Is Starling Marte underrated or overrated?

StarlingMarteNeilWalker

On Friday night, Starling Marte was named the sixth-best left fielder in baseball by the MLB Network “Shredder.”

Brian Kenny had Marte up at #4 on his list, even throwing him some praise on Twitter the other night:

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:

ZiPS: .265
Steamer: .277
Oliver: .277

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.

Speed

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…

Defense

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.

Arm

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:

Starling  Marte Arm

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.

Overall…

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.

Go Bucs

Bill James 2013 Projections: Pirates Pitchers

Last week, we took a look Bill James’ projections for some of the Pirates’ offensive players. Here’s how the Bucs’ pitchers are predicted to perform in 2013:

W L SV G GS IP ERA FIP
A.J. Burnett 11 13 0 32 32 209 4.05 4.09
Chris Resop 4 4 0 61 0 72 3.75 3.52
James McDonald 9 10 0 31 31 172 3.87 4.06
Jared Hughes 4 5 0 67 0 76 4.14 3.83
Jeff Karstens 6 6 0 24 16 105 3.86 3.96
Joel Hanrahan 3 3 40 59 0 57 3.63 3.61
Tony Watson 4 3 0 71 0 58 3.26 3.81
Wandy Rodriguez 11 11 0 32 32 206 3.80 3.79

* This is under the assumption that most of these players will be back in 2013. Burnett and Rodriguez have guaranteed contracts. Watson and Hughes are still pre-arbitration eligible and should be in the bullpen again. Hanrahan, Karstens, Resop, and McDonald are eligible for arbitration.

A few quick notes…

- A.J. Burnett is projected to regress a bit after his bounce back 2012 season.

- Chris Resop and Tony Watson are expected to pitch similarly to past performances out of the ‘pen, while Jared Hughes‘ ERA is expected to be 4+.

- James McDonald, who had the same number of innings pitched (171) and ERA (4.21) in 2011 and 2012, is predicted to lower his earned run average a bit and also throw one more inning.

- James has Joel Hanrahan‘s ERA jumping up to a concerning 3.63, but sees him reaching the 40 save plateau once again.

- If the Bucs decide to tender Jeff Karstens, he’ll be expected to pitch 105 innings between the rotation and bullpen (16 starts out of 24 games).

- Wandy Rodriguez, last year’s trade deadline acquisition, is projected to produce a reasonable 11-11 record and 3.80 ERA.

These are pretty moderate projections; nothing to get too excited about. However, they are just predictions after all, so they could be very far from true.

124 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs