Welcome folks, to another round of Bear or Bull. The series is so awesome, I am able talk about animals AND baseball(s). And this week, I guess Walmart. Word. And while the best play on words I could think of involves Starling Marte and one of the cornerstones to an eventual Corporatocracy, well, you know something special is brewing around these parts. And it ain’t just the fermenting kim chee. Am I lost? Maybe you’re lost. More rum for everyone! Yes it’s supposed to rhyme, or else, what’s the point? So yeah, see that perfect line of association I just drew? Point A, animals, straight to Point B, rum. Whoooo! Can we talk about baseball now? Never!
Okay, now we can. Let’s talk about baseball. More specifically, let’s talk about Starling Marte and his role in baseball. And for those of you who actually want more specificity, let’s talk about Starling Marte and his role in fantasy baseball. At the most basic level, I’d like to think of him as a three-true-outcomes type of player. Not in the Adam Dunn sense, mind you, where its Power, Walks, and Strikeouts. Instead, Marte is a Power, Steals, and Strikeouts type of player. See the difference? You should, I underlined it for you bro. And while I usually try to focus on top-echelon guys who cause the tingles or the shakes, Marte is slowly convincing me that his skillset is something to talk about. Which is saying a lot, because I’ll go on record here saying that I never really was a believer. If people start laying down Andrew McCutchen comps (I swear, if I see one more spelling of his name like McCutcheon, I’m going to defenestrate), well, color me skeptical. And yellow. Because I don’t believe those words. And I’m also Asian. But, I would be remiss by not admitting I am now coming around on Marte, which might lead you, the readership, to wonder why. What are the happenings which led me here? And am I fully convinced of said happenings? Or just slightly intrigued? What wonderful questions I have just asked myself to setup the rest of this post. So, let’s take a magical trip to analytic mountain, home of the magical GIF caves of Pop Tarts. The Pop Tarts part is a lie. I’m just eating some now, so, yeah, you’re welcome.
To start off, let’s go over each of his three skill sets. We’ll begin with the most valuable skill in the fantasy baseballs — Power. To know power, one must see power. And to see power is to love power. And to love power is then to understand power. Dizzy yet? Good. Let’s see some of that power that I just Nietzsche’d in your general direction.
Gio Gonzalez: “Wait, where did the ball go?”
Starling Marte: “I dunno… just kidding. Check behind you sucka! Later.”
Signed for only $85,000 in 2007 from the Dominican Republic, Marte wasn’t considered an elite talent, but the tools were present, including his power tool. Standing at 6-2 and 180 lbs, he physically can drive the ball both for gap and homerun power. However, based on the consensus of scouting reports I’ve studied, his ceiling seems to be in the 15-25 homerun range, which places him on the 50-55 scale. And based on my anecdotal views, and both his minor and major league numbers, that feels about right. However, no one should be surprised to see him eclipse those totals in some outlier years. He has already matched his homerun total from last year, in 42 fewer plate appearances, and his ISO stands at a healthy .198. Evidence in the numbers to support this uptick in power are easily found. Both his LD% and FB% have increased from 2012, at the sacrifice of his GB%, which is a good thing. After all, to get the ball over the fence, you need to hit it in the air more.
So what’s the next most valuable skill in the fantasy baseballs? If you said grit, you would be wrong. Also, you would be Wes Welker. The answer is speed. You could argue other cats belong here, but I would remain unconvinced. Both power and speed are counting-stat commodities that are pricey, hard to find, and can win championships or destroy knee-caps. All the Rickie Weeks owners just nodded their heads and starting sobbing. Let’s see some of Marte’s speed in GIF-action.
Matt Wieters: “I am better than sliced bread!”
Starling Marte: “You ain’t nothin’ without being slightly toasted with Marmalade son!”
Granted, the only video I could find is from a Spring Training game, but you can complain to the MLB, not myself. I am merely a google simpleton and will remain a middle man in this matter. However, the GIF does illustrate the point. And the point is that Starling Marte is a fast human being. On the 20/80 scale, he likely sits around the 70 range, which is, in fact, superior to his peers. Always known as an excellent athlete, his speed is also an integral part of his defensive savvy, of which said savvy, does not count at all in fantasy baseball. But I have to state, he is certainly one of the more exciting players to emerge, and there is always room for such players in a sport that can bring fortune and fame to prime athletic specimens, and also to those on the other side of the spectrum. I call them John Kruk.
