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In Praise of Ketel Marte

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Did anyone see a seven-win season coming?

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Mets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With the departure of Paul Goldschmidt over the winter, a void opened in the heart of the Diamondbacks line-up. This was a man who had given the D-backs four top-six finishes in MVP voting over the previous half-dozen years, anchoring the offense. He gave fans a reason to watch Arizona’s games, even when the standings didn’t. But Ketel Marte didn’t just provide an acceptable substitute, the “is Pepsi alright?” to Goldy’s Coke. He gave the Diamondbacks a season which stands beside the very best of Goldschmidt. Even though it ended prematurely, Marte missing the last ten games, he still has a shot at leading the league in hits,

I’m sure we’ll have a full review of Ketel’s campaign in due course - probably around the time MVP voting this year is announced. But for now, I just wanted to look at some of the numbers he has posted this year, and where they stand in Diamondbacks franchise history (among qualified batters, where appropriate).

Offense

  • Batting average: .329, 2nd. The highest batting average by an Arizona hitter in twenty years, surpassed only by Luis Gonzalez’s .336 in his 1999 campaign.
  • Hits: 187. It’s more than Goldschmidt ever managed, and is a shame Ketel won’t have a chance to become the third D-back to reach the 200-hit mark [can you name the previous two?] He could still finish as the NL hits leader, like both of those others did. Ozzie Albies of Atlanta is his nearest rival, who is five back with eight to play. Nolan Arenado sits on 179, also with eight to play, but most of those are away from Coors Field. [the other two were, unsurprisingly, Gonzo in 1999 and... Jean Segura in 2016. I’d quite forgotten that!]
  • OPS: .981, 3rd. He falls just short of becoming the third Diamondbacks to post an OPS of a thousand over a full season. Gonzalez’s 2001 was, unsurprisingly, the first and still holds the all-time record with an OPS of 1.117. That’s over a hundred points better than the next-highest, Goldschmidt’s 2015 campaign at 1.005.
  • Total bases: 337, =2nd. Level with Gonzo’s 1999 campaign, despite 65 fewer trips to the plate. Although a LONG way (82 bases!) behind the all-time leader, which of course is Luis’s 2001 season.
  • OPS+: 149, 4th. Of course, we all know that offense has spiked up this year. The NL average of 4.79 runs per game is the third-highest since 1930, behind 1999+2000 - both of which deserve an asterisk. But even adjusting for that, Marte’s OPS+ is still among the best ever in Arizona. Two Goldschmidt seasons (2013 and 2015, 160 and 168) and, inevitably, Gonzalez in 2001 (174) are the only ones ahead of Marte.

Defense

The above is particularly impressive, given that Marte did all that, while simultaneously learning to play a new position, center-field. And he did so with impressive ability. By BIS’s Defensive Runs Saved Above Average metric, Marte was the fourth-best center-fielder in the National League, He rated a +6, and had significantly less playing time there than the three men above him (148-442 innings less). Fangraphs’s Def statistic largely concurs, putting Ketel equal third at +6.9. He probably won’t win the Gold Glove, but even being nominated, in his first season as an outfielder, would be a startling accomplishment. It’ll be interesting to see what he does in 2020, with a year’s experience under his belt.

WAR

If we combine fWAR and bWAR to get an overall figure, Marte’s 2019 was tied for the third-best season by any position player in Diamondbacks’ franchise history, being worth seven wins. That trails Gonzo’s 2001 (8.4) and Goldschmidt’s 2015 (7.95), and is level with A.J. Pollock’s only full season as a healthy Diamondback, also in 2015. Below is a table with the top ten seasons by that blended metric.

Best position player seasons in D-backs history

Rk Player WAR Year PA R H HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
Rk Player WAR Year PA R H HR RBI BB BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Luis Gonzalez 8.40 2001 728 128 198 57 142 100 .325 .429 .688 1.117
2 Paul Goldschmidt 7.95 2015 695 103 182 33 110 118 .321 .435 .570 1.005
3 A.J. Pollock 7.00 2015 673 111 192 20 76 53 .315 .367 .498 .865
Ketel Marte 7.00 2019 628 97 187 32 92 53 .329 .389 .592 .981
5 Paul Goldschmidt 6.55 2013 710 103 182 36 125 99 .302 .401 .551 .952
6 Luis Gonzalez 6.50 1999 693 112 206 26 111 66 .336 .403 .549 .952
7 Justin Upton 5.90 2011 674 105 171 31 88 59 .289 .369 .529 .898
8 Paul Goldschmidt 5.60 2017 665 117 166 36 120 94 .297 .404 .563 .966
9 Paul Goldschmidt 5.30 2018 690 95 172 33 83 90 .290 .389 .533 .922
10 Jean Segura 5.25 2016 694 102 203 20 64 39 .319 .368 .499 .867

The injury has no doubt ended Marte’s (outside) chance at winning MVP honors. But he seems a lock to get votes. Indeed, there’s a good argument he should be mentioned somewhere on every single ballot, and a top-five finish seems not implausible. Not bad for a player who is costing $2.4 million this season. He’s potentially under contract for the next five years, at a very favorable rate (no more than $10 million for the final team option year in 2024), and health permitting, promises to be a joy to watch over that time, if this season is any indicator. Here’s to a fabulous campaign, Ketel, and many more to come.