Starling Marte Trying to Beat BABIP

Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte shattered expectations in 2013. The 24-year-old had a breakout season, hitting .280/.343/.441, and posting a .344 wOBA. Marte’s contributions went beyond his slash line, as he also stole 41 bases despite missing 27 regular season games with a hand injury. Due to his emergence, Marte is sure to see his fantasy stock soar in the coming months. While what he did last season was impressive, expecting a repeat would be foolish.

Marte certainly brings strong raw skills to the table, but he lacks a solid approach at the plate. Marte only walked in 4.4% of his plate appearances last season. Though is .344 on-base percentage was actually pretty solid, Marte gained a huge boost by getting hit with 24 pitches. It’s possible that Marte crowds the plate, and his approach leads to him getting hit by pitches regularly. Carlos Quentin proved that a player could consistently run into a lot of pitches. But in Marte’s case, 20 of those HBPs came with two strikes, as Jeff Zimmerman pointed out in late-September. That’s just not sustainable going forward. And even in the case that he’s the type of player who will get hit by a lot of pitches, that could lead to more injuries.

That’s hardly the biggest issue, though. Marte managed to hit .280 despite a 24.4% strikeout rate. This is just another case of the BABIP fairy working his/her magic again. Marte’s .366 BABIP ranked eighth in the league. While that would typically be enough evidence for analysts to predict a collapse, let’s give Marte the benefit of the doubt here. He’s the type of player who can beat out hits, and did post a .333 BABIP in limited playing time back in 2012. Perhaps it’s plausible to think he’s the type of hitter who can consistently post BABIPs in that area.

In order to figure this out, we can look at hitters who posted similar BABIPs from the past 10 years. If any of them were able to sustain their unusually high BABIP, we can see if they are in any way similar to Marte. Between 2002 and 2012, there were 92 players who had a BABIP of at least .355 one seasons. On average, those players lost .049 points off their BABIP the following year. Only two players were able to show improvement in their second season. Miguel Cabrera did it in 2005 and 2006, and Joe Mauer did it in 2012 and 2013.

Cabrera and Mauer are two of the twelve players who had a BABIP of at least .355 in multiple seasons over that period. Is Marte comparable to any of them?

Name BB% K% BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA
David Wright 11.30% 18.30% 0.341 0.301 0.382 0.506 0.381
Ichiro Suzuki 6.00% 9.60% 0.341 0.316 0.359 0.410 0.333
Derek Jeter 8.40% 14.00% 0.346 0.308 0.375 0.434 0.357
Joe Mauer 12.20% 11.10% 0.349 0.323 0.405 0.468 0.378
Joey Votto 14.90% 18.50% 0.359 0.314 0.419 0.541 0.411
Manny Ramirez 14.00% 17.50% 0.335 0.312 0.415 0.577 0.416
Michael Young 6.70% 14.00% 0.335 0.303 0.349 0.443 0.344
Michael Bourn 8.50% 20.60% 0.342 0.271 0.335 0.364 0.312
Mike Trout 12.50% 20.50% 0.366 0.314 0.404 0.544 0.405
Chone Figgins 10.00% 15.50% 0.326 0.277 0.349 0.364 0.320
Alex Gordon 9.40% 20.80% 0.321 0.269 0.344 0.436 0.341
Austin Jackson 8.60% 23.90% 0.361 0.278 0.344 0.416 0.334
Starling Marte 4.40% 25.10% 0.356 0.275 0.332 0.440 0.337

The answer is not really. The chart features some of the best players in baseball over the recent past, and it would be foolish to compare Marte to Trout, Votto or Manny Ramirez, among others. At the same time, Marte does display some skills that allow him to utilize his speed, much like some of the faster players on the chart. He ranks between Jackson and Bourn when it comes to infield hit percentage, and his 52.3% ground ball rate ranked fourth. So, he’s doing the right thing when he puts the ball in play.

