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2018 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews: #9, Ketel Marte

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A Tale of Two Martes.

Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • 2018 rating: 6.75
  • 2017 rating: 7.53
  • 2018 salary: $515,400
  • 2018 performance: 580 PA, .260/.332/.437 (104 wRC+), 14 HR, 52 XBH, 6 SB, 7 DRS at 2B
  • 2019 status: $1 million base salary + $2 million signing bonus; signed through 2024

It was sort of a confusing year for Ketel Marte. All-in-all, he had a bit of a breakout, both offensively and defensively, yet the overall fan opinion of him seemed to have been considerably worse than last year, as seen by the drop in rating from 7.53 last year to 6.75 this year.

It starts with the team locking down Marte to a 5 year extension valued at $24 million. This deal is locked up through 2022 - the years in which the team already had full control over Marte - and then gives the team two club options for his first two years of free agency at $10 million and $12 million, respectively. If both options are exercised, the contract will end up being 7 years and $46 million and allowing Ketel Marte to enter free agency in his age 31 season. If Marte continues improving in the ways we’ve seen in his first two seasons in the desert, his contract will be a massive bargain.

Yet, despite the 2.5 fWAR (3.3 bWAR) season from Marte, why did his rating drop? Probably due to a mixture high expectations and an incredibly slow start to the year. The extension and the hype around Marte made it clear that Marte was being viewed as a young star in the making. So when Marte busted out of the 2018 gates with a 54 wRC+ in April and a 58 wRC+ in May, fans seemed to be really concerned about that extension that Marte signed, as well as probably being a bit disappointed in the team’s performance especially after the miserable May.

But this really is A Tale of Two Martes:

Through May 31st: .216/.273/.309 (56 wRC+)

May 31st - Sept 30th: .285/.365/.512 (132 wRC+)

That second Marte is probably the one we were all expecting this year. What’s amazing is that those second set of numbers don’t have any major red flags when it comes to regression: 10.8% BB%, 14.0% K%, .227 ISO, .304 BABIP. But it comes to one thing - is the power for real? Marte has consistently shown the ability to maintain high contact rates to sustain the low K% and after an 11.4% BB% in 2017, the 10.8% BB% in the second half of last year doesn’t seem so unrealistic. Nor does the .304 BABIP (career .302 BABIP).

But what about that ISO? .227 is a lot higher than anything he’s shown in his career. However, Marte has shown some signs that the power is legitimate. For starters, he had the single-highest exit velocity for any Diamondbacks batted ball this season. Among the 20 hardest-hit Diamondbacks batted balls this season, Marte had 8 of them, all of which measured over 112 MPH. Here are some of his longest dingers on the season:

You can’t fake that kind of power. That is some immense raw power.

But let’s not just look at the Dbacks. Where does he rank among MLB second basemen?

5 of the 11-hardest hit balls by second basemen this year were by Ketel Marte. At this point, we might be encroaching the territory that Ketel Marte has the highest raw power among all MLB second basemen. He would have topped the SS list, too.

This has been noted by some of us in the Snake Pit, as Jack Sommers and I both wrote about Marte’s power breakout this year:

Ketel Marte is Having a Breakout, But He’s Not Fully There Yet

Ketel Marte’s breakout keeps moving forward

Both articles summarize the same things. Marte is making huge strides this year, particularly in his power, but he still has two concerns going forward: being consistent and his platoon splits.

We’ll tackle the consistency first. Despite leading MLB 2B in hardest-hit balls, he was only 13th in average exit velocity. Part of that is because of the platoon splits (see below), but the other part was his inconsistency, specifically in flyballs vs. groundballs.

Marte needs to hit flyballs to harness his power.

When he’s hitting flyballs, he’s hitting them hard and they turn into extra base hits. Lots of extra base hits, at that. Take a look at this:

This is a rolling 15 game average of Marte’s FB% and wRC+ for 2018. Notice how closely aligned that wRC+ is to FB%. It’s not a direct correlation, but it is strong and it is vital to Marte’s success going forward. And again, look at how low the FB% was in the first two months of the season - and how it steadily stayed higher for the rest of the season. These are the kind of improvements you want to see in a young player and something to look out for in the following season as Marte continues his development.

The other issue, of course, are the platoon splits. Marte has shown incredible power as a right-handed hitters but not nearly as much as a lefty. Notice anything about the homers up above? All right-handed. Here are his 2018 ISOs by handedness:

Lefty: .127

Righty: .263

And his average exit velocity by handedness:

Lefty: 87.1 MPH

Righty: 91.1 MPH

Again, we’re back to A Tale of Two Martes.

This is a much bigger concern as it really limits Marte’s ceiling if he can’t figure out the power from the left side of the plate. What complicates this matter is that prior to 2018, Marte was a better left-handed hitter than right-handed hitter, due to having superior contact skills from the left side. But now that he’s tapping into this immense raw power from the right-hand side, the equation has shifted.

This begs two questions:

  1. Can Marte harness this raw power from the left hand side of the plate?
  2. If not, can and should Marte switch to being a permanent right-handed hitter?

I don’t think there is anyway that I can attempt to answer those questions. I would bet a large sum of money that the Diamondbacks coaching staff is working hard to continue developing Marte. He is young and incredibly athletic, two factors that help him out in this, and it will be interested to see what comes of it.

Marte’s ceiling will be limited if he can’t improve from the left side of the plate (or switch to righty-only). Now, he could still be a very good player: the current iteration of Marte had a ~130 wRC+ after June 1st last season and that version of Marte is likely to be somewhat sustainable. Hitting like that with his great defense is still a great player: 3-4 WAR and a fringe all-star. But if he taps into that power from both sides of the plate, you’re looking at the possibility of one of the best middle infielders in the game.

I’ve gotten a long ways without really writing anything about the season or Marte’s defense, but this is really the story of Marte this year. Marte’s defense was very good: he was above average at both SS and 2B this season. His 7 DRS at 2B was 6th-best among MLB 2B. But this season was really all about his hitting, simultaneously breaking out and having struggles with inconsistency and handedness at the same time.

A Tale of Two Martes.

The 2019 outlook for Ketel Marte is pretty simple. He’s going to be an everyday player somewhere, whether it’s at 2B, SS, or CF is still yet to be determine. I would expect above average defense at SS or 2B and he’d probably be a good CF, too (See: Chris Owings).

But the real 2019 outlook for Marte is going to come down to the bat. We saw the raw power start to emerge at the end of 2017; Marte worked out hard in the offseason and had a semi-breakout in power in 2018. Marte has been known to workout hard. How will that manifest in 2019?