Brian Kenny had Marte up at #4 on his list, even throwing him some praise on Twitter the other night:
Btw..you know who's awesome? Starling Marte.. Well rounded guys are often underrated..
— Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) January 21, 2014
However, Bill James – “the godfather of sabermetrics” – wasn’t quite as impressed with the Bucco left fielder. He didn’t have Marte on his own list of the best LF and was actually a bit critical of him.
Kenny argued that, as James himself has advocated, a player who is above-average in many areas can be very good. James responded that he sees Marte as a player who isn’t particularly good at anything (or something along those lines).
Brian Kenny obviously thinks highly of him… Bill James not so much. So, in the eyes of the baseball industry, is Starling Marte being overrated or underrated? Let’s look at the five tools…
Hitting for Average
Marte likely won’t “wow” in the batting average department, but I think he can settle around .270 – .280 for the next few seasons. He ended up at exactly .280 last year – .327 in April, .268 the rest of the way. You could point at his high BABIP and predict some regression, but Marte puts the ball on the ground a lot (52.3% GB% in ’12 & ’13) and can buy hits with his speed. Here’s what the forecast systems are projecting for 2014:
Hitting for Power
Marte hit 12 bombs last year, tacking on 26 doubles and 10 triples. He posted a slightly above-average ISO of .160, and his .441 slugging percentage was middle-of-the-road for left fielders.
I’m not sure he’ll every be a huge power guy, at least not in the leadoff spot. If the Pirates ever got a legit leadoff hitter and moved Marte to fifth or sixth, he could probably realize his 15-20 homer potential.
The wheels are one of Marte’s best assets. His speed helped him steal 41 bags in 2013, though he was caught a league-leading 15 times. Marte was also able to take extra bases at a 52% clip, well above-average. The legs also help him in the outfield…
He was widely considered the best fielding outfielder in the organization as he came up through the minor league system. Marte put his great defense to work right away, posting UZR’s of 6.3 and 10.1 in ’12 and ’13, respectively. He’s also saved 28 runs in his first year-plus of major league action.
As I alluded to a few seconds ago, his speed helps him cover absurd amounts of ground (see some examples here). He’s probably a better option in center than McCutchen, but don’t expect the MVP to move anytime soon.
The advanced metrics will show that Marte’s arm is a tick below-average. I think this comes from the fact that it hasn’t been totally accurate at times; I remember him overthrowing on a few occasions. However, if you simply eye-test it, it’s an absolute cannon. Observe:
It’s quite an impressive arm, and any scouting report notes the same. It’s just not backed up by the Bill James numbers yet.
Pros: Excellent defense, strong arm, speed, glimpses of good offense
Cons: Strikes out way too much, doesn’t walk nearly enough (not a good combo for leadoff man)
It’s worth noting that Marte’s top ZiPS comparison was Matt Kemp. Injuries aside, Kemp has enjoyed some great seasons in Los Angeles. The two players are comparable in multiple ways, but the similar high K%/low BB% rates and sustainable high BABIPs jump out to me. Kemp’s had more good seasons than bad ones, so a comparison to him is favorable at this point.
As a biased Pirates fan, I would say that Marte is a solid player. He might not be 100% polished, he’s not perfect, and he still has a lot of raw talent. The numbers might not jump off the page – and maybe that’s why Bill James doesn’t like him so much.
I think he’s capable of being good at everything though, and still has room to improve.
One thing to consider is the sample size. Marte has barely over a year of service time under his belt. We’ll have a much better idea of what to expect from Marte a year or two from now. He may not reach McCutchen levels, but he can still become a great player.
In my opinion, he’s underrated. What do you think? Let us know.