and he can get more walks.
    4. If he never gets any better offensively he is still worth a ton in left field at PNC – he make Cutch a better CF and worth 2-3 WAR from his defense.

    So chill everyone – we are going to have the luxury of watching a nice young player try and become a great young player – relax and enjoy the ride!

 
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