If you played baseball beyond the T-ball level at some point you were probably razzed by your teammates for not “taking one for the team”. The situation is common for every level of baseball from Little League all way through the professional ranks. A hitter steps to the plate in a key moment. A pitch ventures far inside that the batter dodges. The AB continues and the hitter fails to reach base. As the dejected player ventures back to dugout his teammates playfully bust his balls for not letting the inside pitch hit him. I suspect “Why didn’t you take one for the team” is something Starling Marte has never heard.
In 2013 Starling Marte was hit by a pitch 24 times. It was the second highest total in baseball behind Shin-Soo Choo. 24 HBP for a season is a high total, but it isn’t an unusually high number that is should raise any eyebrows. What was unusual were the situations in which Marte was getting hit by pitches. 20 times Marte was hit by a pitch in two strike counts, including 7 times in which the count was 0-2. 83 % of his HBPs came with two strikes. To see just how unusual that is here are the numbers for the top 5 leaders in HBP last season.
|Total HBP||HBP with 2 strikes||HBP in 0-2 count|
As you can see the other leaders in HBP in 2013 were not being hit with two strikes at nearly the same frequency as Starling Marte. But Marte’s “ability” to draw a HBP in a two strike count wasn’t just unusual for last season, it was actually quite historic. I looked at data for the past 20 seasons and could not find a single player that was hit by pitches in two strike counts as often as Starling Marte was last season. The closest I could find was Jason Kendall with 19 HBP in two strike counts in 1998. Craig Biggio is the all-time leader in HBP with 285 during the modern era. 6 times in Biggio’s career he was hit with a pitch 20 or more times in a season. However, the most times Biggio was hit in a two strike count was just 11 during both the 1997 and 2001 seasons.
So why exactly is Starling Marte drawing so many HBPs in two strikes count? Does he possess some sort of ability to become a human piñata? Is he really trying to take one for the team? I think the answer may be yes. Look at how far he leans into this 0-2 pitch with the Pirates trailing a game 6-3 in the 7th inning.
If Starling Marte is purposely leaning into pitches I’m not sure if that should be considered brilliance or stupidity. Marte had a terrific first full season as a starting major league outfielder for the Pirates. His .343 OBP last season far exceeded my expectations. But if Marte is going to have to rely on leaning into 95 mph fastballs in two strike counts to get on base one of two things is going to happen: he will either get hurt or pitchers will wise up and not come inside when they have him buried in the count. Either way Marte will have a hard time sustaining his OBP unless he finds a less painful way to reach base.