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