6 Improvements Starling Marte Needs to Make for the Pittsburgh Pirates to Succeed
Starling Marte is an important piece to the Pirates lineup
The Pittsburgh Pirates made the playoffs in 2013 for the first time in 20 years thanks in large part to Starling Marte. For the first time in many years, the Pirates can now relish in the fact that they have a legitimate leadoff-type hitter batting in the first spot. The years of the Freddie Sanchezes, Nate McClouths and Chris Duffys (yeah, remember?) are in the past and now the Pirates can concentrate on the future, for the next five seasons anyway (Marte does not become a free agent until 2019). Having a reliable and quality leadoff hitter is essential to this team's success.
Marte was signed by the Pirates as an amateur free agent in 2007, and he made his professional debut in July of 2012 at the age of 23. His debut game saw him go 2-for-4 with a homer, which must have been a memorable experience. All said, he spent six seasons in the minors and posted a triple-slash of .303/.361/.462, seeing his power numbers elevate his final two seasons there.
Improving over his performance to close out 2012, Marte had a solid 2013 campaign, a year which saw him post a triple-slash of .280/.343/.441, with 12 homers and 83 runs scored. He was near the top of several offensive categories, namely triples, where he finished second in the National League with 10. There is no question that the Pirates are hoping for much of the same this year, if not more. That being said, let us take a look at some of the key areas Starling Marte should be focusing on improving, which will be essential for the Pirates' success in 2014 and beyond.
Marte led the National League in errors by a left fielder with six. That doesn't sound like much, but take a moment to think what type of errors he made. Breaking down the total, it amounts to four fielding errors and two throwing errors. These are outs that the Pirates cannot afford to give away.
Marte is still a young player and he's still finding his way to perform on the biggest baseball stage in the world. One has to assume it will take some time for him to find his groove, though, statistics would seem to contradict that statement. His minor league error trends seem to echo the same as his major league totals do, which isn't a great thing.
He will need to find a way to improve on these numbers. On a good note, Marte did show some promise, finishing fourth in the NL in putouts as a left fielder. Building on that success will be a key factor in improving his overall defensive game.
Marte has spent some time on the disabled list in his time as a professional. The most notable case was last year, in which he found himself on the 15-day DL due to a hand contusion and a sprain.
It is going to be very improtant for Marte to remain healthy for the Pirates in 2013, because his absence will create an environment where several players are displaced from their appropriate spots in the batting order. For example, a Marte injury could mean that Neil Walker now needs to hit in the leadoff spot and McCutchen in the second spot (or perhaps Jose Tabata). Hopefully McCutchen doesn't have to move from the third position, as that's where he needs to be to capitalize on his offensive abilities.
With Marte being out of the lineup, the Pirates are going to struggle both at the top and at the bottom of the lineup. Try to stay healthy and don't do anything stupid is the best advice that can be given at this time.
Bolstering Power Numbers
Marte homered twelve times during the 2013 season. There's no reason this guy can't hit 20 home runs per year and mold himself into the best leadoff hitter in the business. In a lineup that lacks a ton of power, anything that Marte can provide on a consistent basis is can be a huge help for the team.
He needs to find a way to boost his OBP to somewhere in the .390 to .430 range. With a noticeable improvement from the 2012 season through the 2013 season, there's no reason that this could not be accomplished again in theory.
For Marte to be mentioned in the same conversation with the game's best players at getting on base, he's going to need to hit the upper end of the OBP suggestion. OBP becomes important in a lineup that is not always going to have the ability and means to generate a lot of runs.
Getting on base is part of the battle, but what's the next part?
Base Stealing Proficiency
The next part is that he's going to have to create opportunities for the offense to drive him in. With Neil Walker being the likely candidate for the No. 2 spot in the batting order, it's less than ideal to ask Walker to lay down a bunt to advance Marte to second base when, in fact, he can swipe second base outright.
The only problem with that theory is that Marte has never been widely successful in his stealing of bases. During the 2013 season, he attempted 56 steals, only to come away with success on 41 of the checks. Being caught stealing 15 times is a bit absurd and unnecessary.
Increasing your presence on the basepaths and stealing bases is a large part of the battle, but what is the product of his efforts?
Lead Team in Runs Scored
The benefit is quite simple -- scoring more runs than the other team will always result in a victory for your team. Marte finished second on the team in runs scored to McCutchen, losing by only 14 runs.
Look at the last three slides (including this one) and think how it would play out. Marte draws a walk with nobody out. He waits until his appropriate pitch and takes off, stealing second base successfully. Nobody out. Neil Walker can bunt him to third if he wants in order to set up the sacrifice fly for McCutchen, or Walker swings away and tries to drive Marte in. The best part about the plan is that no one loses the bat from their hands automatically.