Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle penciled Starling Marte into the lineup as the everyday left fielder and leadoff hitter from Day 1 of the 2013 season despite some rather vocal criticisms concerning his plate discipline. Marte has the type of speed and ability to make things happen on the base paths that teams covet in a leadoff hitter, but he also had K% and BB% rates throughout his minor league career that are downright terrible for the leadoff role. Marte turned out to be a tremendous asset to the Pirates in 2013. His 4.6 WAR was second highest on the team, and that was despite missing a month of the season with a sprained wrist. Only Andrew McCutchen was a more valuable player for the Pirates last season. Advanced defensive metrics showed Starling Marte to be the best LF in baseball. His 20.1 UZR/150 was tops among all qualified left fielders. On the base paths he did not disappoint. He posted the 7th highest total in the league for all players in Base Running Runs Above Avg (BsR).
You would think that the terrific season Starling Marte had in 2013 would have silenced his critics, but in some ways his play only caused the criticism to grow louder. Digging further into his stats you will see why. Marte had a solid .343 OBP. Two factors helped lift Marte’s OBP to an acceptable level for a leadoff hitter. First, when he did put the ball in play he was reaching base at a healthy clip. His .363 BABIP was 8th best in baseball among all qualified hitters. Secondly, he was getting hit with a lot of pitches. Marte had 24 HBPs in 2013 which was the second highest total in baseball. If not for all the HBPs his OBP would have been 30 points lower. Marte drew just one more BB than HBP last year.
Starling Marte’s critics will argue that his high BABIP and HBP totals makes him a regression candidate for 2014. They have a point concerning his hit by pitch totals. In a previous post I detailed how 83% of Marte’s HBPs came in two strike counts. That won’t continue. Pitchers are going to adjust. They will stop coming inside on Marte when they have him in a two strike hole. I believe his HBP totals will be cut in half in 2014. I disagree that his BABIP will fall significantly. Marte’s greatest asset is his legs. He gets down the line in a hurry. When Marte does put the ball in play he does so in a manner that complements his skills. 50.8% of the time he put the ball in play last season it was a ground ball, and a very healthy 9.9% of those ground balls went for infield hits. Other hitters have proven that BABIP can sometimes be stable. Shin-Soo Choo has a career .350 BABIP. Choo’s lowest career BABIP was still a robust .317. Austin Jackson has a .361 career BABIP and has posted four straight seasons of .333 or higher. Marte has higher ground ball rates than either of those hitters. Marte’s BABIP may fall a little, but I’d be surprised if it wasn’t at least .340. I do feel that unless Marte learns to take more walks his OBP is going to drop at least 15 points in 2014.
I expect the rest of Starling Marte’s game to be relatively stable. He potentially could add some power. If so it would likely come at the cost of an increase in fly balls hit. For a right handed hitter that plays half of his games in PNC Park that would not be a good thing, especially for a player with the wheels that Marte possesses. His defense will remain elite. As good as Marte was on the bases last year he could be even better if he was just a little more successful stealing bases. Last year his success rate was just 73%. That is basically league average. If Marte can stay healthy and get his success rate up to around 80% he could easily steal 60+ bases next season.
Without further ado, here are the final estimations I’m using as inputs for Wahoo’s on First WAR Calculator to estimate the 2014 WAR for Starling Marte:
OBP – .327
SLG – .448
Plate Appearances – 630
Games – 152
Position – LF
Defense – 1 (elite)
Base Running – 1 (elite)
And the verdict for Starling Marte 2014 WAR is… 4.7