2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Gradeout: Starling Marte

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The offseason is unfortunately here and so we are simultaneously tasked with reflecting on the 2015 season and looking forward to next spring. As part of Rumbunter’s off-season coverage, we will be grading out virtually every member of the Pittsburgh Pirates who spent substantial time on the team’s 25-man roster over the past season. We will look at their seasons as a whole, show you their relevant stats, and assign a final grade to each player.

It’s been a week, right?

Yep. One week since this:

It has been one week since we were left with the last indelible image of Starling Marte grounding into a double play, ending the Pittsburgh Pirates’ lone big chance against Jake Arrieta and the Chicago Cubs.

Are we able to move on? Are we ready to objectively look at Marte’s season and grade it accordingly?

Maybe.  Maybe not. But we soldier on.

Marte came into the 2015 season with a ton of weight on his young shoulders. It seemed as if every Pirates fan and commentator had an opinion on the young outfielder. More pointedly – everyone had an opinion on what would constitute a “good” season for the Pirates’ left fielder. Even Pirates announcer Bob Walk got into the action, with perhaps the boldest prediction of all:

"“Marte will hit 20 home runs, steal 50 bases, and be an all star in 2015.” – Bob Walk"

None of that came true, but what did happen was a solid 2015 campaign for Marte, one that simultaneously displayed his considerable talent while still tantalizing us with a glimpse of his ceiling.

Going into 2015, many were calling for a breakthrough season for Starling Marte. Did he deliver? In some ways, absolutely. The biggest knock on Marte was his strikeout rate. In 2014 he posted a 26.5% clip, far above the league average of around 18%. For 2015, Marte became much more selective, and lowered his k-rate by 5.4%, all the way down to 21.2%. This was accompanied by a dip in walk rate from 6.1% to 4.3%, but increased HR and RBI totals would more than make up for any dropoff there. Yes, Marte developed his power stroke this year, finishing with 19 round-trippers and 81 runs batted in. He became the reliable run producer that many thought he could be.

He was also a run creator, notching at least 30 stolen bases for the third straight season. His 84 runs were good for second on the team to Andrew McCutchen. With Gregory Polanco nipping at Marte’s heels with 83 runs of his own, the trio were electric at the top of the order.

The struggle to determine where to bat Marte in the order became a daily subplot for Pirates fans late in the season. By manager Clint Hurdle‘s own admission, the Pirates lacked a traditional cleanup hitter after the Jung Ho Kang injury. Who could blame them for wanting to put Marte in that spot? Surely his season-long splits made a case for him to spend time there:

SplitGSPAABRH2BHRRBISBBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
Batting 2nd5826224238701272913736.289.331.434.765
Batting 4th49212196256413427121045.327.373.464.837
Batting 5th321341171427572231037.231.316.453.769

These splits represent the three spots in the batting order where Marte spent the most time, and it is difficult to find any significant takeaways between one slot and others. We can easily see that Marte still thrives with some level of protection behind him, as the strikeout rate and slashlines take a tumble at the fifth spot. Yet, he still finds ways to get it done, with similar HR and RBI totals despite a smaller sample size. If the Pirates can find a cleanup hitter, whether it be when Kang returns or via free agency, Marte can return to batting second exclusively, which provides the best chance for the team to utilize all of his tools.

Defensively, Marte had his lapses. He also had electrifying moments such as this:

Marte possesses great closing speed and a cannon arm. Two great qualities one expects in a …left fielder? Yes, there will come a day when Marte may take over center field duties. When he does, the Pirates’ outfield defense will go from good to great.

In assigning a final grade to Starling Marte for his 2015 season, I’m left with a solid B. A poor start in April (along with the rest of the club) and the lapses in the field conspire to keep him from an A. Offensively, Marte is now a complete player. His approach at the plate will only continue to improve, and if he can stay healthy (Marte notched a career-high 153 games in 2015), he can easily become a 25 HR, 100 RBI player.

LF. Pittsburgh Pirates. STARLING MARTE. B. Marte took a sizable step forward in 2015. He became more patient at the plate while improving in most areas. It truly speaks to his talent that he can do so and still end up with “just” a B. It feels like we are just scratching the surface with the young outfielder, and that bodes well for years to come.

Next: 2015 Gradeout: Jordy Mercer

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