Marte’s undoing may be his contact rate. Marte’s 74.7 Contact% is the worst among these players. His contract rate on balls in the zone is fine, but Marte struggles to make contact with balls outside of the strike zone. This wasn’t as much of a problem for Marte last season, as he had saw a first pitch strike 67.4% of the time last year. That figure is easily the highest among all the players on the chart. Part of that probably has to do with Marte leading off the majority of games he started. The other part is that pitchers weren’t afraid to go right at him. While that didn’t work out in their favor last season, it’s likely to change in 2014. Marte hasn’t shown the ability to control the strike zone yet, and pitchers will likely test his aggressiveness by throwing him more balls.

That’s a significant issue moving forward. Marte does have some skills that suggests he can post a high BABIP, but he’s clearly not one of the best players in baseball. And now that teams have more data on his approach, pitchers will certainly adjust their game plan when facing him. Marte has never been a disciplined hitter, so unless he can improve his contact numbers he may be in for a precipitous fall next season.




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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.


15 Responses to “Starling Marte Trying to Beat BABIP”

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  1. lexomatic says:

    I was sure he’d compare to Roberto Kelly, but when I looked? Not so much. That 1990 season is still closer than any of the above, but 100 extra PA makes a difference, and that was his only season like that.

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  2. tz says:

    Mike Trout and Michael Young both appearing on the same exclusive list on FanGraphs.

    Maybe those Mayans were right, just a year off…….

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  3. tz says:

    In all seriousness, interesting article. Marte best comp right now looks like Austin Jackson, except for Marte’s low BB% and compensatingly high HBP%. If he can stay healthy, this may represent his upside for the next few years.

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  4. jdbolick says:

    Marte also has strong splits thus far, with the caveat about small samples and no such trouble against right-handers in the minors. I know Polanco has primarily played center or right, but I could see the two of them sharing time in left for the Pirates if they come up with an alternative in right.

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  5. In this age of information, how does the myth that walk rate and batting average are related survive? There are various methods to correlate them, but any way you slice it the relationship comes out at 3-5%, which is let’s just say irrelevant.

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  6. MustBunique says:

    Good info here Chris, but I have cautious optimism about Marte being able to stick in the high BABIP category due to his GB% and speed.

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  7. “…lacks a strong approach at the plate. He only walked in 4.4% of his appearances” etc. Doesn’t that imply that his BA shouldn’t be so high?

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    • MustBunique says:

      No, it implies that his OBP is almost entirely BA driven, which makes his OBP that much more susceptible to changes from BABIP.

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      • MustBunique says:

        Not counting the influence of his high number of 2-strike HBP’s.

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      • szielinski says:

        BA and HBP driven. Moreover, his K- and BB-rates tell us nothing about his BABIP rate. Marte had strong BABIP rates in his MiL career. The issue isn’t whether or not Marte can sustain a high BABIP rate. He is likely to do just that. The issue is what his natural BABIP rate will be during his peak years given his skills. Unfortunately, we’ll have the answer to this question about a decade in the future.

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  8. Michael says:

    Chris; go back and watch some tape of his ABs. You’ll change your opinion. He’s on the verge of greatness, and when Polanco comes up the Bucs will have the best outfield in baseball.

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  9. Ben says:

    Yea…he does crowd the plate a lot like Sin Soo Choo…him and marte were the leaders last year in HBP.

    1. I think from a fantasy perspective the .280 average is more like .260 unless more power comes or a more patient approach.
    2. The steals are legit…power is 15 power HR in full year at peak
    3. The RBI total even for a leadoff hitter was extremely low. This might be the offset for the average and your reasoning for a safe return in the middle rounds.

    Of the 12 people with 500 ABs at the leadoff spot…the average amount of RBIs from it was 49 and only 3 people had better slugging percentages then Marte’s .441 (Matt Carpenter .483, Sin Soo Choo .481, and Coco Crisp .443)
    So there could be a 15 to 20+ jump in this category…

    Because of this…IM BUYING

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