Consistency fueling what Starling Marte believes is his best season for Pirates
Starling Marte was named the Pittsburgh Pirates most valuable player last season in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America’s local chapter. Regardless of whether he repeats, Marte said he believes this is his best season.
There is no disputing Marte has been more consistent in 2019.
The veteran outfielder has had stretches during big league career in which he was playing as well as anybody in the National League. Unfortunately, Marte also tended to endure stretches in which he was one of the league’s least-productive regulars.
So when manager Clint Hurdle was asked if Marte has been his team’s most consistent player this season, his answer left no doubts.
“Yes, he has,” Hurdle said, “and I say that without hesitation.”
Marte’s bat (a three-run homer) and glove (a running, leaping catch at the wall in the gap to end the game) were prominently on display during the Pirates’ 4-1 victory over the Washington Nationals on Tuesday.
It was just the latest example of not only Marte’s overall performance this season but its consistency.
“That was one of his goals coming into the season, to be dependable,” Hurdle said. “And he’s been very, very dependable.”
The raw numbers between Marte’s 2018 and ‘19 are comparable. His home runs (20 to 22), batting average (.277 to .291) and OPS (.787 to .838) have gone up some. But the more advanced analytics have declined: his wins above replacement was 3.7 in 2018 but 2.1 this year.
Marte’s OPS+ — an all-encompassing measure of a player’s offensive value — has remained largely flat (113 last season and 114 this season heading into Wednesday’s game).
But Marte’s 2018 effort was enough to win the Roberto Clemente Award as team MVP.
“I’ve been doing a good job,” Marte said. “Everybody pushed me to continue to do what I do.”
But a deeper dive into Marte’s consecutive seasons reveals 2018 was one of scorching hot streaks and awful slumps. That is illustrated by Marte’s OPS (by month) from May through September: .946 to .568 to 1.006 to .652 to .811.
That’s enough volatility to make a day trader blush.
Now, look at Marte’s OPS over the same set of months a year later: .789 in May, .882 in June, .929 in July and .935 through his first 17 games of August.
Marte attributes his newfound consistency to the season the Pirates’ 2019 presumptive MVP, Josh Bell, is having. Marte has found a home as the Pirates’ No. 3 hitter, with Bell batting behind him almost daily in recent months.
Though Bell’s season in some ways mimics Marte’s of the recent past in terms of its inconsistency (1.024 OPS before the All-Star break, .697 after it), Bell’s full-season numbers (31 home runs, 99 RBIs, .579 slugging percentage) are among the best put up by any Pirates player in recent memory.
Marte’s 22 home runs through Tuesday were the most of any NL center fielder this season, and his 85 runs were a career high.
“Since I moved into the third spot in the order in the lineup, I’ve been better,” Marte said. “With ‘JB’ behind me, the pitcher doesn’t want to see him. They try to face me. I get a better pitch and try to not make a mistake. That’s what I’m practicing right now with (hitting coaches Rick Eckstein and Jacob Cruz) every day.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .