Today’s player profile takes a look at Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Starling Marte. After missing half of the 2017 season due to a PED suspension, can Marte look to put the past behind him in 2018?
Outfielder Starling Marte enters the 2018 season in a conundrum. On one hand, he’s one of the few players with the Pittsburgh Pirates that has been with the team for each of the last five years at the major-league level. On the other, he’s got almost as much to prove as that of a veteran minor leaguer hoping to crack the major-league roster.
Marte is entering his seventh season in the majors and will be penciled in for the majority of games as long as he is healthy. That said, Marte still has to prove himself as a genuine, productive and honest player.
Last April, Marte was suspended 81 games after testing positive for Nandrolone, a banned performance-enhancing drug by MLB. Along with Jung-Ho Kang, Marte is deserving of a lot of finger-pointing for many of the troubles of the 2017 Pirates.
Now, 2018 is about face-saving for Marte as much as it is helping the Pirates win games.
PED’s aside, 2017 was a miserable year for Marte when he was on the field. In fact, it’s up there as the worst of his career. He posted career-worsts in isolated power, slugging percentage, batting average on balls in play, weight on-base average and weight runs created.
Defensively, he did not win a third consecutive Gold Glove, primarily due to a lack of games played. Even if he had played more, Marte would not have won another Gold Glove. His 4.3 ultimate zone rating, while still strong, was the second-worst of his career. Marte’s eight defensive runs saved were also poor in comparison to 17 the season before.
Essentially, Marte was an average to a below-average hitter and a good defender. For someone making just over $7.8-million on a team with the fourth-lowest payroll in MLB, that’s not good enough.
On the bright side, Marte did finish 2017 strong thanks to great final month. While the Pirates went 12-16 in September and one game in October, Marte slashed .322/.380/.456 and had a 122 wRC+. This wasn’t over a short span either; Marte put these numbers up in 100 plate appearances over 24 games.
Those stats compared to his final numbers show just how bad Marte was before the final month of 2017. Without such a strong finish to the season, Marte would have set far more career-lows last year.
With Andrew McCutchen now a San Francisco Giant, Starling Marte is the new centerfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After winning two Gold Gloves in left field, Marte will move to the position that he played in the minors more than any other. He does have major-league experience in center field with 638.2 innings under his belt. In that time, he’s posted a combined -1.4 UZR and -1 DRS. Compare that to a 37.1 UZR and 82 DRS in 4,949 innings in left field.
Just because Marte was one of the best defensive left fielders in MLB does not guarantee that he’ll be equally strong in center. In 2018, he’ll get a chance to prove otherwise.
In Spring Training games, for whatever they are worth, Marte has struggled a few times at reading balls. The majority of times, it has been due to the wind, but that does not dismiss that he is still struggling there. What happens when the Pirates visit infamously windy venues like Wrigley Field and AT&T Park? He could be a liability.
In addition to covering more range, Marte’s arm will be needed more than ever. Marte’s arm has recorded a combined 9.2-runs above average in left field, according to FanGraphs. In center field, it’s worth 3.3 runs.
Overall, the Pirates hope that Marte won’t fall off a cliff defensively, as McCutchen did. Marte has proven himself in left, but a new challenge awaits in center.
After a self-shortened 2017 season, Marte participated in Dominican Republic’s Winter League to get more innings in. Typically, only minor leaguers go down south in hopes of getting more reps, but Marte was a special case because of his suspension.
At the Pirates urging, he went to the Dominican Republic and played with Leones del Escogido. In 124 plate appearances, Marte slashed .277/.333/.438 and hit three home runs. He did leave the league a few days earlier than expected because of a cut on his hand.
Though it was a short time in the Dominican Republic, only 24 games, it was still worthwhile. Marte got some extra work in and the Pirates can only hope that it pays off in keeping Marte in shape.
He’ll likely make over 500 plate appearances in 2018, barring extended injuries. As a result, it’s possible that Marte will get exhausted late in the year. The Pittsburgh Pirates hope that by extending his 2017 season with winter league games, Marte will not be fatigued late in 2018.