First Pitch: Why Starling Marte Might Not Be Ready

It was hard to make the argument a few weeks ago that Starling Marte needed more time. Marte was in the middle of a pretty amazing hot streak. On June 22nd, Marte had a .754 OPS on the year. Over his next nine games he would put up a .450 average and a 1.376 OPS in 40 at-bats.

All throughout the hot streak, people were calling for him to be promoted. On June 27th, after Marte went 2-for-5 with a triple, I wrote that he needed to show consistency before a promotion. On July 1st (the end of the above nine game stretch), after Marte went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer, I asked when he should be called up, and said I wanted to see him down in Triple-A for a few more weeks before getting the call, just to prove that this was legit.

That was a difficult argument to make. Marte was tearing the cover off the ball. It was easy to point to his stats and say he was ready. It was hard to preach patience, and bring up the possibility that Marte could go back to slumping, just like he had after every hot streak this year.

Marte homered tonight, his tenth of the year. That’s bound to get some #FreeStarlingMarte chants. But what about what he has been doing over his last ten games? Marte currently has a .243/.349/.432 line in 37 at-bats over his last ten games. Prior to his home run tonight, he had a .706 OPS in his previous nine games, with his homer boosting his OPS to .781.

We can dismiss all of this with two phrases: small sample size, and arbitrary end points. But if a nine game hot streak was all people needed to see to call Marte up, then why shouldn’t this recent streak bring some concerns that he’s not quite ready?

It’s not really about the main numbers as much as it is about the secondary numbers. Marte has a 30% strikeout rate in his last ten games. He’s also got a really impressive 12% walk rate, which raises some questions. Marte doesn’t walk that much. So either one of two things are happening.

1. He’s being pitched around, and he’s not being patient. That leads to the high walks, the high strikeouts, and the low average.

2. He’s swinging for the fences, and waiting on a pitch to drive. That approach usually leads to that triple combo (low average, high walks, high strikeouts, good power numbers).

My concern would be the second possibility. Marte wouldn’t be the first young player to go on a hot streak, then start swinging for the fences and change the approach that got him to that hot streak. If that is going on, then that’s something he needs to focus on. And if he’s being pitched around, and that’s leading to the strikeouts and low average, then he also needs work on those issues.

This all might just be a small blip in the radar. Hitters have bad weeks and they have great weeks. This could just be nothing more than a bad week. But you can’t ignore this and then call for Marte to be promoted because of his success over an equally sized sample a few weeks earlier. That’s why the Pirates need to give Marte time. He needs to show which version is the real deal. Is it the player who has struggled over the last ten games? Or the player who was on fire the previous ten games?

I think Pirates fans want to believe it’s the latter. Marte went 1-for-6 with four strikeouts in a double-header on Thursday. He went 1-for-5 with a homer tonight. Mentioning his double-header performance didn’t get a good reaction on Twitter. Mentioning his home run got a few #FreeStarlingMarte mentions. Pirates fans want to believe Marte is ready, because if he is ready, he can potentially step in to the majors and help the team to contend.

The problem here is that we don’t know which version of Marte is the real deal. That’s why he needs more time, to show which version was the fluke, and which was legit. He could very well be legit. But I don’t think anyone can say for certain, especially after he’s cooled from his recent hot streak.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates beat the Brewers 6-4.

**Pirates Notebook: Walker Heats Up in July; Why Pitch to McCutchen?

**Prospect Watch: Cole, Taillon, and Wilson Struggle; Marte and Sanchez Homer.

**Gerrit Cole Labors in Start Against Akron.

**Homers Help Indians (Twice) In Come-From-Behind Win.

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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.
  • cocktailsfor2

    Hear, hear.

    • JohnDreker

      Before the season started, I wanted Marte to spend the entire year at AAA even if he hit like last year, which he isn’t. He has slightly improved his walk rate but he has struck out even more often this year and he still doesn’t properly utilize his speed on the bases. He still has time to learn, he was rushed through the system prior to last year. Marte played 125 games over the four lowest levels of the minors, not even a full season at any league. He’s a September call-up in my mind

  • Dom DiDominic

    Prior to the season, NH was adement that Starling needed an entire year at AAA. By the recent “cold” streek in AAA, does nothing to his trade value. If he came up, then did not hit lights out, his trade value does down very quickly. Let’s see where we are August 1st before even thinking about Marte.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1307305 Matt Clements

    At some point, shouldn’t we be more concerned about putting the best product out there for the big league squad? There was an easily catchable ball last night that fell in front of Sutton in the 8th inning. I know Starling would have made that play. If it wasn’t for McCutchen’s gold glove, we could’ve blown the lead. We need even the potential of having Marte’s bat and defense- its costing us big league games now to keep him down.

