Starling Marte was already one of the kings of hidden value. Metrics like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) have loved him, despite his average power, and despite his ugly ratios of strikeouts to walks. One contributing factor has been that he’s played half the time in an extremely pitcher-friendly ballpark, but this goes well beyond that. Marte has done a little bit of everything.
Forcing mistakes? Last season, Marte reached base 14 times on defensive errors. No one else in baseball exceeded 12. It’s an open question as to whether forcing errors is any kind of sustainable skill, but it makes sense that Marte puts pressure on the defense with his speed. Right there, you’ve got 14 outs that turned into non-outs. That’s one example of hidden value.
And while Marte has drawn just 66 walks as a big-leaguer, he’s also reached base another 44 times on hit-by-pitches. No one wants to be hit by a pitch, and Marte has been hurt by getting drilled, but reaching base is valuable, and Marte has this additional means. Over the last two years, Marte is the league leader.
Then there’s the matter of baserunning. Marte’s been caught stealing a whole bunch of times, but he’s also been successful a whole bunch of other times, and baserunning is about more than just stealing anyhow. It’s also about awareness, about being able to take extra bases when opportunities present themselves, and overall, the last two years, Marte has been worth about 13 runs more than average with his legs. That ranks him sixth, between Elvis Andrus and Mike Trout.
Of course, there’s also the defense. Marte is a corner outfielder who’s good enough to be a center fielder. By one metric — UZR — Marte has been worth almost 20 runs more than the average left fielder. By Defensive Runs Saved, he comes in at double that. Nobody questions that Marte is an outstanding defender, covering a lot of ground in what’s a relatively expansive section of the PNC outfield.
With everything he’s done, Marte has demonstrated that he’s a quality player, and a definite building block. He’s been one of the better players in the National League, and he’s been a huge reason behind the Pirates’ return to relevance. All that’s been missing have been a few developments within the box. Except, perhaps, those developments might’ve already taken place.