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Ketel Marte’s breakout keeps moving forward

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He’s knocking at the door of stardom

San Francisco Giants v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Following the growth and development of good young players is one of the greatest joys I get from watching baseball. Not every player who ends up being above average or even an all star level performer breaks on the scene at that level. In fact for most, it takes time. We try to glean insights into what the player is doing and has done in the past , and use that to project what they may become. Those in the scouting community utilize their skills as players and/or observers of the game. From their unique professional perspective and experience they try to project which players will achieve MLB level play and which players will be future stars. Those in the analytics community try to do the same, but using a very different skill set. The less data there is, the more we must depend on the artistry of scouting to inform us. The more data there is on a player the more we begin to rely on those results to extrapolate a player’s future. In the best of worlds, both disciplines inform, compliment, overlap, and edify each other, creating the basis for the best possible decisions on the part of a front office, and the best understanding and enjoyment on the part of fans.

Back on August 1, Sean wrote an excellent article about Marte’s power breaking out. Strongly suggest everyone goes back to review that. The essence was that through his batted ball data we could see he was hitting the ball very hard, his results were improving, and if he continued on that path, he could possibly achieve all star levels. But he had a ways to go yet. Inconsistency with batted ball profile was highlighted. However Sean’s presentation of the data supported what has becoming evident from observation. Ketel Marte hits the ball really hard when he’s going right. Last night, we received some more evidence:

As I posted on Twitter and in the game thread, that homerun was not your typical homer. It was a line shot with a launch angle of just 22 degrees and an exit velocity of 111 MPH that went 455 feet ! This is where observation perfectly meets data. My jaw dropped watching that ball get out and smash against the back wall behind the bleachers in LCF. That was NOT a normal homerun. And below is the data to prove it. Thanks to Jim with the quick statcast search, we were able to find out there have only been 5 other HR this year in all of MLB that were hit that low and went that far.

Ok, it’s pretty well established that Marte has more than just a little “pop” in his bat. He has 50 extra base hits on the year. (25 Doubles, MLB leading 12 Triples, and 13 Homeruns)

I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that if Ketel can lower his GB% just a little bit more without sacrificing contact rates, he’s going to be an all star. So how close is he getting to that ? Perhaps closer than most people realize.

First take a look at some very basic batted ball and contact/plate discipline number splits

So you don’t need to be a stat maven to see whats happening here. He’s reduced his GB% tremendously, almost getting it down to league avg. He’s done that while at the same time hitting the ball harder. And his K rate has stayed virtually the same, but he’s actually improved his walk rate. Those are all some pretty drastic improvements that should make anyone sit up and take notice, and should result in drastic improvement in his overall “results” numbers’

Raise your hand if you are surprised to see that since June 1 Ketel Marte has a .862 OPS. Hey, you in the back...don’t be shy...lets see that hand. Sure, it’s a selective begin and end point I am using. But we are talking about the development of a young player, and the improvement in the results is directly correlated to the improvement in his swing and batted ball profile, all while maintaining excellent, well above average contact and BB/K ratio. This is pretty special stuff folks.

Just to put this in further context, compared to other 2b, SS, & 3b, i.e. non first base infielders, minimum 300 PA since June 1, he ranks 10th in OPS and 14th in wRC+ in all of MLB over this 4 month period. Just look at the names just above and below him. Had the script been flipped, and he started off the season with these first 4 months, HE would have been the all star, and Jean Segura with his .692 OPS during this time would be considered the overpaid and disappointing player in the infamous trade that Mike Hazen is much maligned over. (Again....if you had Mitch Haniger pegged to be an all star please raise your hand......anyone ...Buehler......anyone....)

DEFENSE and Baserunning:

On top of all the hitting data, it’s really important to note that Marte has played very good defense this year. In 956 Innings at 2b, His .992 flg % is second only behind DJ LeMahieu among qualified NL 2b, and his 5 defensive runs saved ranks 6th in the NL among 2b. He also chipped in 205 innings of league average SS play so far as well (0 rDRS).