Behold the Kruk!
He looks like I need a diet.
Now we move to Starling Marte’s last true outcome, which is more or less the bane of all fantasy baseball skills. Unless we are talking pitchers. We are, however, not talking about pitchers. Granted, strikeouts for a hitter aren’t the be-all end-all of a players worth, but they are a very good indicator of what a player is and where that player is going. Case in point, Rick Ankiel. Let’s take a look at what Marte does nearly 25% of the time while at the plate.
Aroldis Chapman: “Here’s a fastball, enjoy!”
Starling Marte: “Wha’ happened?”
To be fair, Aroldis Chapman happened. But what the GIF illustrates is Marte’s love for swinging on pitches outside of the plate, and his propensity to swing-and-miss in general. And I just want to add, it appears that Marte decided to swing 18 years after the pitch hit the catchers mitt. Just to go over some numbers, his career O-Swing% (Percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) sits at 34.0. That isn’t inherently bad, as there are 78 players ahead of him, but he is still next to the likes of Dee Gordon and Brandon Crawford, which is not good, in any context. Then again, that number, by it self, means nothing. After all, he’s sitting right next to Miguel Cabrera. So what’s the difference here? Well, the problem is that Marte only makes contact on these pitches 55.4% of the time. Cabrera, in the same time span, has made contact 70.9% of the time. So that’s the rub.
But it’s not all bad. What I failed to mention there is that Marte’s Contact percentages are trending up from last season. You can see some of the analysis I’ve done on the subject here and here, but if you take anything from those posts, thresholds can be useful, but the fewer plate appearances that are available career-wise, the less confident I am in those numbers. I can only say that I am slightly optimistic with his 7.9% uptick in making contact, and 10.0% uptick in making contact with pitches outside of the zone. That is also seen in his improved K%, lowering from 27.5 in 2012, to 21.4 as of yesterday. I should note, K% does not stabilize until 200 PA’s.
There is one other aspect that bothers me, besides Marte’s propensity to strike out, and that is Marte appears to be a BABIP-driven player. While it is true that he can sustain a higher than normal BABIP because of his speed, the .396 average he has so far is not sustainable. I would expect that number to gravitate somewhere below his career mark of .360, which would still be lofty, but is a rational landing spot for a player with Marte’s skillset. To put that into context, if you take his current numbers and adjust accordingly, you’d probably see him putting up a 270/330/460 slash instead of the 325/393/524 he has right now. That’s not to take away from the stats Marte has already banked, but I feel much safer gauging a player with accurate expectations.
All that being said, he looks on his way, even with regression, to putting up close to a 20/30 year, which are top-50 numbers. In fact, that’s better than my fellow Korean, Shin-Soo Choo, who Grey ranked 35th for 2013. Now, by all means, I will endorse his ownership the rest of this year. But I’m still skeptical. For the ROS, I would assume he does regress a bit, but still provides a respectable 62/12/49/270/23. But, as stated, I’m wary predicting any prolonged success until we know his strike-out issues are manageable. Then you add in the fact that a player whose rate stats will be based substantially on the luck-dragon known as BABIP, you could have a guy hitting .290 this year, to a guy hitting .230 next year. And if that happens, the homeruns and steals will suffer along with it. It’s difficult to peg a line for the two years after, but a 70/10/65/250/20 as a baseline seems feasible.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not averse to taking risks, and Starling Marte certainly is, to me, a risk. But when I decide to jump off a cliff, I want to do it for cheaper assets, not ones where the perceived ceiling is already baked into the cost. Right now, his value is just too high in both redraft and keeper leagues. While I’m fine with holding him in both formats, I might be tempted to throw him out there while the value is being sustained to see what can come back my way.
Unlike last week with Matt Harvey, my final verdict is not so obvious. I’ve actually been going back and forth the entire time, but at the end, there is no such thing as halfsies in my line of work.
Yes, Starling Marte is a special player. He has power and speed. But he also strikes out quite a bit and also depends on the luck dragon. At what point can we determine if he’s the next Alex Rios in even-numbered years, or the next Alex Rios in odd-numbered years?
I just don’t know… yet.