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2019 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews: #1, Ketel Marte

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Arizona’s young shortstop turned himself into a superstar in centerfield.

Gatorade All-Star Workout Day Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Rating: 9.70

Age: 26

2019 Stats: .329/.389/.592, 32 HR, 92 RBI, 149 OPS+, 150 wRC+, 6.9 bWAR, 7.1 fWAR

2019 Salary: $2,400,000

2020 Salary: $4,400,000, Signed through 2024

Introduction

Ketel Marte. In the season immediately following the Paul Goldschmidt trade, Marte exploded into superstar status, with a season better than all but one season by Goldy (8.7 bWAR in 2015). This is not meant to be a comparison between the two players; rather, it is a proxy for just how good Marte was in 2019.

A lot of people in the baseball community seemed to be very surprised by this breakout. But I like to think that many of us here in Arizona have seen the growth of Marte over his three years in Arizona and weren’t so surprised. After all, we’ve been documenting Marte’s breakout for over two years now:

In August of 2018, I wrote “Ketel Marte is Having a Breakout, But He’s Not Fully There Yet”, in which Marte was currently sitting at a 100 wRC+ going into the second-half of the season, something not a lot of people were expecting from the supposedly-light-hitting shortstop. The focus on the article was about how Marte was demonstrating surprising raw power, again uncharacteristic of the player with a career .082 ISO when AZ acquired him. At the time, Marte’s power was almost exclusively from the right side of the plate and was a result of his intense work ethic and getting stronger as he got older. It was noted that Marte needed to do a lot of work from the left-side of the plate but I did make a brief comment: “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” and possibly the “next face of the franchise”.

At the end of 2018, Jack Sommers wrote “Ketel Marte’s breakout keeps moving forward”, which showed that Marte continued the same trends through the end of 2018. Lots of power from the right side but still had issues with left-handed power and inconsistency. Jack noted that Marte had a 0.862 OPS from June 1st through the end of the year, which again could have helped lead some credence to his breakout in 2019. Jack was a tad less optimistic than me, but he finished the article asking if Ketel Marte would be an all-star in 2019 or 2020. He was a bit skeptical, and rightfully so, but he did note “but he’s knocking on the door, real real HARD”. This is not a knock on Jack - I was in the same boat at the end of 2018. I was expecting 2019 to be a growth year.

Then 2019 happened.

2019 Season

Coming in to 2019, Marte was supposed to be a solid average everyday player. He had plus defense in the middle of the infield with an average, contact-oriented bat and made a move to CF to cover an organizational hole, hoping that his plus plus athleticism would play in center (spoiler alert: it did). ZiPS had Marte with a solid 2.4 fWAR and 97 wRC+. Marte actually started the year slow, with a 96 wRC+ through the end of April. However, Marte was sitting on a .233 ISO (much like his .229 ISO from June 1, 2018 through the end of 2018). But there was something different this time: Marte was showing more power from the left side than he had in the past. His ISO at the time, left-handed, was a respectable .173, after being .127 in 2018. Twice in the month of April, Marte homered from both sides of the plate in the same game:

443 feet from the left side. 423 feet from the right side. That’s not someone with light power.

It would only take Marte 9 more days to do it again:

His left-handed blast was a shot to nearly dead center and it cleared by several rows.

But he still wasn’t done. Marte would do this again on May 4th, achieving this rare feat three times in the span of only 30 days:

And once again... that left-handed shot was to dead center.

But while this is more of a “cool” accomplishment, the reality behind it was very important: Marte had developed power as a left-handed hitter. For the season, Marte would have a .297 ISO as a righty and a .251 ISO as a lefty. This is a massively important development for him, as he faces far more right-handed pitchers than lefties, at a tune of 453 PA vs 174 PA in 2019. He was still a better right-handed hitter, but he narrowed the gap between the two sides. Season-over-season, his average exit velocity would increase by 1.7 MPH from the left side and his barrel percentage would go from 5.0% to 9.3%. His .369 xwOBA as a lefty supported the idea that this was largely real.

