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.”
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.
SABERBUCS 2014 Projection for STARLING MARTE
Batting Average: .256
On-Base Percentage: .317
Slugging Percentage: .410
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.