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.

The Future

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.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. He used peds because he thought he could get away with it. I guess the masking agent he used didn’t work and he got caught, or maybe it is in the culture of the DR players to use to get bigger, stronger and better.

  2. I guess the Bucs have all but ruled out Frazier for 2B. I know he’s lacking at the pivot, but perhaps it’s time to start thinking about an offensive lineup. The offense stunk last season and that has to improve immensely in order to be considered a contender.

    • he’s lacking more than just a pivot at 2b… he has hands of stone.

      Plus, Frazier isn’t *that* much of a better hitter than Harrison. Harrison was the least of their problems.

      • I agree about Harrison, as I am a big fan. But from everything I’ve been reading, it sounds like the Bucs may be trading him this offseason.

        • got ya.

          i’m thinking that Moroff is the more likely replacement at 2b if Harrison goes. you might not think that Moroff has Frazier’s hitting upside, but the dude just popped a .900 OPS in AAA and had a really nice 2nd half in MLB. That, and Moroff seems to be a super slick infielder. Maybe even better than Harrison.

  3. Typically, using September stats for any sort of analysis is like making the first or last out at third base. Don’t do it. (Jason Rogers says hello!)

    However, in this case I’m with Tim. Marte’s September was vintage Marte, and I don’t see any reason to believe that softer competition played a role.

    Without more air balls and/or walks, he’s basically maxed out his productivity and can only go down from here but in the meantime, no reason to believe he won’t be an above average hitter.

    • I don’t like using one month of stats, regardless of who the player is.

      I wonder if Marte will need to make an adjustment as he gets older and slower. Right now it’s not as big of an issue that he’s got more grounders, since he still has his speed. He still had a 12% infield hit rate this year, and surprisingly 21 stolen bases in half a season, over 25 attempts.

      By comparison, Cutch has seen his speed decrease. He’s been around a 7% infield hit rate the last three years, and has seen a stolen base decline for longer than that. He’s already more of a fly ball hitter, and draws walks, so that’s why you still see him productive for the most part, even if his version of being productive right now might be a 4.0 WAR max.

      I think Marte will be fine until he loses the speed. Then I agree that you could see a rapid decline in his game, unless he figures out how to hit the ball in the air more often.

      • Yeah I’d guess it looks more like a slow erosion of productivity than a cliff. Just being a line drive hitter alone should keep his BABIP above average once the infield hits go away. Hell, relative offensive decline will happen regardless of his speed given the increase in overall offensive environment; singles just aren’t gonna keep pace.

        Funny you mention speed…I was talking yesterday with some guys about the outfield and realized – per statcast metric – that Marte, actually, has been the only one of the three to show appreciable decline in max sprint speed between 2015 and 2017:
        Polanco – 28.1 mph to 27.7 mph
        Marte – 29.2 mph > 28.1 mph
        Cutch has remained almost exactly the same at 28.5 mph

        Now I don’t know the implications here and how this metric should be applied to actual events, but I found it interesting for obvious reasons.

  4. The long-term outfield for the Pirates appears to still be Marte, Gregory Polanco, and Austin Meadows,

    Hopefully these 3 can all stay healthy AND produce up to their potential. I have my ‘healthy’ doubts that GP and AM can stay healthy at this juncture.

  5. that future outfield will only be the case until they finally realize that Adam Frazier is the next Brett Gardner 😛

      • haha nice.

        my eyeballs and the stats disagree with your eyeballs, but fair enough. (6 DRS in LF)

        i’ve definitely seen better 2b than frazier on softball teams though!

        • Agree wid dat bout 2b. 🙂

          As for OF, he is good in LF, phenomenal in CF and worse than Jaso in RF.

          Which goes to show that, in limited numbers, UZR, DRS, etc, is useless in measuring fielding capabilities. 🙂

            • Frazier’s range is fine in left, but you have to wonder if playing there full-time would expose his arm.

