PITTSBURGH — When Starling Marte returns to the Pirates lineup tonight, he’ll do so batting leadoff.
It’s a spot Marte is familiar with, with 867 of his career plate appearances coming at leadoff. It’s also a place the Pirates have a need, as Adam Frazier will vacate that spot as he returns to a bench role. But there’s more to it than that.
“I think the skill set can play there,” manger Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve seen it in the past. It gives him the freedom to run when he gets on. I think from his mental standpoint, it’s the least demanding, the least ask. I have no desire to put him in the middle and have him try to add more than he needs to add right now. Put him at the top and let him go play. Let him use his legs, his glove and his bat.”
Marte is followed the by the rest of the Pirates lineup as it’s been constructed.
Gm 94: #Pirates (45-48) vs
🍺 Crew (52-43)
Ivan Nova (3.21) vs
Junior Guerra (4.78)
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) July 18, 2017
The addition of Marte was a chance for Hurdle to change things up, lineup-wise, but he chose not to, keeping Gregory Polanco in the No. 6 spot where he’s been hot and David Freese in the No. 5 spot where he’s struggled.
I joked with Hurdle that Marte might have liked to have been in that six spot after what it did for Andrew McCutchen and Polanco.
“No, but a lot of other guys have,” he said, laughing. “It’s been a bit of a honey hole for us.”
The positive mojo of the six spot notwithstanding, what would an ideal Pirates order look like? The lineup optimizer tool over at Frangraphs suggests a simpler model: playing the best three hitters first, third and fourth.
McCutchen is the team’s best hitter with a 136 wRC+. Second is Josh Bell with a 108 wRC+. Marte had a 121 wRC+ last season. If Marte returns to form, they will be the team’s three best hitters and hitting first, third and fourth. It seems like the Fangraphs model is the one that Hurdle and company are following.
GOOSE TAKES OFF
Infielder Phil Gosselin was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Marte. Gosselin had just four plate appearances and no starts in his most recent recall and has lost favor to rookie Max Moroff, who will remain on the team.
Moroff has made four starts in the month of July, has hits in back-to-back games, including his first career home run. Hurdle said then that Moroff has taken longer to adjust to a new role than some players might, but still showed confidence in him.
“He’s in a role he’s never been in before at a level he’s never played in,” Hurdle said. “There’s some challenges that come with that.”
While Marte’s teammates have said that they plan on welcoming him back to the club with open arms, the potential reaction of the fans at home and on the road is a bit more difficult to predict. Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun still gets booed at PNC Park years after his PED scandal, while players like Marlon Byrd and Cervelli have largely flown under the radar.
“I’m not sure,” McCutchen said. “I don’t know how they’re going to take it.”
His advice to Marte? Try not to pay much attention.
“Just be yourself and try to tune out the outside noise,” McCutchen said. “Hopefully, he can be able to do that and get back to being the Marte that we know he can be.”