Starling Marte Gets on Base the Hard Way

On Tuesday, Starling Marte got his first start in more than a month. To no one’s surprise — at least to those who follow the Pirates — he got hit by a pitch. It was his 22nd hit-by-pitch this season, the second-most behind Cincinnati’s Shin-Soo Choo. Prior to his start this week, Marte had been absent from the Pirates lineup since Aug. 18 — a day after he was hit in the hand. While some players get hit all the time, it looks like Marte might be playing an active role. In fact, it appears he’s getting hit when he’s close to striking out. And if that’s true, the strategy looks to have cost him at least a month’s production.

The following hitters are the HBP leaders in 2013 (on Sept. 19):

Name HBP HBP with 2 Strikes 2-Strike HBP%
Shin-Soo Choo 25 12 48%
Starling Marte 22 18 82%
Shane Victorino 17 8 47%
Jon Jay 14 9 64%
Daniel Nava 14 8 57%
Neil Walker 14 8 57%

Besides the overall HBP numbers, the number of two-strike pitches that hit Marte is almost twice the league average (44.4%). The following is a small sample of the times he’s gotten hit:

Here’s the pitch that sent Marte to the disabled list. The count was 1-2, with two outs and runners were on first base and on second base.

Not a ton of effort to get out of the way. A hit-by-pitch in which he takes to load the bases.

Just four days prior, on Aug. 13, this happened on a 0-2 pitch from Adam Wainwright.

He took it like a man.

Moving back a few more days, he almost swings his hands at this Josh Outman 0-2 pitch with a runner at first and his team down three runs:

I watched the rest of them, and it’s a lot of the same. He pretty much doesn’t move away from the ball once he’s at two strikes. As with the last pitch, he’ll occasionally move his body toward the ball.

With only four non-two-strike-hit-by-pitches this season, Marte doesn’t always try to get hit. Here is a sequence from June 2, with the game tied in the 10th inning. Marte was hit on this 3-2 pitch.

There’s some effort to get out of the way, but not as much as earlier in the same plate appearance. Before he got hit, here are three called balls that nearly hit him.

0-0 count

1-1 count

2-1 count

In non-two-strike counts, Marte put in some effort to keep from getting hit. His willingness to get on base at any cost can be commended, but he lost about one month’s of playing time because of the strategy.

Marte returned from the DL with a little more armor on his arms, though it’s not to a Barry Bonds level. The armor might help him stay healthier, but I think he needs to try to quit using the hit-by-pitch as a way to get on base in two-strike counts. While he has been able to get on base, he will be out of commission at varying times. This season, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Pirates.

Only Marte can decide if he wants to change his game. Or perhaps he’s OK with 90 mph pitches slamming into his body.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

28 Responses to “Starling Marte Gets on Base the Hard Way”

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  1. Ruki Motomiya says:

    I dunno, as long as he keeps it off the hands (or head), I see this as a valid possibility.

    Then again, I’ve always been interested in the idea of someone who uses HBP to get on base, so maybe I’m just biased.

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  2. e says:

    From what I read, being hit in the hand with the pitch you identified was incidental and what cost him the month was straining his finger ligament sliding into second base. Although you make valid points, from what I had read, that was not how he got injured this particular time.

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  3. Eric Palmer says:

    I love when players do this–granted, just have to make it hit more meat than bone.

    Especially if the player is a speedster like Marte. Just get on base however you can and wreck havoc.

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    • Skin Blues says:

      Seems like a great strategy. 2 strikes against you and eliminate the inside part of the plate. Either they hit you, or they avoid it altogether and give you something to hit over the plate. Obviously it works a lot better if you get your back in front of the ball instead of your hands. He just needs some of those Jeff Bagwell-style boxing gloves to prevent broken fingers.

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  4. mario mendoza says:

    It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a pitcher’s collarbone.

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  5. robertobeers says:

    Rate based, Kevin Frandsen took 11 HBP in 254 PA for a 4.33% HBP/PA. Marte comes away looking like an 11-year-old me seeing 60 mph for the first time with only 4.04%. Okay fine he just barely gets hit more.

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    • robertobeers says:

      Reed Johnson is at 4.69%, Carlos Corporan is at 4.12%, Youk is at 4.24%, Nick Green is at 4.62%, and the list goes on.

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      • David says:

        It’s amazing Youk’s isn’t 100%. If you had a ball in your hand and stood there and watched his absurd set-up at the plate, wouldn’t you chuck it at him every single time?

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  6. Evan says:

    Letting the pitch hit you when there are already 3 balls doesn’t make much sense unless there is a squeeze play on.

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  7. Stond Jays Fan says:

    Someone needs to teach this to Anthony Gose. I love it.

    Reed Johnson comes to mind with the ol’ HBP.

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  8. Retirenutting says:

    Yeah, author is mistaken re: DL. Sprained tendon between two fingers from getting spiked in the hand while sliding. Marte has also shown a lot of reluctance to play through that pain and it’s cost the Bucs.

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    • Utah Dave says:

      I think it is going to cost Marte a spot on the post season roster. Hurdle said he won’t have him on the roster to only be a pinch runner. At this point I’d just as soon he not be on the roster. His AB’s have been bad since his return. Plus Tabata has pulled his weight.

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  9. ValueArb says:

    Why was he given a base on that HBP, isn’t he clearly lunging out of the box and was hit nearly over the plate?

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  10. Owen says:

    Interesting note: Victorino is third on that list, and he had just 3 HBP going into August–so he’s had 15 in a month and a half. Not at all coincidentally, that’s when he switched to batting from the right exclusively, and he’s been getting hit all the time because he crowds the plate so much. He’s also OPSing .970/.855 in Aug/Sep, so the change is working for him.

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  11. Swfcdan says:

    For a British fan not totally sure on the HBP rule, lets say a batter crouches and has his elbow partly in the zone, and it hits his elbow. Does it just count as a strike as the ball was actually in the zone?

    Surely you can’t get HBP’s for that, they all gotta be out of the zone at least.

    And whats the rule on non-attempted evasion (like Marte/Biggio etc). If the ump doesn’t deem them to have tried to have gotten out of the way, can he rule a strike instead of a HBP?

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      Per baseball official rule 6.08(b), a batter becomes a baserunner and is awarded first base when he or his equipment (except for his bat):

      a is touched by a pitched ball outside of the strike zone,
      b and he attempts to avoid it (or had no opportunity to avoid it),
      c and he did not swing at the pitch.

      Rule b is the discretionary call and you rarely if ever see an ump say that the player did not move or make an attempt.

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  12. james wilson says:

    Nava’s strategy is to see a lot of pitches and stand still like a stone when somebody finally bounces a slider off his foot. He doesn’t even crowd the plate.

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