Starling Marte Gets on Base the Hard Way

On Tuesday, Starling Marte got his first start in more than a month. To no one’s surprise — at least to those who follow the Pirates — he got hit by a pitch. It was his 22nd hit-by-pitch this season, the second-most behind Cincinnati’s Shin-Soo Choo. Prior to his start this week, Marte had been absent from the Pirates lineup since Aug. 18 — a day after he was hit in the hand. While some players get hit all the time, it looks like Marte might be playing an active role. In fact, it appears he’s getting hit when he’s close to striking out. And if that’s true, the strategy looks to have cost him at least a month’s production.

The following hitters are the HBP leaders in 2013 (on Sept. 19):

Name HBP HBP with 2 Strikes 2-Strike HBP%
Shin-Soo Choo 25 12 48%
Starling Marte 22 18 82%
Shane Victorino 17 8 47%
Jon Jay 14 9 64%
Daniel Nava 14 8 57%
Neil Walker 14 8 57%

Besides the overall HBP numbers, the number of two-strike pitches that hit Marte is almost twice the league average (44.4%). The following is a small sample of the times he’s gotten hit:

Here’s the pitch that sent Marte to the disabled list. The count was 1-2, with two outs and runners were on first base and on second base.

Not a ton of effort to get out of the way. A hit-by-pitch in which he takes to load the bases.

Just four days prior, on Aug. 13, this happened on a 0-2 pitch from Adam Wainwright.

He took it like a man.

Moving back a few more days, he almost swings his hands at this Josh Outman 0-2 pitch with a runner at first and his team down three runs:

I watched the rest of them, and it’s a lot of the same. He pretty much doesn’t move away from the ball once he’s at two strikes. As with the last pitch, he’ll occasionally move his body toward the ball.

With only four non-two-strike-hit-by-pitches this season, Marte doesn’t always try to get hit. Here is a sequence from June 2, with the game tied in the 10th inning. Marte was hit on this 3-2 pitch.

There’s some effort to get out of the way, but not as much as earlier in the same plate appearance. Before he got hit, here are three called balls that nearly hit him.

0-0 count

1-1 count

2-1 count

In non-two-strike counts, Marte put in some effort to keep from getting hit. His willingness to get on base at any cost can be commended, but he lost about one month’s of playing time because of the strategy.

Marte returned from the DL with a little more armor on his arms, though it’s not to a Barry Bonds level. The armor might help him stay healthier, but I think he needs to try to quit using the hit-by-pitch as a way to get on base in two-strike counts. While he has been able to get on base, he will be out of commission at varying times. This season, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Pirates.

Only Marte can decide if he wants to change his game. Or perhaps he’s OK with 90 mph pitches slamming into his body.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Ruki Motomiya
10 years ago

I dunno, as long as he keeps it off the hands (or head), I see this as a valid possibility.

Then again, I’ve always been interested in the idea of someone who uses HBP to get on base, so maybe I’m just biased.