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

The power numbers are real encouraging for a young player

Arizona Diamondbacks v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Ketel Marte has come a long ways in the barely 1.5 years that he’s been in the Desert. He’s come from being a throw-in for the Taijuan Walker trade, where he had serious concerns about his offensive and his power, to being a beloved player that is an excellent defender and showing some serious signs of offensive prowess.

Need I remind you that he’s only 24?

The timing of this article is convenient because Marte is currently sitting on a 100 wRC+ - an improvement over last year - but it seems like he still has much more coming.

You’ve probably seen a running theme in many of my articles: power. And it’s because, for the most part, power doesn’t lie. Power is the “premier” skill for hitters and it comes with a premium price tag. It’s also something that’s really difficult to fake. There is a broad spectrum of “power” - from no-power singles hitters to monster home run hitters.

When the Diamondbacks acquired Marte, he was widely viewed on the lower end of the spectrum: he had a career .082 ISO coming in to AZ, one of the lowest marks in the MLB. He was athletic and had defensive upside but that was about it. This was a decent player, maybe 1-2 WAR, but likely not much more.

Today, we’re going to talk about Marte’s power breakout. But this isn’t an average hitter going to the high end of the spectrum (see: JD Martinez); rather, this is a below-average hitter making it to the slightly above average part of the spectrum.

This is all something we’ve seen with our eyes. Towards the end of last year and in parts of this year, Marte has shown some monster raw power:

That is an absolute bomb. That was projected at 440 feet and hit an estimated 109.2 MPH. That’s some serious power from a player that was considered to have very little power. In fact, that was the 4th-longest home run hit in LA all of last season. That’s pretty impressive.

I don’t know how it happened, but if I had to guess, I was assume that much of this power is just coming from a 22-year-old filling out and getting stronger. Marte’s power surge really started taking off last year and he’s only grown on it so far into 2018:

After a down year in 2016, Marte improved steadily in 2017 and has improved even further so far into 2018. He’s up to an average of 93.3 MPH on his flyballs and line drives (the “power” hits). Among 47 MLB second basemen in 2018 with at least 25 flyballs/line drives, Marte is 10th-highest - and the hitters in front of him include names like Javier Baez, Robinson Cano, Yoan Moncada, DJ LeMahieu, and Asdrubal Cabrera. That’s some good company to be behind.

The league average exit velocity for flyballs and line drives is 92.5 MPH and Marte has pulled ahead of it. Again, as a player that wasn’t supposed to have any power. And when compared to his position, he’s among the top quarter (10th out of 47).

The results have so far spoken for themselves: he has more home runs this season (9) than he did in all of 2015-2017, combined (8). He’s sitting at a career-high .180 ISO, which is higher than the current NL average of .156. I don’t really need much more data: Marte is hitting with slightly above-average power at a premium position and he’s only 24 years old.

What’s interesting about this, as well, is that he’s also made gains in his plate discipline. Last year, we saw a hearty improvement to his walk rate. However, what is also interesting is that Marte’s strikeout rate has continued to drop despite this power surge:

Usually, when players increase their power, they also increase their strikeout rates. Marte has done the opposite.

But how about this for a comparison. Since 2000, there have been 24 player-seasons of a second baseman with a K% below 13% and an ISO at .180 or above (which is where Marte is, currently).

Here is a link to the players that achieved that. Warning, it’s a bunch of all-stars.

Those 24 players averaged 4.9 fWAR for the season. Only 2 players posted a WAR below 2. That is Ketel Marte’s upside if he hits for average or better power at his current contact rates. Only 8 of them had a BB% better than Marte’s 9.2% as well. He’s got the patience, too.

But let’s not get too excited. Marte is 24 years old, after all, and he’s got his struggles. There is a reason why he’s sitting on a 100 wRC+ right now.

There are two things that Marte currently struggles with: consistency and his platoon splits. Again, he’s 24. He’s in an excellent place to be right now.

And honestly, they’re both fairly easy to explain. First, let’s look at the (in)consistency. Remember how I showed you above that Marte is above average in FB/LD exit velocities? I never showed you the actual frequency at which he hits FBs/LDs:

This chart should pretty much summarize the vast majority of Marte’s season. He started out the season making too much contact and hitting a crazy amount of groundballs. However, towards the middle of the season, he really spiked his flyball rate and his wOBA followed right behind it!

This is something that will fluctuate his entire career - it does for every hitter in the MLB. But it’s something that Marte definitely needs to keep working on. He’s got the raw power to hit the ball hard; now he just needs to do it with more consistency.

There is some hope, however. After his drop in flyballs from his June spike, Marte managed to improve his walk rate:

This is a really promising sign from such a young hitter who is certainly going through many adjustments. His wOBA has managed to stay around the .350-.400 range despite his flyballs dropping from ~40% to ~30%. This is growth right before our eyes.

The other area of Marte’s struggles, right now, is with his platoon splits. Specifically, that he’s a better right-handed hitter than left-handed hitter currently:

He’s a monster when he bats right-handed. He’s pretty much Paul Goldschmidt (both in terms of exit velocity and in having a 144 wRC+ vs LHP). But his left-handed numbers aren’t quite there. Yes, they’ve improved over the past three years, but there is a significant difference between his handedness.

Now, this is something to expect: it’s extremely difficult to switch hit in the MLB and you’re always going to be better from one side than the other. But most switch hitters tend to be better left-handed hitters because of the amount of right-handed pitchers (about 2/3rds) they see.

Can Marte continue to improve his left-handed swing? Should he consider going permanently right-handed? I don’t really have any easy way to judge or even look into this, but it’s definitely something to look for as a fan. I will note that coming into this season, Marte had better numbers as a left-handed hitter, but the power clearly favors the right-handed side.

In the end, I don’t need a lot of data or charts to show you what the eye is already seeing: Marte’s definitely having a power breakout and has been going through one over the past two years. We’ve seen a ton of growth and adjustments from a player that is only 24-years-old and still several years away from his likely prime.

The Diamondbacks are incredibly fortunate to have Marte for the next 6+ years because they are going to be the recipients of his continued growth. Here we have an incredibly athletic player, with one of the highest contact rates (15th out of 161 qualified hitters) in the MLB and an above-average defender at 2B (his 5 DRS rank 6th among MLB 2B).

When you combine the possibility of average (or better) power, elite contact/strikeout rates, above-average walk rates, and above-average defense at a premium position, you have a player that has the potential to be a star. He’s not there yet and he may never get there, but it will be a fun ride to watch.

Ketel Marte might just be the next face of the franchise.