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Starling Marte is set to serve as one of the cornerstones of the 2017 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Marte has made steady progress throughout his major league career to this point. He has posted at least a 3.6 fWAR or higher in each of his first four full seasons, and has worked to increase his patience at the plate. For his efforts in 2016, Marte was awarded his first All-Star appearance.
There is no doubt as to Marte’s importance to this club. But what exactly would constitute a “good season” for the 28-year old?
Before we attempt to answer that question, we should mention that ZiPS – a well respected projection modeling system – projects Marte for a bit of a downturn. You can check out our piece outlining how ZiPS sees him here.
Now, let’s go over a couple of statistics that could signify a good year for the Pirates’ incumbent left-fielder.
Increased Walk Rate
We mentioned before that Marte has worked to improve his patience at the plate. The 28-year old’s strikeout rate in 2016 was 19.7 percent, well below his previous career “high” of 24 percent in his rookie year. 2016 was in fact Marte’s second year with an under-20 percent rate.
That in and of itself is to be commended, but Marte could stand to improve his walk rate. Marte suffers from the same disease as Josh Harrison – an overwhelming thirst to put the ball in play. Marte walked just 4.3 percent of the time in 2016, below his career mark of 4.7 percent.
A higher walk rate – even a modest increase towards the 2016 National League rate of 8.3 percent – would propel Marte to even greater heights.
Consistent Stolen Base Attempts
For at least two years now, Marte, Harrison and Gregory Polanco have served as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ primary base stealing threats. No Pirates regular attempted more than 13 steals in 2016 compared to the trio’s combined 105 attempted swipes.
Even in that trio, there is a hierarchy. Marte had 59 of those 105 attempts, and he must continue to serve as a threat. You’ll notice that i listed attempts here, and the reason for that is simple. A modest fluctuation one way or the other in successful stolen bases would be felt, but a sudden drop in attempts would be more significant.
It is not about how many steals Marte ends up with, but how many times he tries. And that is simply to keep the pressure on opposing pitchers and defenders. If Marte can affect an opposing pitcher to the point where makes a mistake, the Pirates will take that result each and every time.
The last attribute to a good 2017 season for Marte is one that is admittedly out of his control, but is nonetheless crucial. After playing in 153 games in 2015, Marte had a lingering back injury towards the end of the 2016 season. He ended up playing 129 games. While the injury did not result in a substantial chunk of missed time, it was felt.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates are to compete for the postseason in 2017 it will likely be for the Wild Card. In that light, any time spent without one of its biggest weapons spells doom for this Pirates lineup. There will certainly be other capable hitters to shoulder the load. However, Marte does so many things – and does them well – that missing him for an extended amount of time could cause irreversible damage to the team’s playoff hopes.
Despite normal season-to-season fluctuations in production, Marte can still put up a productive season in 2017. The Pirates are counting on it.
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