The Pirates finished above .500 for the first time since Barry Bonds left town in 1992, and one of the reasons for that strong season was the play of Starling Marte. He brought speed, a solid batting average, an a good deal of runs scored to the outfield of many in the fantasy baseball game (not to mention really good defense too). Can Marte, a young, talented, some would even say gifted athlete, fair in 2014?
Marte hit .257 with 12 steals in 47 games as a rookie. A decent cup of coffee. Last season he was better, much better. Here we go.
Marte hit .280. Marte had 12 homers. Marte had 35 RBIs. Marte had 83 runs scored. Marte had 41 steals.
A .280 hitting, 83 run, 41 steal player has a ton of value in fantasy baseball. That speed number is huge at this point of the evolution of baseball. Only eight players in 2013 stole 40 bases. Eight. Of that group only four stole 40 bases and reached double-digit homers (Jean Segura, Alex Rios, Carlos Gomez and Marte). Add in the requirement of 80 runs scored and we're left with three guys (Segura only scored 74 times). Add in a .280 batting average requirement... Marte and Gomez were the only two players in baseball who stole 40 bases, scored 80 runs and hit .280. Not bad at all.
Now the concerns, and they are many.
How do you get 510 at-bats and drive in 35 runs? That's terrible. Sure a leadoff batter in the NL has to hit behind the old pitcher's spot and that can truly make run production difficult, but that 35 number – for a guy who hit 12 homers – means that Marte drove in 23 runners when he didn't homer. Awful.
Marte might have hit 12 homers, but he may not have much more room for growth there right now. Taking advantage of his speed, as he should, Marte beats the ball into the ground. Through 182 big league games he has a 52 percent ground ball rate. Fourteen batters had a 52 percent ground ball rate in 2013. None of them hit 20 homers. Even with a solid 13.5 percent HR/F ratio for his brief career, remember the big league average is about 9-10 percent, he's still managed only 17 homers in 677 at-bats. Fifteen homers is possible in 2014 but 20 isn't likely.
I've been saving the best for last. The old approach at the dish. The reason I continue to warn people about Starling Marte.
Marte hit .280 in 2013 and he's the owner of a solid .275 batting average in 677 career at-bats. However...
(1) Marte hit .402 against lefties in 2013 but only .254 against right-handed pitching.
(2) Marte hit .291 in the first half but only .254 in the second half.
(3) He struck out 138 times in 2013 and has 188 punchouts in his career. That's a 25 percent K-rate. That's awful if you aren't a 25+ home run hitter. Clearly Marte isn't that. All those strikeouts limit the potential upside of his batting average. Do you know how many .300 hitters struck out 138 times last season? There were twenty four .300 hitters and only two got there with that many Ks: Joey Votto (138 an a .305 average) and Paul Goldschmidt (145 an a .302 average). Remember though that Marte had that K total in 510 at-bats. Votto had 581 and Goldschmidt 602.
(4) Unlike Votto (18.6 percent walk rate) and Goldschmidt (13.9 percent walk rate) Marte never, and I mean never, walks. In 135 games he took 25 free passes leading to a 4.4 percent walk rate. He walked 25 times all season. That's embarrassing. There are two main issues with the walks and the strikeouts. First, even though he batted .280, his OBP was only .343. That's not an awful number by any means, but if he were to walk 50 times let's say, his runs scored mark and his steal mark could go up substantially. At this point of his career, don't expect that to happen. Second, his 0.18 BB/K ratio is p-a-t-h-e-t-i-c (it was the second worst mark in baseball behind A.J. Pierzynski). It's also going to be extremely limiting. Only one batter under 0.25 in the BB/K ratio hit .300 in 2013 (Torii Hunter at .304). In 2012 no one under 0.25 hit .285. In 2011 no one under 0.25 hit .260. In 2010 no one under 0.25 hit .285. In 2009 no one under 0.25 hit .285. You get the point right? Unless Marte significantly improves his approach at the plate there is going to be little growth in the batting average category, and it's possible his average could even slip a bit.
Marte is a great fantasy option in the outfield. He's young, tremendously talented and will hit at the top of the Pirates order yet again. His speed is legit, another 40 thefts seems very reasonable, and that makes him well worth rostering early in all drafts. Be careful though. His power isn't likely to take the next step, he strikes out too much, and the lack of walks will limit his batting average and runs scored totals. Expect more of the same in 2014. Don't expect substantial growth.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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I won't be answering start/sit questions Sunday. Attending co-host on @SiriusXMFantasy - Kyle Elfrink's wedding.