But Ketel Marte made another offensive improvement: his BABIP in 2019 was an outstanding .342 after being .282 and .290 in the two prior years. That, in combination with a K% of only 13.7% and 32 homers are the major contributors to why Marte had a .329 batting average in 2019. But what changed?

I don’t know how to quantify this, but Marte looked different at the plate this season. He looked locked in - every pitch he felt like he could hit. He hit more line drives - up 2.5% from 2018 - but he also hit a lot more flyballs instead of groundballs, which generally doesn’t lead itself to increasing your BABIP. However, Marte was hitting these liners and flyballs much harder than he ever did, with his flyballs 1 MPH faster and his line drives 2 MPH faster on average than last year. The biggest change, however, was his average launch angle, which nearly doubled from 6° to 11°. Overall, Marte was making much more quality contact than he ever did.

So yeah, I’m sorry to just blast this article with stats. But it’s really remarkable how much Ketel Marte broke out last year. This does leave him open to some regression going into next year, but even then, he’s still projected to be a 4 WAR player per ZiPS, which is really really good for someone who is going into his age 26 season.

So let’s talk about some other things regarding Marte’s stellar 2019 season.

The obvious one is his defense: Marte moved to be primarily a CF this season due to a lack of other options within the organization. And it sure seems like he did a really good job despite very little experience at the position prior to 2019.

DRS and UZR were very high on Marte. He had 6 DRS and 5.6 UZR in 687.2 innings in CF, which were 9th and 7th in the MLB respectively, despite playing far fewer innings than everyone ahead of him. He only made one error in the outfield all season and seemed to be pretty good at using his speed to run down flyballs. Statcast was a bit less favorable, giving him 3 outs below average for the season. Per Statcast, he didn’t have any spectacular catches (no 5 or 4 star catches), but he was above average in 3 star, 2 star, and 1 star outs. All together, you have to be very pleased with Marte’s defensive performance, showing to be probably at least average in CF on a whim while also playing a significant amount of time at second base and some spot time at SS and even third base.

Ketel also had some other really exciting highlights. He had the third-longest homer in the MLB this season:

That’s just pure raw power.

He had this awesome inside-the-park homer off former Dback Patrick Corbin:

For Ketel, his biggest highlight might have been being selected for his first all-star game, a starter at second base nonetheless:

Marte would go 1-2 in the All Star Game, just barely missing a homer on a line-drive double off the wall in RF.

There is still so much more that Ketel Marte accomplished in 2019 that we could write several more articles. But the reality is that he was just awesome. He’s young and hyper athletic and now has top tier raw strength. His work ethic is off the charts. He has shown that he can be a devastating hitter from both sides of the plate. He is a plus baserunner and is capable of playing solid defense at SS, 2B, and now CF. What more can you really ask of Marte at this point?

It might only be the first season of his breakout, but if Ketel Marte is trying to be the new face of the franchise, well, he is off to a fantastic start.

2020 Outlook

Can you believe that Ketel Marte just did all of that as a 25-year-old? And that the Diamondbacks have him under contract for five more years?

At this point, the MLB is now Ketel Marte’s oyster. There are lots of directions Marte can go from here; the easy answer is to assume he’s going to come down to earth from last season. But considering just how athletic, how fast, how strong, and how talented Ketel Marte has proven to be, there is a massive amount of upside here, too. He’s absolutely capable of putting up another season like 2019.

With his rare combination of high contact while maintaining great power AND being a plus fielder up the middle of the field, Marte is the type of player that every fan and owner dreams they could build around. The team seems committed to putting a winning team out there and with the farm suddenly bursting at the seams with high upside prospects, there is a lot to be dreamy about. The Diamondbacks are going to have Ketel Marte through his prime and that is going to be really, really exciting to watch.