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Stats Corner: Will Marte be table-setter or out-maker?

| Saturday, March 22, 2014, 10:36 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte prepares to take batting practice Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

Despite his free-swinging style, Starling Marte was a quality table-setter for the Pirates' power bats in 2013. In addition to swiping 41 bags, Marte reached base at a .343 clip that bested the .329 major league average for leadoff hitters. Unless the Bucs' left fielder sharpens his plate approach, however, he could leave Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez with fewer chances to drive in runs this season.

Marte chased 36.9 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone last year, far above the 31 percent MLB average. His eyes-to-ankles strike zone produced just 25 walks in 566 plate appearances, and two of those were intentional. Yet, Marte boosted his OBP by getting plunked often (24 hit by pitches) and posting a .363 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) — almost 70 points above the MLB average (.297).

Short of backing off the plate, Marte will sport lots of bruises again in 2014. But he might not find it so easy to evade leather when he puts the ball in play. In 2012, eight players posted a BABIP above .360 while qualifying for the batting title. Just Mike Trout and Joe Mauer (who didn't qualify in 2013) pulled off the trick again last year. On average, this hit-lucky bunch saw their BABIPs decline by 35 points between 2012 and 2013.

Numbers drop

2012 2013

Hitter BABIP BABIP Diff.

Dexter Fowler .390 .323 -.067

Torii Hunter .389 .344 -.045

Mike Trout .383 .376 -.007

Andrew McCutchen .375 .353 -.022

Austin Jackson .371 .333 -.038

Buster Posey .368 .312 -.056

Joe Mauer .364 .383 +.019

Miguel Montero .362 .282 -.080

Average .375 .340 -.035

Marte possesses premium speed and hits few pop-ups, so his BABIP shouldn't tumble all the way back to the MLB average. But ZiPS, a projection system on Fangraphs, expects Marte's BABIP to dip to .335. If that happens and he doesn't draw more walks, his OBP (a projected .318 from ZiPS) would fall short of the leadoff standard.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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