Saturday, March 30, 2013

Projecting The Offense: Left Field

When Starling Marte finally arrived in the big leagues last summer, he became the 28th player in major-league history to go deep on his first pitch seen. Marte really came as advertised; power, speed and great defense combined with little patience at the plate. While Clint Hurdle’s old-school approach to building a line-up will likely force Marte into a role that his skillset is not really suited for, he should still continue to develop into one of the more dynamic Pittsburgh Pirates hitters. 

2012 (Minors): 431 PA, 21 doubles, 13 triples, 12 home runs, .286/.347/.500, .372 wOBA, 21 stolen bases 
2012 (Majors): 182 PA, 16 doubles, 6 triples, 5 home runs, .257/.300/.437, .316 wOBA, 12 stolen bases 

2013 Projections
Bill James: 551 PA, 28 doubles, 11 triples, 15 home runs, .297/.336/.479, .350 wOBA, 31 stolen bases 
ZiPS: 578 PA, 27 doubles, 14 triples, 11 home runs, .264/.311/.428, .317 wOBA, 24 stolen bases 
Oliver: 602 PA, 27 doubles, 9 triples, 16 home runs, .268/.317/.436, .325 wOBA, 27 stolen bases 

Summary: All three projection systems predict plenty of power from Marte; however his on-base percentage will be luck dependant. Bill James has the most aggressive projection, driven by the highest walk rate (5.3 BB%), lowest strikeout percentage (21.4 K%) and better luck (.360 BABIP). Oliver likely forecasts the most reasonable projection for Marte, with Bill James’ being the upside.

Starling Marte enters the season as one of the offensive question marks. He was solid in his major league debut, but that was over a small sample size of just 182 plate appearances. That said, he did demonstrate the skills that forced his call up to the majors. He showed good power (.180 ISO), both for extra bases and the long ball. His speed was also as advertised; hitting six triples and stealing twelve bases (although he was caught stealing on five occasions).  However, the biggest issue with Marte is his plate discipline, which limits his offensive performance.

Marte has never been a player that walks a lot; his highest walk percentage was at Triple-A last season (6.5%) – not surpassing the 5% mark at any other level. He also combines this with a strikeout percentage above 20% (with the 17.5 K% at Double-A in 2011 being the outlier). It means that Marte will require luck with balls in play for his on-base percentage to be above average, signalling that he would likely be better suited to hit lower down the order (despite his speed). The problem is that the Pirates really do lack a an alternative not named Andrew McCutchen to fill the lead-off spot, although Clint Hurdle does tend to send out more conventional line-ups and Marte is his best speed option for the role. 

He did show a rather big platoon split, but again the small sample size has to be considered. Marte had a .423 wOBA against left-handers over 50 plate appearances, with a triple slash line of .318/.360/.682, which dropped to .236/.277/.350 (.275 wOBA) in 132 plate appearances when facing right-handers. Looking at his minor league splits (from Minor League Central); Marte has shown very little platoon splits over the last two years in the minors:

v L
v R

While Marte had a little more luck and struck out less when facing right-handed pitching aiding the higher batting average and on-base percentage, he displayed more power against left-handed pitching (which shouldn't be surprising as hitters typically to perform better against opposite-handed pitchers). What the above does indicate is that some regression towards the mean should be expected against both right and left handed pitching. 

With his power and speed combination, Marte will likely be one of the club’s more dynamic and exciting hitter this season. After a solid arrival in the major leagues, if Starling Marte can breakout in 2013 he can possibly hit his way to contract extension discussions - with the Bill James projections being a distinct possibility.