The Pittsburgh Pirates are off to a disastrous start in 2014, sitting at 10-16 through the first 26 games. The Bucs have the third worst record in the National League and are farther from first place than they were at any point in 2013. A major reason behind this is the struggles from the Pirates’ leadoff hitter, Starling Marte.
The Pirates’ offense as a whole has been horrid, so putting too much blame on Marte would be unfair. However, he is the table setter, and it seems that whenever Marte is going well, the entire team is performing well. As a team, the Pirates have a .221/.296/.351 triple-slash line. There are only four teams that have an on-base percentage worse than the Pirates’ .296 OBP.
Marte has never really profiled as a true leadoff hitter, but the Pirates have never had a better option. Due to his struggles this year, manager Clint Hurdle had no choice; he has moved Marte to seventh in the lineup. Replacing Marte at the top of the order is Jose Tabata. On the season, Marte is hitting .229/.308/.305 with a wRC+ of 79. Even worse, however, is that he is striking out in 31.6 percent of his plate appearances. A strikeout rate high is completely unacceptable from a leadoff hitter.
In a perfect world, Marte will get hot at some point soon and the Pirates will be able to put him back at the top of the order. When top prospect Gregory Polanco gets promoted in June, the Pirates will be able to bat him leadoff. Polanco profiles as a great leadoff hitter with very low strikeout rates, excellent speed and a decent walk rate. Until then, though, the combination of Tabata and Marte will have to do.