Starling Marte averaged around a 4.0 WAR from 2013-2016. Sometimes he was above that number, such as his 4.8 WAR in 2013. Sometimes he fell below that, but not too much, with his lowest being a 3.4 WAR in 2015.
While Marte wasn’t being counted on for star or MVP production, he has been a core producer for the Pirates. He’s one of the guys they count on each year to make an impact and to help anchor the lineup and the defense. Unfortunately, none of that worked out this year.
The year started for Marte with a switch to center field. That created a lot of drama during Spring Training, with the Pirates moving Andrew McCutchen to right field. Marte was a strong defender in left, but didn’t have the same defense in center. He had a 3.2 UZR/150 in his limited time, and a -1 DRS. That was still better than McCutchen, who had a -6.2 UZR/150 and a -14 DRS.
Marte’s crazy season can really be summed up by this fact: No one even remembers the center field drama right now because of what happened next.
A few weeks into the season, Marte was suspended for 80 games due to PED usage. This removed a key contributor from the lineup for half of the season, and led to McCutchen going back to center field, which once again led to poor defense at the position. The overall impact here wasn’t the only reason the Pirates had a losing season, but it was a big factor.
Marte wasn’t at his best when he returned. Defensively, he was fine, moving back to left field and putting up similar strong numbers that he showed in the past. Offensively, he struggled initially, with a .573 OPS in July, and a .702 OPS in August.
The one sign of hope for the season was that Marte put up a .322/.380/.456 line in the final month of the season. Those are numbers similar to what he’s shown in the past when he’s provided value on offense. Paired with the defense, that kind of production would lead to the 4.0 WAR level performance that we’ve seen out of Marte in previous years.
Marte is under team control through the 2021 season, and if he returns to being a 4.0 WAR player, he’s signed at a discount. The final month of the season provided some hope that he can get back to that. The fact that he’s been consistent prior to this year gives hope that this year was just an aberration.
The steroid issue has raised concerns with some. There is the fear that Marte was only productive due to steroid usage. I don’t think that is accurate. If he was productive for four years as a result of steroids, he would have been busted long before the 2017 season. I don’t know why he decided to use steroids now, and I think it was a stupid decision with no real upside. But I also don’t think that means his entire past production was due to steroids.
I think Marte will return to being a productive member of the Pirates’ lineup. I think it’s far more likely that his struggles this year were due to a reaction to the suspension, and then the rust of not facing MLB pitching for about three months. That seems more likely than the idea that he is now on a rapid decline and no longer a valuable player all of a sudden.
Despite the struggles in 2017, I think Marte is the most reliable outfielder the Pirates have right now, and the guy they should be building around going forward. McCutchen could match him in value in the short-term, although at this point they both appear to be 4.0 WAR upside players, with McCutchen appearing to be on the decline, and probably not sticking around in Pittsburgh beyond 2018.
The long-term outfield for the Pirates appears to still be Marte, Gregory Polanco, and Austin Meadows, with Marte anchoring that group.