ShareThis Page
Pirates

Pirates' Marte getting noticed for defensive prowess

| Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, 10:48 p.m.
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte throws a ball in from the outfield during a game against the Dodgers on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates left fielder Starling Marte throws a ball in from the outfield during a game against the Dodgers on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, at PNC Park.

Rick Sofield had a secret to tell.

Sofield, who coaches the Pirates' outfielders, lowered his voice and leaned in close. He glanced left and then right, scanning the visitor's clubhouse at Great American Ball Park to make sure Starling Marte was out of earshot.

“Let's be honest,” Sofield whispered. “Marte has a chance to become the best defender in the league.”

Sorry, Rick. That secret's already out.

Marte had sent the message the night before, when he threw out Brandon Phillips at home plate in the ninth inning to preserve a 5-4 victory against the Cincinnati Reds.

Phillips was on second base when Todd Frazier bounced a ground-ball single to left field. As he watched the ball skip on the infield grass, then the dirt, then again on the outfield grass, Sofield — who doubles as the Pirates' third base coach — did a quick mental calculation of Phillips' chances.

“When it's grass-dirt-grass, the runner normally will score,” Sofield said. “Those are do-or-die moments. Cincinnati's got a hard ballfield, so Marte has got to use the hard surface and give (catcher Francisco) Cervelli something he can handle.”

It wasn't even close. Marte fired a rocket, low and accurate, and the ball beat Phillips to the plate by several steps.

“I was surprised he was out by that much,” Sofield said. “That was a (heck) of a throw.”

Marte wasn't done. The Reds had runners on first and second with two outs when Marlon Byrd hit a blooper into shallow left. Marte took a straight line to the ball, accelerating to a blur over the final 60 feet to make a lunging, tumbling grab.

“He has a fourth gear that I haven't seen from anybody else,” Sofield said. “He gets things done when other guys can't.”

The acrobatic catch made all the highlight reels, but Marte was especially pleased with his throw to nab Phillips.

“I'm happy I got a chance to throw the guy out for the team,” Marte said. “I'm happy for me too, because (I'm in) competition for a Gold Glove.”

A Gold Glove finalist the past two seasons, this might be the year Marte finally claims the award. Working with Sofield, Marte is learning to tame his powerful arm and not make over aggressive throws.

“Sometimes before, I threw it everywhere,” Marte admitted, sheepishly.

The play on Phillips was Marte's 10th outfield assist, tops in the National League. His nine assists as a left fielder are the most by a Pirate in that position since Jason Bay had 13 in 2007.

Of course, looking only at assist totals is not the best way to evaluate a player's defensive skills. A more reliable metric is defensive runs saved, which gauges the number of runs above or below average a player is worth based on plays made.

According to Baseball Info Solutions, Marte this season has a defensive runs saved rating of plus-12. In 2007, Bay — who had a mediocre arm and limited range — produced a minus-11 rating.

“Marte is the one guy I take measure with,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Marte's aim has been true lately — to home, to second. He's playing as good a left field as anybody in the game right now.”

Marte's excellence seems to be rubbing off on his mates. The same night as Marte's ninth-inning heroics, right fielder Gregory Polanco made a fantastic running catch in the corner and doubled a runner off first base. A few days later, center fielder Andrew McCutchen and shortstop Jung Ho Kang teamed for a flawless relay play to nail Addison Russell of the Chicago Cubs at home.

That doesn't mean opponents are going to stop challenging Marte, Polanco and McCutchen.

“There are certain kinds of players who are just going to try to run on outfielders,” Hurdle said with a shrug. “It comes down to game situations and the personality of the runner. There's always going to be somebody who's going to see if he can get it done.”

Even so, no runner should be surprised to round third base and find the ball waiting for him at the plate.

“They probably know by now because we've made a lot of plays,” Marte said with a grin.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me