Starling Marte Is Off To A Strong Start

Starling Marte has already made an impact with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After being called up in late-July, Marte has proved why he was one of their top prospects entering the season. Marte has hit .268/.303/.493 in 76 plate appearances with the Pirates this season. In just a short period of time, Marte has become a useful fantasy asset. And due to his prospect status at the beginning of the year, there’s a chance he’s already been picked up in your league due to his hot start. But it’s not all good with Marte. While he’s been a solid producer thus far, that probably won’t last.

Marte has one major weakness that is likely to be exploited soon. Our own Marc Hulet put it the best during his pre-season prospect rankings.

He’s overly aggressive and pitchers at the MLB level could eat him alive unless he becomes more selective. There were only 10 players that had more than 300 plate appearances in the Majors in 2011 with walk rates below 4% and that list includes the likes of Vernon Wells, Alex Gonzalez, Orlando Cabrera and Yuniesky Betancourt. Only one player (Darwin Barney of the Cubs) had more than a one-win season (2.2 WAR).

That aggressive approach has been very present in his brief major league stint this year. Marte has walked in just 3.9% of plate appearances. And, at least right now, he’s not likely to become the next Jose Altuve, who doesn’t walk, but can still hit for high averages. That’s because Marte’s strikeout rate is 23.4%. Having a high strikeout rate doesn’t prevent you from becoming an effective hitter, of course, but you have to display other skills to offset what will likely be a low batting average. Typically, hitters with high strikeout rates can compensate with power. While Marte has done that so far, there’s very little in his minor league profile to suggest he’s going to become a big-time power hitter.

At the same time, we need to give Marte some credit. He did manage to improve in both of those areas this season. But it should be noted that he was repeating Triple-A, so some improvement was to be expected. The improvement to his walk rate wasn’t all that impressive, though. Marte’s 6.5% walk rate was actually the highest rate he’s ever shown in the minors, so perhaps he is working on his approach. But that’s still not going to cut it in the majors. It’s also not a promising sign that he’s already gone back to his swing-happy ways.

The power surge was a bit more impressive. Marte hit just 12 home runs in 2011, but also became a doubles machine, mashing 38 last year. Some of those doubles have turned into home runs this season. Marte had already hit 12 home runs in just 431 Triple-A plate appearances, and has added four more with the Pirates. While there’s some evidence to think he’ll hit for slightly more power, he’s unlikely to turn into a big power hitter all of the sudden.

More than likely, pitchers will figure out that Marte is still a free-swinger. And while he’s obviously got some talent, that’s a pretty big flaw. Even now, the only thing making Marte attractive has been his power surge. His average has fallen, and he won’t walk enough to post great on-base percentages. This power surge is also more than likely a fluke. Even if Marte has gained some power, he’s unlikely to slug .500 in the majors. Ride out his hot streak while you can, but don’t expect him to be a major contributor come fantasy playoff time.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


9 Responses to “Starling Marte Is Off To A Strong Start”

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  1. seth says:

    I’m a pirate fan and might be biased, but he Def did not repeat triple A. Also his walk rate is 3.9% I believe not much better but still.

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  2. Seth says:

    No problem, I did not want to sound like a jerk, but I thought the repeating Triple A thing would make a difference in looking at things. I imagine it would be tough writing with thousands of fans trying to pick it apart. I know I would hate it…keep up the good work!

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  3. @dcholcomb says:

    Upon seeing Marte rather than relying on minor league box scores, I am impressed with the eye test. Namely, his body and the power that could come along with that. So far, so good in that department.

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  4. Jay says:

    He seems to me to be a Drew Stubbs-type. He’ll be streaky but the hot streaks will definitely be fun to watch.

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  5. Phil says:

    And don’t forget his value as a defensive player. Did you see that throw he made to cut down Goldschmidt? Not just his arm, but the hustle to position himself to pick up a hit down the LF line to face the infield when picking up the ball, allowing himself to make the throw at all. That doesn’t show up in fantasy numbers, but has PT relevance, hence better counting stats.

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  6. Floppy Ears says:

    I’m sick of all the cautious optimism on Fangraphs (while deep down I secretly love it). Go out on a ledge or two. Starling Marte is the new Lance Berkman. He will crack a ton of doubles, plays defense like a champ, and will have enough power to be a #2 Outfielder in Fantasy leagues. He will be a top-20 OF next season. There, now when we look back at the end of 2013, we can say, “Oh Floppy Ears called that, what a virile man”

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  7. steve says:

    Agree with your thoughts about pitchers being able to eventually exploit his free swinging tendencies, but the power is real. Have you seen the ball come off his bat? Both the homers he has hit to center have been absolute bombs, the last being relatively on a line and a little bit the other way besides. He also hit some real bombs in AAA and the ball just comes off his bat hard. He’s definitely growing into his power in my opinion.

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