Starling Marte: Buy Or Sell?
The Pittsburgh Pirates extended outfielder Starling Marte yesterday to the tune of six years and $31 million dollars. The deal includes two team options, adding up to three years of team control since Marte was scheduled to reach free agency in 2019. The deal makes sense for both player and team, but should the Pirates’ faith in Marte make him a must keep in fantasy baseball?
Starling Marte’s 2013 campaign was outstanding. In 510 at-bats, Marte hit .280 with 12 home runs, 41 stolen bases, and 83 runs scored, good for 4.6 WAR- ninth among outfielders. Marte fans will point to his power/speed combination and freakish athleticism as reasons to expect further growth. Just 25, Marte has incredible bat speed and strength, with the body of an NFL wide receiver.
Detractors have plenty of ammunition to shoot holes in Marte’s ascension plan. His .280 batting average was propped up by a .363 BABIP. Though he’s fast enough to support a BABIP above the mean, any significant regression results in a .250 batting average. It’s scary to see his 2013 second half batting average shrink to .254 despite an increase in BABIP. Additionally, Marte’s 35 RBI campaign was a category killer. While he projects for 50+ RBIs in 2014, Marte is lead off batter in the National League, which will invariably limit his RBI output hitting behind Pirates pitchers. Marte’s success on the base paths also came at a high cost- he was thrown out 15 times in 56 attempts.
Is Starling Marte an Upside Play in 2014?
To gain a feel for Starling Marte’s fantasy value, take a look at Mike Newman’s review of shifting dollar values in 5×5 leagues. As a Marte owner in Ottoneu, he found Marte was his 5th-most valuable outfielder in 2013 behind Adam Jones, Alfonso Soriano, Alex Rios, and Marlon Byrd. Marte’s below-average power numbers, fueling home runs and RBI totals, negated his prodigious thievery from a value perspective.
The danger coming into 2014 was that Marte’s steals would be overvalued. Instead, fantasy owners are drafting Marte for what he is- a good source of speed and runs, but a minimal contributor in the power categories. Based on 2014 forecasts, Marte is projected to be a top-60 player and 19th best outfielder, which is where he’s being drafted. As a result, Marte is an upside play this season.
In writing this piece, I’ve come around on Marte 100%. Despite his low home run total, he still had an ISO of .161, higher than Alex Gordon and Alex Rios, while posting ground ball rate of 50.8%. Watching video of Marte smashing home runs (though I don’t condone the usage of “Marte Par-tay”) point to more round-trippers going forward if he’s able to lay off of balls out of the zone (36.4 O-Swing% in his short career). A more controlled approach at the plate would result in a sustainable batting average and greater power potential.
Starling Marte is capable of matching Alex Rios’ 2013 level of production minus the RBI totals. If Marte hits 20 home runs, his dollar value increases $3-4 — even if the batting average dips, making him a top-15 outfielder. In keeper and dynasty league formats, he’s a player to add now even though the price will be steep. Don’t be careless and underestimate how quickly Starling Marte has developed as a five tool talent. Elite athletes will see spikes in production when the tools click. Don’t believe me? Ask Adam Jones.
27 Mar 2014 / Ben Flajole / 3
Tags: Buy Or Sell
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