Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Starling Marte's Hot Start

Through the first thirteen games of the season, Starling Marte has a triple slash line of .370/.404/.519 in 57 plate appearances, picking up 20 hits – five of which went for extra bases (three doubles, one triple and a home run) - and is currently on a nine-game hitting streak. Marte has been the Pirates’ best hitter so far; his .402 wOBA is almost 50 points higher than Travis Snider’s .355 wOBA.

Nonetheless, Marte is unlikely to sustain this level of success as his .487 batting average on balls in play will eventually regress to the mean (although this is fairly obvious). 28.2% of balls that Marte has put in play have been line drives and he’s been fortunate that many have fallen in front of outfielders. He’s hit few flyballs (with a FB% of 17.9%) and his extra base hits have come down the lines:

Marte has been able to reduce his strikeout percentage to 24.6% (14 times in total) from 27.5% in 2012, although this should not be seen as Marte being more patient at the plate: he’s only walked twice and he’s seen fewer pitches per plate appearance this season (3.74) than last season (3.91). However, the season is still very young and at this point the only statistic that has really begun to stabilize is a player’s swing percentage (which tends to become stable after 50 plate appearances).

Marte has been swinging the bat less frequently this season, down to 43.4% from 46.1% in 2012; although it is only a small decrease. This difference can be found outside the zone, with a 29.5 O-Swing% (down from 34.8% last season), which is right around the league average rate, and he’s also been able to make contact with 51.6% of pitches that he has swung at outside the zone. While this could be a step towards Marte becoming a more selective hitter, it will require more data before that conclusion can be made. He has still expanded the zone at times this season; with the majority of pitches that Marte has swung at outside the zone have unsurprisingly been changeups and sliders (two pitches that he was below average against last season according to pitch values):

While it’s unlikely to last at current levels, Starling Marte has been an offensive highlight so far this season; Andrew McCutchen is the only other regular who has been above average at the plate (.347 wOBA, 120 wRC+), with platoon players Travis Snider (.355 wOBA) and Garrett Jones (.349 wOBA) as well as backup catcher Michael McKenry  (.582 wOBA) being the only other above average Pirates hitters. All of this is still over a very small sample size; however Marte may well be making progress at the plate and this possible increased selectivity is something that is worth monitoring as the season progresses.