First Pitch: Marte Needs Consistency Before A Promotion

I got a lot of questions tonight about when Starling Marte should get the call. The questions probably came because the center fielder went 2-for-5 with a home run, a day after going 2-for-5 with a double and a triple. And based on the questions, a big factor here is the poor performance of Jose Tabata and Alex Presley in the majors.

In regards to the “when should Starling Marte be promoted” question, I’d first put the disclaimer that Marte’s promotion should be based on his performance alone. The performance of Tabata or Presley is irrelevant. The last thing the Pirates want to do is rush their best hitting prospect, risking his long term progress all to fill a short-term need. The answer to “when should Marte be promoted” should be the same answer you’d give if Presley and Tabata were both playing well.

So when should Marte be promoted? The simple answer is when he shows some consistency.

It was only about a week ago that Marte was on a major cold streak. After starting off strong the first few days in June, Marte went 15-for-69 (.217) over a 17 game span, with a .590 OPS. He’s been hot the last four games, enough to make his overall numbers in June look good. But Marte has struggled for most of the month.

That’s been the case all year. When Marte is hot, he’s red hot. But as long as his hot streaks are, there’s usually a cold streak to follow. Consider the following.

**He started the season with an eight game hitting streak, putting up a .286/.342/.457 line in that span. In his next eight starts he put up a .640 OPS>

**From April 28th to May 20th he had a .470 OPS in 62 at-bats. There was a bruised hand in there, but the cold streak started before the injury, and lasted for over a week after he returned.

**Marte immediately caught fire to end that cold streak. From May 21st to June 4th he had a 1.124 OPS in 53 at-bats.

**He followed the last hot streak with the June cold streak I mentioned above, hitting for a .590 OPS in 69 at-bats over 17 games.

**In his last four games, Marte has a 1.310 OPS in 18 at-bats.

Marte looks to be at the start of another hot streak. But I wouldn’t promote him until he limits the cold streaks. If he can go on a 17 game cold streak in Triple-A, then how is he going to fare in the majors right now? We shouldn’t expect him to OPS over 1.000 for an extended stretch, but there is a reason his OPS this year is .789. The reason is that Marte has been inconsistent.

It’s easy to overlook the inconsistent play, mostly because Marte hides it well. So far in June he has an .872 OPS. But four games ago that was .779. A four game stretch where he went 7-for-18 with two homers raised his monthly OPS by almost 100 points, and was enough for people to ask if he’s ready. Four games ago, that question is probably not asked.

It’s because of this that I feel the Marte questions come more out of desperation over Tabata and Presley. Every time Marte has any type of success this year, no matter how small the sample size is, the questions of whether he is ready come up. And those questions have only increased the more Alex Presley and Jose Tabata struggle.

The Pirates don’t need Marte this year as much as they need Marte for the long term. Rushing him to the majors to help out the outfield this year would be foolish, and potentially damaging to their long term plans. The Pirates would be wise to let Marte finish his development and find other solutions for their major league problems. Otherwise, there’s a good chance that they’ll be looking for outfield help in future years, all because they rushed Marte to the majors before he was ready.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost 5-4 to the Phillies. Kristy Robinson’s notebook looks at how two-out hits hurt Erik Bedard.

**Prospect Watch: Top Hitters Shine On Mega Pitching Prospect Day.

**Live game reports: Indianapolis, West Virginia, State College.

**With Guidance From Veterans, McDonald Evolving into Ace.

**Pirates Option Slaten, Hague to Triple-A; Add Sutton, Fryer; DFA Moskos.

**Daniel Moskos DFAd: What the Move Says.

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About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • http://www.facebook.com/jarrod.ranone Jarrod Ranone

    I think if he gets his average over .280 for a week, you have to call him up. If he struggles during the first couple weeks then send him down. 2 weeks won’t hamper his development.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

      Yeah, but it just seems nonsensical at that point. I mean, I’d love to see him in Pittsburgh, but I want to see a version closer to what he was in Spring Training, not some rookie praying to stick. I’m not all that concerned though, just look at the apprehension the organization has displayed with promoting pitchers; like Owens and Locke. I can see Marte coming up in September and contributing as a 4th outfielder, maybe getting a few spot starts. Let him finish developing though, no ones going to have a problem with allowing him to fully ripen, so to speak. Also, let’s face it, the Pirates are not one, mid-season call-up away from a World Series. If that’s all it will take, then they could easily trade for a player to put up similar results.

      • Lee Young

        Ian…I am with you….

    • Andrew Smalley

      Regardless of the little value that AVG as a metric to judge performance provides, it is especially not relevant in Marte’s case. The important thing (in the FO’s mind and in mine, I presume) is his plate discipline, both in walking more but, more importantly, swinging at pitches he can drive in the zone. Just several more points in average – without the corresponding increase in ‘discipline’ (and all that entails) – is not indicative of his readiness. Hitting/swinging at pitches in the zone (and not swinging at pitches out of the zone) with power is what will get him called up, in my eyes.

