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August 15, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

Starling Marte and Being Wrong

by Craig Goldstein

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This won’t come as a surprise to most anyone, but I thoroughly enjoy being correct. My default form of conversation is argument/debate, and I’ll generally play devil’s advocate even if I agree with someone, as a means to ferret out why I agree, or why that point is worth making. Basically, if I’m talking to you or at you, it’s because I have a vested interest in making a point that I want you to agree with. I’m a terrible person.

What sucks (for me) is I’m wrong a lot. I don’t think the percentage is particularly egregious, but as with anyone who puts their opinions on record, those opinions are going to be wrong with some regularity. I’ve accepted that as a part of life, but it’s still hard to swallow. I often think my reasons at the time were justified, and that just because it didn’t break my way, doesn’t mean I was wrong, just that it turned out differently. This is hiding behind “the process.” I was wrong, and good reasoning at the time or not, that needs to be owned. I was wrong about Starling Marte.

Past projection
Marte generally gets overrated in fantasy circles because of a phenomenal 2013 that saw him slash .280/.343/.441, but that belied a concerning walk rate and potential approach problems. The questionable approach has been with Marte for years, and Kevin Goldstein highlighted in 2011:

“Nearly every concern about Marte revolves around his ultra aggressiveness at the plate. Last year, Marte drew just 19 unintentional walks in 129 games. He often gets himself out with quick at-bats when he swings at bad pitches. He also needs to slow the game down on the basepaths and in the field.”

That concern was something that stuck with me as I monitored Marte’s progress and it obfuscated his adjustments and success. No matter what he did over his first season-plus, I was quick to point out his meager walk total and an OBP inflated by hit-by-pitches. With 24 in his breakout 2013 campaign, I was certain we’d see regression going forward, and that his .300 OBP from 2012 was closer to his true talent level.

Why I was wrong
It turns out that the hit-by-pitches might well be a skill, as Marte has racked up another 13 thus far in 2014. While 24 is still an aberrant figure, getting on via HBP is clearly a component of his skill set to this point. Mix in a 2.5 percentage point improvement on his walk rate, and Marte is able to offset some of the damage done by his declining batting average. It’s to Marte’s credit that he could lop 20 points off his average and 50 off his slugging and still be a useful player in fantasy circles. His volume approach to stolen bases might be a real life mixed bag, but is a fantasy blessing. While he's only swiping bases at a 74 percent clip, Marte's 23 total steals tie him for ninth in the majors, giving him obvious fantasy appeal.

If we go back to his statement minor league season in 2011, we see a slash line of .332/.370/.500 with 12 home runs and 24 stolen bases. This looks like a superstar in the making, but his 3.8 percent walk rate was concerning. Given his 4.7 percent figure the year prior, it was fair to wonder if a .260 batting average would beget a roughly-.300 on base percentage. Were that the case, given the generally weak power projections, Marte might not even be a full-time starter.

The focus on defense has certainly aided Marte in that, given his defensive abilities, there is more forgiveness for weak offensive production. Still, Marte’s ability to adjust and take a more passive approach at the plate have helped buoy him more than the ebbing line for what is acceptable offensive production from a left fielder.

Future fantasy projection
A lack of thunder in his bat is likely to prevent a fantasy superstar in the making, as it pertains to Marte. Still, 30-plus-stolen-base seasons appear to be a reasonable expectation, and there’s plenty of value in the overall batting line he’ll produce thanks to the continuing league-wide offensive regression. While I might have been right in some respects (Denard Span has been a better player in 2014, for example), I was wrong about Starling Marte in the larger sense. I didn’t give him enough credit for adjusting his approach, or have enough faith that those adjustments would be maintained. What I’m trying to take away from this is to avoid letting what a player can’t do blind me to what he can. Others still might see a potential star in Marte, and while I still doubt that type of growth, there’s plenty of value to be had in what he’s already doing.

Craig Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Craig's other articles. You can contact Craig by clicking here

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Starling Marte

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