Starling Marte set to become Pittsburgh Pirates’ MVP this season


Everything is in place for Starling Marte to become the MVP for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. With two-and-a-half seasons under his belt, the 26-year-old Dominican is just now entering his prime. He has all the tools necessary to become the most invaluable position player in the Pirates’ lineup. He hits for average (career .281 batting average), power (has hit 10+ home runs each of the last two seasons and is on pace to blow that number away this year), he may be the fastest player in the lineup (he’s stolen at least 30 bases each of the last two seasons), he has a rocket for an arm, and although he doesn’t have a Gold Glove to his name yet, his defense is superb in left field.

Marte has been overshadowed by Andrew McCutchen the past two seasons, and rightfully so. McCutchen finished first and third in the National League MVP voting in 2013 and 2014, and has had higher offensive numbers than Marte across the board throughout their careers. This year, however, McCutchen has struggled early and has been rumored to be battling a lingering knee injury in the early-going this season. If McCutchen can’t produce at the level he has throughout his career, someone has to step in and at least attempt to fill his shoes for the team to be successful. Enter Starling Marte.

So far this season, Marte is batting .275/.327/.510 with seven home runs and 21 RBIs. He’s also stolen five bases and has accumulated a WAR of 0.9 so far on the year. He leads the Pirate starting position players in home runs, RBIs, total bases (52), slugging percentage, OPS (.837), and oWAR (0.7). He’s on pace for over 35 home runs and 100 RBIs, which isn’t realistic considering his offensive history and his body type. But he should be able to crack 20 home runs for the first time in his career and potentially lead the team in both home runs and RBIs.

One other factor that could add to Marte’s success is his spot in the batting order. This season, Marte has batted primarily fifth in the lineup, and hasn’t batted anywhere but fourth, fifth, or sixth in 2015. While he’s batted .241 from the fifth spot, he’s batted .368 from the cleanup spot, going 7-19 with three RBIs in that role. Maybe it’s time to start considering Marte as the primary cleanup hitter in the lineup. For a team that has struggled for offensive production for much of the season, something new like this could add a much-need spark to the lineup. Last season, Marte saw his most at-bats from the leadoff position. With the emergence of Josh Harrison last year and the call-up of Gregory Polanco, Marte’s power can now be best put to use lower in the lineup.

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One knock on Marte, however, has always been the number of strikeouts he’s taken. He leads the Pirates’ team with 30 Ks, and has struck out more than 130 times each of the last two seasons. Strikeouts don’t look as bad when a player is walking a lot or if he’s producing a lot. Marte hasn’t achieved either of those goals to warrant the number of times he’s struck out so far in his career. While he may never be a patient batter and take a lot of walks, his new position in the lineup will allow him to produce more, making the strikeouts a little more acceptable. Over time, player’s generally become more patient at the plate as well, so the strikeout numbers may fall for Marte as the years go by.

What does all of this add up to? Starling Marte is set to be the best and most effective Pirate batter this season. His new position in the lineup, coupled with his team-leading production and Andrew McCutchen’s lingering woes, adds up to put Marte in a position to be the team MVP in 2015.

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