              I’m not sure how much I trust the metric’s ability to translate the effect of Marte holding runners taking home from 2B on a single, and I’m not sure how much I trust clubs running at will on Frazier in those situations being accurately measured as well.

              • so it appears that there *is* an arm component to DRS, i think? so the bad arm is already baked into that i guess? so he still graded decently despite the bad arm.

                • Not so much by UZR, for what it’s worth.

                  My comment was more about exposure, however. Frazier played about a third of a season there this year and clubs started noticeably taking liberties as time went by. How that would translate to a full year is what would concern me.

                  Fine as a fill-in player, though.

                  • You watched a lot more closely than i did. i just have the numbers that say his arm was no worse than Cutch’s.

                    Maybe they just have to find a SS with a cannon arm to make up for it. Gonna have a lot of money to play with when they dump Harrison, Mercer, and Cutch 😛

      • How good is your softball team lol? I think Frazier is penciled in at 2B (with help from Rodriguez and Moroff) upon a Harrison trade.

    • Gardner is a really good outfielder. Even if you give credit to Frazier that his 2017 DRS is legit, Gardner still beats him easily. He had a 17 DRS in left field in 2017. Plus he has better offense.

      • i didnt realize Gardner was *that* good at defense. was originally meant just in an offense sense. Low SLG, High OBP LF.

        i guess i’m not as convinced that Gardner’s a better hitter than Frazier as you are. He’s a career .264/.347/.393 hitter (in Yankee Stadium). i think Frazier has higher upside than that, especially when considering the .300/360/460 he popped in the 2nd half and his youth.

        I think Frazier’s a 2+ WAR player if limited to LF. I dont think they can leave that production for $0.5 Million on the bench.

        Obviously, Frazier won’t ever pop the defense-driven 5 and 6 WAR years that guys like Marte and Gardner do. In a WAR sense, he won’t be Gardner. But i think he can fill the same High OBP / low SLG from LF role.

        i dunno man. i just really like Frazier and Moroff haha

  6. Agreed. Therefore, our biggest question besides the health of Meadows is can Starling be the face of the Franchise (can Marte become Cutch) when Cutch leaves town? I truly hope so but I wonder.

      • Bell is quickly becoming the face of the franchise. His numbers will improve over 2017. (His first full MLB Season)

          • Bell has much upside, and appears to be hard worker. CH said he has great baseball IQ for a young player. That puts him way ahead of several of the more senior players on the team, especially the two corner outfielders.
            I believe Bell will be “the guy” for the Bucs by 2019 if not sooner.

      • Marte is not and will never be a run producer like Cutch in his prime. That’s why he will not become the face of the franchise – chicks love the long ball. I think Bell has the potential to be that player.

    • I don’t think it’s only Meadow’s health we need to be concerned about, but how his game translates to the upper levels. He hasn’t played/produced enough in AAA to call him s bonifide MLB player. If Cutch is traded it might open up pandora’s Box.

  7. Just want to strangle him and Polanco some nights. Such talent and such stupidity on base paths and that “casual” playing of balls in OF at times. It is time for both of them to start playing the game right 100% of the time. I know, probably unrealistic by now!

    • Here are my thoughts. We have such great concern
      about the other two, what about McCutchen?
      I have never once had a concern about his effort.
      He was the most productive of our three outfielders
      this year and years past. In addition, I believe he was still
      a bargain in 2017, (cost vs war) compared to many of our
      players. I think maybe we should at least TRY to
      retain our most productive outfielder for 2-3 more years
      at a price that might be appropriate for his potential
      production over those 2-3 years INCLUDING the
      2018 season. With all things being the same,
      which of the three would you prefer to be in our
      outfield in 2020? Hey, what if we said, Andrew,
      we are offering you 20 million next year and
      18 million for 2019 and 16 million for 2020?
      =
      Offer him something that might make him happy.
      You know, some times, a happy player is a
      productive player.
      =
      After that, he can become mayor of Pittsburgh or
      any other town in Western PA that he wants.

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