As part of a new series, we take a look at the players who will comprise the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates baseball club. We begin the series with a look at the team’s 2016 most valuable player Starling Marte.
On July 26, 2012, Starling Marte turned on the first pitch, an 85 mph pitch left up over the heart of the plate, he saw in the majors from Dallas Keuchel at Minute Maid Park, and just about every fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates was enthralled with the potential of the 23-year-old from the Dominican Republic.
After experiencing the expected pangs of a rookie in the majors, the last four years have shown the potential of one of the most underrated players in baseball. In 2016, Marte finally made his first trip to the All-Star game, despite being quite deserving each of the previous two seasons. He also revealed he deserves a bigger spotlight in the Pirates’ organization for his play on the field and influence on and off the field.
What Went Right in 2016:
- Starling Marte hit new career highs on stolen bases and stolen base percentage when he swiped 47 of the club’s 110 stolen bases with 79.7% efficiency. Marte has rarely been cautious on the base paths. After following up his 41 stolen bases in his first full season with two seasons of 30 steals apiece, Marte was due to either take a step back into the elite tier of base stealers or fade into the tier of slightly above average stealers.
- Prior to 2016, the annual competition between Marte and Pedro Alvarez to see who would end the season with more strikeouts was one of the most aggravating stat races for fans. In 2016, like it or not, Alvarez was gone, and Marte took a significant leap forward in limiting his strikeouts. Each year from 2013 to 2016, he has lowered his strikeouts from 138 to 131 to 123 and finally to 104 last season.
- When one of the best players in baseball has what many fans will hope was an injury-plagued down year instead of the beginning of the decline, Marte stepped into the shoes of Andrew McCutchen as the team’s most consistent hitter. He hit at a .311 clip, eclipsing the .300 mark for the first time in his career. Marte finished 2016 sixth in the National League batting title race. Entering what could be the beginning of his prime, he may yet have more in the tank.
What Went Wrong in 2016:
- Back issues plagued Marte in September, which ultimately forced the team to shut him down for the season and place him on the disabled list on October 2. In the midst of the offense’s meltdown down the stretch, Marte’s absence came at the worst possible time. As a player who has battled injury issues in the past, a chronic condition like back tightness will be something to watch heading into 2017.
- Marte has yet to live up to the power potential he was believed to have when he was signed as an international free agent. In 2016, he failed to even double the number of home runs he had in his rookie campaign, hitting just nine home runs over 529 plate appearances. While Andrew McCutchen, Jung-ho Kang, and Gregory Polanco all contributed power numbers last season, Marte needs to be more of a power threat at the plate to continue being placed at or near the cleanup spot.
- Under Clint Hurdle, the Pirates have struggled to hit sacrifice flies, ranking in the top ten in the league only once in 2012 under the bubble gum addict. Marte has certainly not been part of the solution to that problem. He has a combined eight sacrifice flies over his entire career. It’s not so much that Marte does not hit sacrifice flies as much as the indication of a lack of productive outs. Clutch hitters in the middle of the lineup should never fail to hit a sacrifice fly over the course of an entire season, and Marte has now managed to do that twice in his career already.
Keys to 2017:
- Stay healthy – Marte has to remain on the field for the Pirates to be successful. Not only does he have to be on the field, but he also has to avoid nagging injuries like the back issues he experienced in 2016. Pirates’ fans have seen with Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen how much it can effect a player’s ability to contribute.
- Need to have more power – While it would be great if Marte was competing for the home run title in 2017, he doesn’t have to be at the top of the list. Marte should be at least in the 15-20 home run range every year, more would just be icing on the cake.
- Center of attention – Marte was one of the best center fielders in the league in 2016. Yes, you read that correctly, and more people have recognized that. It is time for the Pirates’ front office to stop being stubborn and move Andrew McCutchen to left. Marte has earned the right to patrol center, for lack of McCutchen’s ability to effectively play the position anymore if not for Marte’s performance as his replacement.
[irp posts=”10612″ name=”Pittsburgh Pirates 2016 Gradeout – Starling Marte”]