    • Dave Parker’s Unfiltered Camel

      The strikeout/BB issue is the one weak spot for Marte. Compare his AAA numbers to Cutch’s full year in AAA and Marte’s numbers are basically pretty favorable with the exception of his BB/K. In the end, it all boils down to this: does Marte join the Pirates this year or next year? As far as this year goes, he is what he is, so another two weeks in AAA will not change him.

      • RandyLinville

        I’d rather have him come up now when things are going well for the offense (therefore less pressure on Marte to deliver) than wait three or four weeks when the club has a tough stretch on the schedule where the club plays better teams. As Matt Clements pointed out in his comment, the defensive lineup is shabby with Sutton in the OF where he clearly doesn’t belong. Move Sutton to SS where he is a capable defender and put Marte in the OF and bench Clint Barmes. That’s almost certainly an upgrade on both offense and defense.

        I don’t see the point in waiting. If this team is looking to trade Marte for a proven ML bat, a couple of bad weeks in the Show won’t be a detriment to teams that have thoroughly evaluated him.

        IMHO, I don’t believe Marte is going to be a star. But I think he is a better option right now than anything else we have.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          Sutton can’t play shortstop. You’d go from bad defense in the outfield to bad defense at shortstop, which I think could be worse.

          • RandyLinville

            You have a point as he played more 2B than SS in the minors and in the Show to date, but he is more of an SS than he is of an OF. And he would have to be an offensive upgrade over Barmes. Give Sutton as much time at SS as he has been given in OF and if he can’t make the plays, then try someone else there (Mercer or an acquisition). It can’t hurt any more than keeping Barmes’ bat in there. Let Barmes be a late inning defensive guy.

            If this club misses the playoffs by a game or two, how would we not look back and wonder what might’ve happened if Barmes had been sent to the bench?

      • maguro

        “We can dismiss all of this with two phrases: small sample size, and arbitrary end points. But if a nine game hot streak was all people needed to see to call Marte up, then why shouldn’t this recent streak bring some concerns that he’s not quite ready?”

        Kind of a strawman argument there. The nine game hitting streak isn’t the reason he should be called up, his performance over the entire season is. He’s at .286/.349/.490 his first time through AAA, and he offers plus defense in the outfield.

        • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

          Prior to the 9 game hitting streak, he had a .754 OPS. No one was making daily calls for him to be promoted. All of that started with the streak.

          You take that stretch out, and he’s got a .757 OPS on the season. Now that’s not totally fair. He did hit for those numbers, so you can’t take them out. But my question has always been: how legit are those numbers? Is that something he can do on a regular basis? Or is it just a fluke?

          Last year we saw Matt Hague put up better numbers than Marte in the month of June. He didn’t repeat that the rest of the year. He flashed those numbers in Spring Training, but hasn’t shown them since. Is that going to be the case with Marte? Was it a one month fluke, or is he ready to the point that he can do that on a consistent basis.

          All I’m saying is give him more time to prove which Marte is legit. And to me, an .839 OPS on the year doesn’t scream that he’s ready for the majors. That’s not exactly dominant.

          • maguro

            What your argument amounts to is that he hasn’t hit well if you disregard the games where he’s hit well. You can do the exact same thing the other way by taking out a 9 game slump out of his numbers and – Look, he’s been dominant except for that little slump! Overall, he’s put up a very solid line.

            As far as being dominant – does a guy eith Marte’s defensive value really need to be “dominant” at the plate in AAA to earn a promotion? I don’t expect Marte to come up and be the second coming of Willie Mays, but I think he could put up league averageish offensive numbers (say, .260/.320/.400) while playing plus defense in an OF corner and that type of production would really help the Pirates.

            And I don’t think playing another year at AAA would turn him into the second coming of Willie Mays, either – whether he comes up this year or next, he’s probably going to go through some kind of adjustment period.

          • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

            You’re absolutely right. You could take out a bad stretch and his numbers would look better than they are right now.

            My argument isn’t for anything other than giving him more time to show what he really is capable of doing. I’m not saying he’s ready. I’m not saying he’s not ready. I’m saying we don’t know.

          • Dave Parker’s Unfiltered Camel

            Your point is well taken: we don’t know. From my perspective there is a lot to like about Marte’s offense. However, there is an area that raises questions. I guess the organization, watching him closely, knows what’s going on with him and will make the best decision. As the season continues, we as fans can continue to speculate and have fun with it.

