How Starling Marte Went From Having a Down Season to a Breakout Year
Pittsburgh Pirates 2014
Slow start but strong down the stretch
For Starling Marte, a slow month of April had his season off to a rough start as he made his return from a late season injury in 2013, that hurt his performance in the postseason significantly. As a player who was approaching his prime years coming into 2014 as a 25 year old, batting .225 in the month of April was very disappointing for Starling Marte. In the past, Marte has had issues with lack of strike zone discipline causing his strikeout rates to climb, and this weakness was very apparent for Marte early on in the 2014 season. As a dynamic ball player with five tool talent, the Pirates were counting on Starling Marte to be their star leadoff man in 2014. His slow start to the season forced him out of the leadoff spot however, and was one of the biggest reasons why the Pirates were below average in run scoring through the first month of the season. After the month of April, things started to stabilize for Marte at the plate, and now he has reached the point where he is producing a career best effort as the final weeks of the season wind down in September.
Marte's resurgence after a tough first month
The month of May went much better for Starling Marte as he helped his team dig out of an early deficit in the standings. May ended up being a much better month for Starling Marte as he hit .265 with a .321 on base percentage and a .459 slugging percentage. After stealing seven bases as the Pirates leadoff man in the month of April, Marte stole only five bases in the month of May, but he contributed as a run producer with 14 runs batted in for the month. It was not until June after Polanco's arrival, when Marte was batting between his new teammate and Andrew McCutchen, that he started to hit for a high average this season. Seeing more fastballs when batting in front of McCutchen, and with Polanco as a stolen base threat often on base in front of him, Marte started to collect hits in the month of June when he batted .293 for that month of baseball. With a death in the family and nagging injuries forcing Marte to miss time, his power in June was not where it had been in the month of May. This misfortune would continue in Marte's rough season through the month of July, and it was not until his return from the disabled list in the month of August that Marte announced to the baseball world that he was back.
Excellence down the stretch
When Andrew McCutchen went down with a rib injury in early August, he was replaced defensively in centerfield the next game by Starling Marte who was making his return from the disabled list. Marte was not spectacular immediately after returning from the disabled list, but in a game against Justin Verlander to start the following week, a first inning three run triple was what got Marte going. The Pirates would soon after go through a seven game losing streak that had their season on the brink of collapse, but during that losing streak, Marte's heroics kept the games competitive and gave the Pirates a chance to close out wins. Poor relief pitching during that seven game stretch prevented the Pirates from winning any of the games in which Marte put the Pirates ahead in the late innings. Marte's strong play did play a role in the Pirates three consecutive series wins following the end of their seven game losing streak. Now Marte's play in September has been even better than his August performance, as with ten games to go he has already equaled his August total in homeruns with four of them this month. In 50 at bats in the month of September so far, Starling Marte is hitting .400 with four homeruns, a .455 on base percentage and a .720 slugging percentage. This type of production is what has led to Starling Marte being able to turn a rough start into his best season so far.
Playing multiple positions at a high level
Although Starling Marte's baserunning decisions were questionable during the time period that he was struggling, his defense this season was not impacted in a negative way by his struggles at the plate. All season long, Starling Marte has been impacting ballgames with spectacular defense and a great throwing arm. After McCutchen's rib injury, Marte had to move over to centerfield, in order to fill the defensive void left by McCutchen's injury. Marte's excellent defensive play continued in centerfield, as at that point he was both producing at the plate and playing great defense in the field. All of this has combined to allow the Pirates young outfielder to emerge as a budding star in his third season playing Major League Baseball. For Marte, his defense in the outfield has always been something he could turn to in order to provide his team with a winning contribution when his offense struggled. Marte's speed and overall range in the outfield is something that will always be a part of his game, as he tries to give the Pirates a contribution from each of the five tools he possesses.
Overall the numbers for Starling Marte this season are not the best numbers on the Pirates roster, but his late season effort has allowed him to meet some of his goals as a strong offensive contributor for a young Pirates team. Starling Marte's slow start to the season showed him that offensive success can't be taken for granted, and he is now maintaining an approach at the plate that allows him to stay locked in for long periods of time. Marte may never become the offensive threat that teammate Andrew McCutchen is, but he is a great complementary star right now on a very good Pirates team. His five tool ability provide so many dimensions to the way he can impact a game, that every time he takes the field he is able to help the Pirates win games regardless of what he does at the plate.