      I agree w/ Tim, though. He has not shown (yet) that he has mastered or at least improved tremendously in the aforementioned areas. However, one caution to Tim’s analysis in detailing his ‘streaks’ of hot and cold: if you look at the monthly figures, you will see that April and June are very similar, while May was a trainwreck. Arbitrary end points are just that…..arbitrary. But, two out of three months have been remarkably similar which seems (albeit slightly) that he is the player of April/June, rather than May. July is a big month for Marte, in my eyes.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

        The thing with his discipline is that it is also directly associated with stats like his AVG. the more discipline he shows, the more he’s going to see pitches that are in the zone, hence, the more opportunities he has for making contact and getting more base hits. Consistency is always the key when it comes to any sport, but especially baseball. That’s why veterans and free agents get paid more, their production is presumed.

        • Andrew Smalley

          That’s not necessarily true re: AVG/direct correlation of discipline. AVG is influenced greatly by BABIP and all of those balls in play weren’t a result of swinging at pitches in the stirke-zone. Someone having a high average could be based on him getting extremely fortunate on balls swung-then-hit that were outside the K-zone. Only when you look deeper into the periperals will you know for sure whether Marte is swinging at pitches in the zone and not swinging at pitches out of the zone.

          I do agree, though, that the more one swings at strikes, the higher likelihood of him getting a hit and thus increasing his average. I just don’t think you can stop the analysis after that point, however.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

            I agree with you, in terms of the BABIP, I was just trying to highlight the theory of forcing pitchers to throw more balls in the strike zone.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

        I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you end up looking at an entire months worth of statistics, and Marte is hitting .300 or well above it with a little power, chances are better than not that his consistency has arrived, as well as an improved sense of discipline at the plate

  • BlueBomber72

    Totally disagree with you on the point that the performance of Pressley and Tabata should not have an effect on calling up Marte. Isn’t the object to put the best nine on the field? If he’s better, call him up. If he isn’t better leave him down. Right now I can’t see how he could be worse than Tabata, and it may do Tabata some good to return to AAA.
    I also don’t agree with your opinion that ‘rushing’ a player will hurt them. Unless you have some stats to back this up, it seems to me that coming up and failing at the MLB level is a natural progression for lots of players. At this point, I can’t see how bringing him up could hurt him or the team.

    • gorillagogo

      There’s been a lot of discussion that the Pirates rushed Pedro because the MLB team was struggling, and that his development was slowed as a consequence.

      • salempirate

        Agreed. Tim’s last paragraph could have had Pedro’s name inserted for Marte.
        Another poster called for Tabata being sent to AAA but there is no replacement available.

        • http://twitter.com/the_wizardofwoz Steven Wozniak

          I did a 10 day trailing OPS for Marte. Looks pretty up and down, though I am not sure how this would look for most players.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

      I could come up with a solid, objective argument to combat your stance, but it’s easier just to call you dumb and say you don’t know what you’re talking about.

      By that argument, why not just bring Cole and Taillon up to Pittsburgh now…the have the best stuff in the entire organization…why not, right?

      • BlueBomber72

        You’re dumb. Comparing the progression of Marte, Cole, and Taillon makes no sense. Marte is our best hitting prospect at AAA. He has progressed through all levels of the organization and is having a good year. He plays a position that the major league team is way below MLB averages at. The Pirates are a horrible offensive team and should be looking for help anywhere they can get it. Right now, not next year.
        Taillon is a long term project with mixed results in high A ball. Cole just got promoted to AA and has two starts with mixed results. They are clearly not ready for MLB.
        Let’s hear your ‘sold, objective argument’ instead of calling people names.

        • http://twitter.com/pirateswfc Brian

          Correct. This is a pennant race. The best players in the organization should be on the field in the major leagues.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

            Ok….let’s get real for a second.

            Your arguments seem sound enough, however, they are based on one vital assumption…that Marte would actually be an upgrade over what’s currently on the Major League roster. I agree, he’s the top hitting prospect. Yes, he’s in AAA (much closer than other top prospects). Yes, there is a possibility that he could come and produce at a greater level than some of the current players in the outfield.

            However,…

            I would argue that even on the surface, Marte doesn’t seem ready for the big time. Is it worth potentially slowing or damaging the development of our one true top hitting prospect? The reason that he’s still in the minors is because he has areas of his game that still need to be addressed and improved upon. If he were truly ready, don’t you think he would already be in Pittsburgh? So really, when the casual fan argues that a player like that should be promoted, they’re really just thinking about potential. They’re in the “honeymoon phase” of their prospect relationship…they only see the good and disregard the bad. Well…baseball isn’t about the honeymoon period, it’s about the relationship 5 or 6 years into it. The dirty tighty-whiteys on the floor, going to the bathroom with the door open, forgetting to say I love you for days at a time, period of the relationship.

            What we have in Marte is the possibility of not one, but two Andrew McCutchens patrolling our outfield for at least another 6 or 7 years. He’s also the closest thing to a sure thing as a position player in the system. His development should be coveted, protected at all costs, I believe his potential to be that great and important.

