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Ketel Marte’s Power Breakout, Part 2

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Marte has decided to be a complete power hitter now.

Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

You might have noticed something has changed with Ketel Marte this season. Last season, this author wrote about how Ketel Marte was going through a power breakout, but he was still having some growing pains: namely, hitting too many ground balls and still lacking power from the left side, where he bats the majority of the time. This power breakout was a big deal - it was so substantial, that it led some people (this author including) to consider when Marte might try being a full-time right-handed hitter.

Apparently, Ketel Marte likes to prove people wrong. Because Marte has decided to turn into a power hitter from both sides of the plate. And he has done this in one of the most convincing ways possible.

Ketel Marte is the only hitter so far this season to homer from both sides of the plate in a single game. But not only that, he’s done it a whopping three times in a little over one month. For the entirety of baseball, this happened only six times in 2018 and twice in 2017 and now Ketel Marte has achieved this three times in a month and a week. Just let that sink into your head for a moment.

To illustrate just how Marte has turned into an equal opportunist, let’s look at his two home runs from his May 5th game against the Rockies:

Just to abundantly make his point clear, both of those homers were absolutely BOMBS. This isn’t fringe infielder power just scraping the wall in short left or right; these are massive dingers hit to dead center. And to just be more hilarious, both homers were hit 442 feet per Statcast.

What has happened? Marte has developed raw, left-handed power and it’s playing into games:

So far, in 2019, Ketel Marte’s average exit velocity on line drives and flyballs has pretty much evened out between his handedness; in other words, Marte has been hitting for roughly equal power from both sides of the plate. This isn’t a guarantee that it can continue. However, this is extremely promising that he was able to develop his lefty power to match his righty power. This has the potential to make him considerably better than just projecting from last season, as he bats left-handed roughly two-thirds of the time.

It’s not just raw exit velocity that Marte is riding, however; he’s also improved his batted ball contact from both sides of the plate:

Marte’s rate of barreling up pitches has gone up considerably the past two years (remember how Marte had a .082 career ISO when the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired him from Seattle?).

The main reason for this? Marte has drastically increased his average launch angle. After averaging between 6 and 7° in 2017 and 2018, Marte is sitting with an average launch over 9°. The result of this is a drastically increased rate of flyballs:

These are massively important developments for Ketel Marte. As was noted in last year’s article, Ketel Marte’s offensive output is strongly dependent on his ability to get the ball into the air. By hitting more flyballs and tapping into that raw power, Marte is turning into a better hitter.

That being said, it hasn’t been all roses for Ketel during this time. His plate discipline has gotten worse since last season - both having more strikeouts and less walks:

This does hurt his overall line, but these are also parts of the growing pains of being a young player with this much talent. The main cause for the plate discipline trend is that Marte is swinging more often. And this is a two-fold problem: Marte is being thrown strikes at a career-low rate (which means pitchers are respecting his ability to hit) and Marte is chasing pitches at considerably higher rate than last year (per Statcast: 23.6% chase rate in 2018, 31.0% in 2019). Not only do these habits lead to more strikeouts and less walks, they also lead to more poorly-hit balls.

Overall, though, this isn’t the end of the world. Marte is currently sitting on a career-high 120 wRC+ and a .342 xwOBA, which is considerably higher than his .324 xwOBA from last season’s “breakout”. Statcast is essentially saying the batted ball improvements outweigh the plate discipline drop, which makes sense seeing as Marte’s plate discipline still isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination.

It’s really magical to watch Ketel Marte develop before our eyes. We’ve seen him improve consistently - and at a great clip - every year since we acquired him. During these 2+ years, Marte has gone from below average power, to average power, to having well above-average raw power from both sides of the plate. That is a tremendous development and he’s still only 25 years old.

But as a young player, there are still two things to work on:

  • Maintaining consistency from both sides of the plate in terms of hitting flyballs
  • Improving pitch selectivity at the plate

These are really the only two things missing from Marte’s game at this point. If anything, it’s almost amazing that Marte has continued to improve as a hitter while also learning a new position on the field. Speaking of, Marte’s performance in CF so far has been pretty good:

  • UZR: 2.1 (7th-best among CF)
  • Statcast’s Outs Above Average: 1 (tied for 20th among ALL outfielders)

Ketel Marte hasn’t been elite out there, but he hasn’t been bad out there, either. Really quite impressive.

To end, let’s look at another BOMB from Ketel Marte: