Starling Marte was the Pittsburgh Pirates’ best player in 2016 leading the team in fWAR at 4.0.  What can we expect from the team’s new center fielder in 2017?

Pittsburgh Pirates Left Fielder Centerfielder Starling Marte had a productive 2016 posting career highs in all three slash line categories (.311/.362/.456) as well as doubles (34) and stolen bases (47).  He also won his second straight gold glove in left field and made his first All-Star appearance.

For the past few years around this time, many Pirates fans can be overheard saying “What if Marte continues to make strides?” Well, Marte took his biggest stride of all in 2016. What can he do for an encore?

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Power outage?

The Pittsburgh Pirates are a team that lacks a true power threat, and that’s okay. Power in today’s MLB has gone through a remarkable commoditization, with more clubs featuring more hitters with home run totals in the high teens to low 20s than ever before.  With that being said, the Pirates would like to see more consistent power from Marte.

He only hit nine home runs last year compared to 19 the previous season.  For someone with the ability to hit the baseball a long way like Marte can, one would expect a few more round trippers.

Looking at the peripherals, Marte had better power numbers in 2016 compared to 2015.  Last season, he had a hard hit rate of 34.7 percent compared to 29.1 the year before.  Marte even hit more fly balls in 2016 (28.4 percent) than in 2015 (22.7).  Marte was unlucky last season in that his home run to fly ball ratio was just 8.4 percent, a career low.  In 2015, that number was 18.6, a career high.  For his career, Marte holds a 13.3 percent HR/FB ratio.

One reason for the low HR/FB ratio last year could have been Marte’s approach at the plate.  Last year, Marte pulled the ball just 37.6 percent of the time compared to 44 percent in 2015.  His career pull rate is 41.5 percent.  Five of Marte’s nine home runs were pulled to left field in 2016 while 15 of 20 home runs were pulled out to left field in 2015.  This shows that Marte can pull the ball for power but does not necessarily have great home run power to all fields.

He’s Ready

Which approach should be taken in 2017?

Should Marte pull the ball more in 2017 to increase his home run total or stick with the 2016 approach which helped him hit over .300 for the first time in his career?

Stick with the 2016 approach.

I dig the long ball as much as the next person, but this is a no brainer to me.  When Marte focuses on hitting the ball to all fields, he is more of a threat at the plate.  He hits the ball harder.  He has better plate discipline.  With the spacious left field at PNC Park, it is difficult to pull the ball for a home run with consistency anyways.

The Pittsburgh Pirates will have a pretty deep lineup in 2017.  If Marte ends up batting second in the order as I expect, his ability to get on base and steal bases will spark the offense.  The likes of Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Josh Bell and Jung Ho Kang will be run producers.  Marte will be the one scoring a lot of those runs.

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Even if he ends up batting fourth like he did for most of last year, his ability to spray the ball around the outfield will allow him to drive in runs.

Prediction for the season

Defensively, many fully expect Marte to make a seamless transition to center field for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Those same observers wouldn’t be surprised at all if he won a gold glove as soon as this season.  Having him patrol center field will make the outfield better as a whole and will take a lot stress off of Polanco and McCutchen.

Offensively, it would be nice to see a similar slash line as we saw last year from Marte with a slight uptick in home runs.  I expect Marte to hit somewhere around .300/.350/.460 with about 15 home runs.  40-50 stolen bases would also be a realistic expectation.  All in all, Marte should be a four to five win player in 2017.

If that is the case, Marte will be one of the best center fielders in baseball.  At the age of 28, Marte is a veteran and leader of the clubhouse.  Having him produce at the level in which he is capable of will be huge for the Pittsburgh Pirates this upcoming season.

Featured Image Credit – Daniel Decker Photography

Nathan Hursh

Nathan is a graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in journalism. He has been a lifelong Pirates fans and loves watching baseball. Along with baseball, Nathan also has a passion for watching football and basketball. When he is not sitting on his couch indulging in sports, Nathan likes to be active outside. Along with Twitter, he can also be found on Instagram at nathan_hursh.