            Let’s take a brief look at his current statistics…

            BB %: 6.2
            K %: 20.7
            AVG: .267
            SLG: .451
            OPS: .781
            BABIP: .324

            What initially jumps out to me, is the K rate. It’s higher than it was last year, and while his K/BB ratio has improved, it’s only because I can’t logically see how his BB% could have gotten any lower from the 3.8 in 2011. Other than that his AVG is down considerably, his slugging is down (however his AB/HR ratio is essentially unchanged, and he already has more triples this year than in 2011), and for a player whom many consider to be a potential offensive all-star, his OPS is below .800 in AAA. Also, something which I consider relatively unimportant, the BABIP, well his is about 60-80 points off of what his career low was. That’s a stat which, while I feel some information can be derived from, you really have to take it with a grain of salt. The question you have to ask yourself is….is it luck, or is it legitimate? The BABIP stat doesn’t express in any statistical value the quality of the hits in question. So I feel many would see a higher BABIP and assume that, in general, the player in question is having consistently good contact. However, in reality, no portion of a stat expressed in decimal form conveys quality. So I’m forced to assume that there is little relevance and importance on a stat like that.

            So…given this information, what assumptions can we make and expectations can we have for a player like this moving forward, at this moment in time. Is it logical to assume that a player that has struck out at a rate of 20% in AAA will improve those numbers in a league filled with pitchers with considerably better control and peripheral abilities? My opinion would be….not really.

            Next, considering that the given player has had a track record thus far in AAA of being consistently inconsistent, can we assume that the detriments of the player will suddenly be overcome and addressed after moving up a level? Well, that’s just silly honestly. If you’re up and down with algebra scores, you’re not going to suddenly find yourself while in Trig.

            Personal Conclusion:

            Marte is exhibiting classic signs of not being ready for the next level. He’s inconsistent, he stikes out a lot, and quite frankly gets thrown out too often while attempting steals (he’s 16-for-26). The only true asset of his game that you can assume will transition into the pros at this very moment is his defense, and that’s not really what the Pirates are starving for.

            If the Pirates need a guy to come in and bat first or second, hit .270, steal a few bases, and strike out a lot, there are presumably many of potential major leaguers to trade for who’s production can actually be counted on. If they trade for a guy like that (which wouldn’t cost much), you get that level of production for little cost up front, and you don’t sacrifice the potential long term development of one of the Pirate’s best and only position players.

            Boom.

  • Greatone1210

    Marte is close. By close I mean this year and most certainly after the ASG. Of course this all depends on how he plays in July which will dictate if he is promoted this year. I am guilty of thinking he needs to come up when I watch Tabata and Presley this year but there are more solutions via trade than via the farm system at this particular moment. I see no reason not to trade for Headley and Quentin. Do what you need to so they end up in Pittsburgh shy of selling off the farm. But if there is anyone that deserves to be promoted it would be Owens. I really think he has earned a shot and either Correia or Karstens need to go. I know, Karstens did very well last year but I think last year was a fluke. Just my thoughts.

  • http://twitter.com/jlease717 John Lease

    I don’t think Marte has put in enough time in AAA. It’s only going to help him avoid the Pedro 0-22′s in the majors. I’d keep him there until September, and give him a call up then if he continues to play well.

  • http://twitter.com/jamesmvargo James Vargo

    10 triples and it’s only June…what more do you want people? Before this season, ‘Cutch was as streaky as it gets, but he was still our best player. Tabata is, statistically speaking, the worst OF in MLB.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jarrod.ranone Jarrod Ranone

    Like I said, if he gets his average up above .280 and it stays there for over a week, bring him up for a taste. If he struggles in 10 games (2 weeks), so be it and send him back down.
    If that hurts his development then he isn’t the top prospect we all think he is. I’m interested to see if Sutton starts again today against a righty. I’d hope so but that’s me thinking logically.

  • Kevin_Creagh

    I’m going to respectfully disagree with my e-boss, Tim, on this issue.
    Every player has streaks in the game, majors and minors. You can parse the data anyway you want, but as mentioned in the comments two of his 3 months this year have been great (833 and 872 OPS) and one not great that was influenced by his hand bruise.
    That is exactly 2 more months of greatness than either Presley or Tabata have had this year. Marte’s development and progress, while not directly linked, is partially linked to the play of Presley and Tabata. Think of the corollary — what if Tabata and Presley were both doing great AND Marte was doing great? Would people still be clamoring for him to come up or more willing to “let him develop”?
    Marte brings energy, speed, and defense which Presley and Tabata only bring in spurts (or not at all). Marte is better than both of them right now. The Pirates will still need to add a bat or two, even if they bring Marte up.
    And as for his refinement — Marte has a career high BB rate (6.2% before today) and his K rate is right in line with other years (20.7%). His ISO of .183 is a career high, too. Plus he’s looking at a 4th year of 25+ SB and still has the huge arm.
    I wanted Marte to consolidate his gains in June for a potential July callup. In my mind, he’s done that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=72405411 Ian Rothermund

    Well….when you put it like that… lol

    Just to specify, it’s not that I’m against the idea of him being up this year. I’m just still in need of convincing.