What Should the Pirates do when Starling Marte Returns?

PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 07: Starling Marte
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 07: Starling Marte /

The Pittsburgh Pirates have just four games remaining until Starling Marte returns from his P.E.D. suspension

The 2017 season has not been an easy one for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A big reason the team finds itself at 42-47 and 7 games out of first place in the National League Central heading into the All-Star Break is because they have been without Starling Marte for most of the season.

Starling Marte has played just 13 games this season. The reason for this is because of an 80 game suspension due to P.E.D. use. However, Marte has been playing in minor league rehab games for the past week and he is eligible to return to the Pirates on July 18th against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Due to the Major League Baseball All-Star Break, the Pirates only play four more games before Marte is eligible to return from his suspension. This allows Clint Hurdle and the Pirate brass to begin to plan what they will do when Marte returns on July 18th.

When the season began, Starling Marte was playing in center field. However, the Pirates have already said he will return to left field when his suspension ends. This makes sense as Marte is arguably the best defensive left fielder in all of baseball. Plus, Andrew McCutchen is going way too well at the plate right now to contemplate moving him around defensively. Even if he does still suck in center field.

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This leaves two questions for when Starling Marte returns. First, who gets demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis to make room on the 25-man roster? Second, what should be the Pirate batting order when Marte returns?

The corresponding roster move, it would appear, will be between a pair of utility infielders. These two players ar Max Moroff and Phil Gosselin.

Neither Moross (-9 wRC+) nor Gosselin (also, somehow, a -9 wRC+) can hit at all. However, there is one advantage Moroff has over Gosselin. This advantage is his defense.

Max Moroff can play third base, shortstop, and second base. Meanwhile, Phil Gosselin can play all four infield positions. This is not an advantage of Gosselin, though, as he is a poor defender at each position.

So far this season, Max Moroff has been an above defender at all three positions he has played. He owns a defensive runs saved (DRS) of 0 at third base to go with a 17.0 UZR/150, at shortstop he owns a DRS of 0 and a UZR/150 of 24.7, and at second base his DRS is +2 while his UZR/150 checks in at 28.0. Additionally, he has not committed a single error this season.

As for Phil Gosselin, it is a different story. He owns a -2 DRS and a -31.7 UZR/150 at second base this season. At first base, he committed a very costly error in his lone appearance at the position this season. And at third base, he has both a DRS and UZR/150 of 0.

Due to being a plus defender, Max Moroff should stick around when Starling Marte returns while Phil Gosselin is sent back to Triple-A Indianapolis.

As for the batting order, there are multiple places Starling Marte can fit in. During his Major League career, he has spent significant time at leadoff, in the two hole, at clean up, and as a number five hitter. This season, he bounced between leadoff and the two hole before being suspended.

This is the lineup that the Pirates should go with:

  1. Josh Harrison – 2B
  2. David Freese – 3B
  3. Andrew McCutchen – CF
  4. Josh Bell – 1B
  5. Starling Marte – LF
  6. Gregory Polanco – RF
  7. Francisco Cervelli – C
  8. Jordy Mercer – SS

Batting Josh Harrison leadoff is a bit of risk. While his .361 on-base percentage is very strong, the reason it is so high is because he has been hit by a pitch 20 times this season. While his 6.0 percent walk rate is a career-high, it is still lower than you want from your leadoff hitter.

However, right now, Harrison is the team’s best leadoff option. If not Harrison, it would fall to David Freese. But, personally, I believe the Bucs are best suited to try and get Harrison on base and let Freese use his strong bat control to try and take advantage of the opened up right side of the infield.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have just four games remaining until Starling Marte returns from his suspension. This means it is time for the Bucs to begin to debate what they will do when Marte returns. Hopefully, he will pick up where he has left off in recent years as one of the best two-way players in the National League.