He doesn’t steal much, (6 SB, 1 CS) and his 10 Outs On Base this year are a few too high. But his his Extra bases Taken % of 54 is above average, and overall his linear weights baserunning runs were +2. So base running is still an asset, but with his speed, it could be even more so with a few better decisions and perhaps a few more steals.

COMPS

These are mostly just for fun, and I’ve posted similar before, but click through HERE

That link will take you to comprehensive comparisons between Marte and Segura, Didi Gregorious, and Jimmy Rollins at same or similar age and/or playing time. (I used through age 25 for Didi to make the comp more meaningful as he got a later start due to where he came from).

Of course these comps don’t mean that Marte will reach the all star levels those three players have. But it’s still instructive. Be sure to look over not just the batting tables, but the value tables, and also the ratio stats to get a better sense of where these players are similar, and where they are different and what their relative strengths and weaknesses were through similar points in their careers.

CAVEATS

Now there are several important caveats, or “counter points” to note with regards to Marte, and I would be remiss not to mention them.

Caveat 1.) He still has a big split this year betting left and right and even since June 1:

As LHB .227/.306/.384 .690 OPS , 49% GB

As RHB .370/.444/.731, 1.174 OPS 44% GB

But I’m not overly worried about him correcting that. Some of it is flukey. He’s not THAT good batting right handed and in fact prior to 2018 was much better than that batting left handed. More likely than not there will be some regression to both sides.

2015-2017

As LHB .281./334/.371 .705 OPS

As RHB .235/.290/.342 .632 OPS

Caveat 2.) His “clutch” metrics are not good this year. Whether you are looking at

Batting w/ RISP

Batting w/ 2 out RISP

Late and Close

High leverage

It all points to a guy that struggled in the most important situations this year. And it was evident from watching. In the biggest moments he often seemed to have his most impatient at bats and worst swings and results. But context is important too. MOST hitters are worse w /2 Out RISP and Late and Close for example. And his own track record suggests he’s done better in most of these categories previously in his career. “Clutch” exists, it’s just not static. It changes over time as players are human. It’s also impossible to predict or project because the sample sizes are small. Most of the time guys that are anointed clutch Gods relative to their overall performance regress back towards their overall averages as their career progresses, and guys that may struggle in these situations early in their career and get labeled as chokers will improve those numbers if given the chance. When you look up after 5000 at bats, 80-90% of players are in tight range of their overall numbers.

BUT there is selection bias afoot there too, and we saw it down the stretch as Torey sat Marte more frequently for Descalso, despite the fact that Marte blew Descalso away from June 1 onwards. (DD hit just .224/.356/.393 since June 1)

Caveat 3.) There might be some lingering questions about Ketel’s maturity and focus on the things that matter. After signing his extension, he came to camp all full of bling, chains, wild shoes, etc. He also had somewhat of a “posse” following him around. At one point it was something one of the coaches had to speak with him about, and encourage him to settle down. Still, the profile of him on TV recently was more like an MTV Cribs episode as it was all about his “stuff”. So far, none of that seems to have impacted his work ethic or hustle or any of that. And clearly his improvement as a player has been dynamic. But sometimes when a player is too flashy and showy, it makes it harder for them when they hit the down times.

It may not be a real issue, but I thought it worth mentioning. Although I am not judgmental about younger people expressing themselves in any way that suits them and their personality, it’s important to recognize that this is something that could work against him in the baseball world. It’s most likely something that won’t really help him on the field. At the same time, he looks like a good dad, a good person from what I can see and hear from the outside looking in. I don’t know him personally. He appears to be a hard worker. He was serious in the off season with his workouts, and he has improved his game tremendously. And thats all that really matters when it comes to evaluating him as a player.

Will he be an all star next year or the year after ? He’s not quite there yet. This game is built on sustained success over a FULL season, and MULTIPLE seasons. (At both the individual and team level). But he’s knocking on the door, real real HARD.