If you were paying attention, something strange happened for the Pittsburgh Pirates as they won their first four games of the season.
The strange part is not that the Pirates are the only unbeaten team in baseball heading into Tuesday night’s matchup against the Minnesota Twins.
No, the strange thing is that center fielder Starling Marte drew three walks in the first four games of the season.
That’s right. Three bases on balls for Marte.
Most of you probably had sometime in June pegged for Marte to walk for the third time of the season so indeed three walks already comes as a big surprise.
All joking aside, if Marte can be patient enough to draw walks, it’s not only huge for him, but for the entire Pirates offense as well.
Everyone knows Marte’s story by now.
After making the All-Star team for the first time in 2016, Marte was out of the Pirates lineup from April 18 to July 17 last year while serving a suspension for a positive test for a failed drug test.
He hit .275 with seven homers, 31 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 77 games, which was way down from .311 with nine homers and 46 RBI in 2016. He also had a career-best 47 steals that season.
Since then, Marte has said all of the right things, including telling reporters at the beginning of spring training:
[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“I’m coming into this season with a brand-new mentality,” Marte said through a translator. “It’s a mentality to help my team like never before, to be the best teammate I can be and to be healthy to continue to be the best Marte that I am.”[/perfectpullquote]
The best Marte for the Pirates is a guy who can get on base at a high clip. And that means drawing a high number of walks in the process.
Last year Marte had an OBP of .333, which was down from the .362 mark in 2016. He only walked 23 times that season and only 20 last year.
We’ve really never seen a patient Marte who understands the strike zone and is willing to make pitchers work instead of flailing at pitches outside of the strike zone on a regular basis.
It’s only been four games and 19 plate appearances so let’s not overreact, but it’s a positive sign nonetheless.
But if Marte has the ability to wait out pitchers and draw walks this season it’s huge.
To get him on base instead of watching him chase a pitch and head back to the dugout with the bat in his hand lets him use his biggest asset more often.
It’s not just that Marte will have the ability to steal more bases, but little things like getting first to third on a single or being able to score from first on a double now come into play more often.
Who knows, Marte may not draw another walk for a few weeks.
But he also may continue to show a better approach at the plate leading to more walks. If that continues, he also will be in a better position to capitalize on mistakes as well and drive the ball more often.
Patience is the key for Marte and if he can continue to show it, we could be talking about a big season.
People have been waiting for Marte to break out for a few years now.
The key to that happening very well could be drawing more walks.