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

            My comment would be, in regards to season totals in the minors, is that is a flowed argument. In the minors, you should be able to see some sort of growth; from month to month, beginning to mid to the end of the season, etc. so that’s why I don’t take much stock in the entire line score for a year. If grossman

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

            ….goes on to hit .270 this year, will people look and say, that was an alright season for him moving up, or will they acknowledgethat while he had a miserable start that he was a .300 for most of the season, the final stages of it at that. I just think in regards to Marte, that offensive production wasn’t necessarily why he found himself in Indy rather than Pittsburgh. The key to his ultimate success is going to rely on his plate patience. The guys always been able to hit, and equally may always strike out, but the goal for his continued development has little to do with what his average has been the last month and a half and more about how he got it. The goal here is that you bring him up and that better pitchers, with better breaking balls don’t take him for granted, because if Ra not ready, they can and will do that. This would be entirely different for a guy like Grossman, who has solid peripherals, when he’s in AAA, it will simply be a matter of, is this guy actually hitting enough? You just can’t set your hitters up to be overly exploited by the next level. I mean, personally, I say bring him up and see what you have. I don’t disagree with those people preaching patience, I’m just an impatient fan. Lol

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I don’t think you bring up prospects based on how they compare to the major league team’s options. You bring up prospects when they’re ready.

      As for Sutton, it didn’t cost them the game, so what’s the point? I agree, Sutton isn’t the best defensively. If that’s the concern, put in Gorkys.

  • IC Bob

    Tim your nit picking. Your calling a 243 line a slump. Every player goes through ups and downs. Most slumps are when a guy hits 100. In Martes case his down is a 243 line with a 12% walk rate (likely a 340OBP). Quite frankly I don’t think the team can afford to keep him back. Players will go through slumps at all levels. If he struggles you send him back and he truly understands what he needs to get done. One thing we know for sure is he will be a major upgrade defensively over anyone we play.

    • maguro

      Agreed. No one hits .300 every single week of the season.

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Every player does go through ups and downs. But which one is to be believed in Marte’s case? He had hot streak, followed by a cold streak. His strikeouts are way up during the cold streak. All I’m saying is give him more time to show which one is legit.

  • Shawn

    So if he’s not hitting .350+ with 3 HR every week, he’s not ready for a promotion? Come on. Midnight will soon be here for Drew Sutton’s pumpkin-carriage and his OF defense is atrocious. Tabata isn’t earning a promotion anytime soon and I can only watch Alex Presley flail at a first pitch so many times. Put your BEST PLAYERS on the field. Marte, right now, is better than all of the guys I mentioned, despite his “10 game slump”. A “10 game slump” in which he’s put up a .781 OPS, which just so happens to be 110 points higher than Presley’s MLB OPS this season and 145 points better than Tabata’s.

    So much flip-flopping here about Marte that I would think I was at IHOP.

    • Shawn

      And hitting is only one aspect of his game. The guy can steal bases and plays OF defense that might be better than Hernandez. Anytime a promotion is in order, hitting is always the go-to stat. In fact, 90% of the time it’s the ONLY stat brough up. There’s a lot more to the game than what you do in the batter’s box and it’s constantly overlooked.

  • John DiVito

    Also, imagine the pressure that will come with a call-up and then starting everyday in Pittsburgh as we fight for a division title. What happens if he plays poorly in the middle of a pennant run? Would we destroy his confidence? We don’t have enough good hitting prospects to mess around with Marte like that.

    I don’t want to say wait until next year, but it might not be the worst idea…

  • Lee Young

    Tim….I have agreed all along that Marte needs more time to ‘cook’. I lean towards K Law’s eval of him…

    In other words:

    ***DON”T FREE STARLING MARTE….HE ISN’T STERLING YET!***

  • BarryJT

    If he’s being pitched around to the point he’s getting just a couple of pitches to hit a game and he’s driving those pitches, then I think that might mean there’s no point for him to stay in the minors.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kirk.vandergrift Kirk Lee

    Marte might not NEED more time in AAA, but he could certainly USE more time there. No one in their right mind would point to Starling Marte right now and say he’s got nothing left to work on. Could he improve the Pirates outfield right now? Probably. Could he be an above-average major leaguer right now? Maybe. Would he be significantly better if he took the time to work out some of his current plate discipline issues? Absolutely. I’m not one to say that the Pirates circumstances and contention should have NO bearing at all on Marte’s call up. I think it has to be considered at least a little. But if the Pirates fall out of contention in the next 2-3 weeks, then they were doomed with or without Marte. Let the team that got us here keep playing ball, and add Marte when he’s good and ready. Hopefully he’ll arrive a little more mature and have some big rookie success before pitchers adjust to him, giving us a big boost in the last couple months.