Still Not Sold on Starling

I’m not buying the notion that Starling Marte is – or will be – a good major league hitter.

His defense? Yes. My money is on the table. Marte has +23.6 career UZR/150.

His baserunning? It’s a calculated gamble. He stole 41 bases last year, but he was caught 15 times and his career success rate is 72.6%, which means he is just about breaking even in terms of run value.

But when it comes to Starling Marte’s abilities with the bat, there’s a lot that says, “Bluff.”

Marte hit an illusory .280/.343/.441 — .784 OPS in 2013, which, combined with his excellent defense and moderate baserunning success, produced a splendid 4.1 Wins Above Replacement level. But that batting line came with an awful 5.5 K/BB ratio; and some numbers that are largely out of a hitter’s control, look a lot like luck, and aren’t likely to be replicated.

In 2013, Marte had a Batting Average on Balls in Play of .363.  But that incredible number has all of a  0.13% chance of being sustained over the length of his career.

That’s not 13%. That’s 0.13%.

How can I make that calculation?

Since 1950, 2,233 major league players have had at least 1,000 plate appearances. Three (3) of them – 0.13% – had career BABIPs over .360.

If Marte maintains “just” a .330 BABIP over his career, it would still be an anomaly. Only 79 players since 1950 (with at least 1,000 plate appearances) have had career BABIPs over .330. That’s just 3.5%.

Could Marte be one of the rare players with some sort of blend of particular abilities and high-quality luck who ends up with an exorbitant career BABIP? Yes. But take a look at the career BABIPs of the following hitters.

Barry Bonds: .285 career BABIP

Hank Aaron: .291

Willie Mays: .299

Ted Williams: .312

Mickey Mantle: .318

Pete Rose: .319

If those hitters had those BABIPs, then are the odds not clearly against Starling Marte sustaining a career-long .330 – .360 BABIP?

“Well,” you object, “Those great hitters did not have Marte’s speed.”

The stolen base king, Rickey Henderson, had a career BABIP of .305. Tim Raines stole 809 bases and had a career BABIP of .312. And Joe Morgan stole 689 bases and had a terribly unlucky BABIP of .278.

If Marte must rely on a .330 – .360 BABIP, his batting line is a crap-shoot.

Another concern is the nature of Marte’s on-base percentage. It was not well-supported by his 4.4% walk rate. It depended, just as much, on his failure to get out of the way of 24 pitches in 2013. Some players do get hit a lot every year. Marte was plunked 49 times in 1,545 minor league plate appearances. But that is not something upon which a major league player wants to rely in order to maintain decent offensive production.

If Marte had not been hit by any pitches in 2013, his .343 on-base percentage would have fallen to .313, taking his OPS from .784 to .754.

The concern about Marte’s K/BB rate shows up in his comparables.

The two players who were most comparable to him at ages 23 and 24 were Bill Hall and Laynce Nix. They both had BB, K, and HR rates that were very similar to Marte. Hall was 94.3 % comparable and Nix was 86.9% comparable.

Marte will be 25 during the 2014 season.

In Nix’s age-25 season, he only had 70 major league plate appearances, putting up a dreadful .425 OPS. His career batting line is now .240/.286/.417 — .703 OPS.

Bill Hall had a very good age-25 season. He hit .291/.342/.495 — .837 OPS, while playing for the Brewers. But that was supported by a .336 BABIP. Hall’s career BABIP was .310 and he had a batting line of .248/.308/.436 — .744 OPS.

In addition, hitters who strike-out 5.5 times as much as they walk – as Marte did in 2013 – simply do not have successful careers at the plate. Since 1950, only six non-pitchers with at least 1,000 plate appearances have had a career K/BB rate of 5.5 or worse. Here are their career batting lines:

Bill Schroeder:  .240/.281/.426 — .707 OPS

Miguel Olivo:  .241/.275/.417 — .692 OPS

Billy Cowan:  .236/.269/.387 — .656  OPS

Ivan Murrell:  .236/.265/.366 — .631 OPS

Humberto Quintero: .234/.267/.327 — .595 OPS

Rob Picciolo: .234/.246/.312 — .558 OPS

BABIP + (Hit-by-Pitch) + (Low BB) + (High K) is not a good formula for sustained success at the plate.


PA:  587

BB%: 4.4%

K%: 25%

HR: 13

Batting Average:  .256

On-Base Percentage: .317

Slugging Percentage:  .410

OPS:  .727

OPS+:  105

Those numbers are based upon a drop in Marte’s BABIP from last year’s .363 to a projected .331. That is still far above the 2013 league average of .297, but it only puts Marte’s OPS+ at 5% above league average.

Together with excellent defense and above average baserunning, Marte’s batting line will produce 3.3 Wins Above Replacement level. He is a valuable starting outfielder on a contending team. Just don’t bet on him ever being Andrew McCutchen.


185 thoughts on “Still Not Sold on Starling

  1. Which tells us that the Pirates future outfield is Tabata, McCutchen, and Palanco! Despite popular belief, Marte is likely the teams 4th outfielder once Palanco arrives.

    • That’s hilarious. Tabata can’t stay healthy and hit for 2 months last year. Why would we not let Marte make adjustments. He might not make the adjustments cutch made, but if he makes some, then he can be a 5 plus war player. Tabata could be a 5 plus war player maybe in 3 seasons of total play.

  2. There is no doubt that Marte better improve his plate discipline and reduce his strike out rate . I think he would become a much better hitter if he was down in the order where he belongs instead of leading off . He is a very gifted physically and in my opinion has to much talent in all phases of the game not to become a better than average ball player . Speaking of Polanco which I have seen play is another gifted player but to anoint him the next great coming is premature . He has a total of 9 at bats in AAA ball and will need to show a great deal there before he is called up . I fully expect him to do that but I have also seen several can’t miss candidates who’s names I can’t remember .

    • Polanco was the MVP of the Dominican league. That’s the equivalent to triple a pitching. With the plate discipline and tremendous defense he brings, he will be a value right off the bat for he Bucs even if he doesn’t hit right away. Which I’m sure he will. I think he has the potential to be better than cutch. Hopefully he realizes it. If he doesn’t, I’m sure he will be at least a 4 war player.

  3. ‘Which tells us that the Pirates future outfield is Tabata, McCutchen, and Palanco! Despite popular belief, Marte is likely the teams 4th outfielder once Palanco arrives.’

    You can’t be serious.

  4. scoman,

    Considering the careers of players who struck out 5.5 times as much as they walk. It isn’t hard to imagine that Jose Tabata is a better long term bet than Marte.

    I suspect that Marte will be given the first crack, but that doesn’t mean that he may not work his way out of the lineup unless he really improves his plate discipline.

    • Then take into consideration power potenial, going and getting the ball and taking away hits, ability to go from first to third, throwing out a runner, actually throwing to the correct base or cut off man, and not making base running errors.

  5. I would not be surprised if Tabata ends up with a better career batting line than Marte. Marte’s K/BB ratio is a problem.

    But Marte’s excellent defense and above average baserunning will enable him to post a 3.0 WAR even if he only hits for a .700 OPS.

  6. What is most disturbing about Marte is the situations he is drawing these HBPs. I wrote about that a few weeks ago.

    20 of his 24 HBPs were in two strike counts, including 7 times in an 0-2 count. That is highly unsustainable. But I do believe his BABIP will remain high. And I think he will SLG a little higher than you project.

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