Left fielder Starling Marte is off to an uninspiring start in 2014, hitting .238/.319/.317 in 113 plate appearances. Nearly a month into the season, his 32% strikeout rate out of the leadoff spot is looking downright ugly.
The 25-year-old Marte has struck out 36 times in the team’s 25 games so far, putting him on pace for an insane 233 strikeouts. The MLB record belongs to current Brewer Mark Reynolds, who K’d 223 times back in 2009.
Too many of Marte’s plate appearances this year have ended like this:
Not only does Brooks Baseball house Pitch f/x data for pitchers, but for hitters as well. Glancing at Marte’s page, it will tell you how he has shown “a very poor eye” and a “high likelihood to swing and miss” against fastballs this year. Against breaking pitches? “An aggressive approach” with a “high likelihood to swing and miss.” And against offspeed pitches? “An exceptionally poor eye” and an “above average likelihood to swing and miss.”
Marte hasn’t exactly owned the strike zone this season, causing his numbers to falter early on. Like the GIF above shows, he’s had trouble with pitches low-and-away. Check out how he’s been pitched in 2014:
A high portion of pitches are falling low and away. Problem is, he can’t lay off of it, nor can he not swing through it: of the 72 pitches in the low-outside corner, he swung 22 times and whiffed at 16.
If you look at the breakdown since he came to the big leagues in July of 2012, you’ll see the same trend – most pitches are low and/or outside:
This got me thinking: maybe this is why he gets hit by so many pitches? He could be hanging a bit closer to the plate to reach the outside stuff in zones clearly targeted by opposing pitchers. Then, when a pitcher comes back inside, it gets a little too close. Maybe I’m overthinking that, but it’s odd that someone who isn’t pitched inside often gets plunked a lot.
At what point does Marte’s plate discipline become a concern in the leadoff spot? The team doesn’t have many options when it comes to leadoff hitters, and it’d be unlike Clint Hurdle to go with a non-traditional guy up top. But Marte swings at a higher volume of pitches out of the zone than any other starter besides Jordy Mercer, and his near 13% swinging strike rate ranks among the highest in the National League. For a guy who’s produced a high batting average on balls in play, the Pirates need far fewer strikeouts from Marte.
Marte has loads of potential, and I think he has a ton of room to grow offensively. At this point, a few adjustments and more plate discipline could lead to less strikeouts. Good things will happen as he puts more balls in play, and the more he’s on base, the better. The Pirates need baserunners in front of the reigning NL MVP… The best thing to happen to the offense right now could be a Marte hot streak.