The Diamondbacks found themselves thin in the middle infield a few weeks back. So thin, in fact, that they turned to Adam Rosales to save the day. If that’s not a sign of trouble, I don’t know what is. True, Rosales can hit some left-handed pitching, something that’s given the club trouble this season. But it’s not Rosales holding down the everyday job — that privilege has gone to Ketel Marte with both Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings on the 60-day DL. Since taking the reigns Marte has caught fire. Considering he won’t turn 24 until mid-October, there was reason to think Marte still had improving to do since falling on hard times in Seattle last season. To date, he’s made improvements that are helping keep the D-backs afloat in the absence of their starting middle infielders.
Since getting the call, Marte has produced more power than ever before. In 176 games with the Mariners, he hit just three home runs. He has four already this season in just 35 games of work. One was an inside-the-park affair, but the others haven’t been wall-scrapers. Two were down the line and just fair, but this one, well, there was never a doubt.
And just because it’s fun, take a look at his inside-the-parker…
The power output is great, but that’s not why the D-backs asked for Marte in the deal that sent Jean Segura to Seattle. Let’s call it icing on the cake. He is hitting more fly balls in his short major league stint, and while it’s yet to be seen if that’s an approach that’ll stick around, the fly ball revolution is here to stay in baseball.
Of course, he’s not a guy you want hitting the ball in the air all the time, and while his fly ball rate has increased, it’s still well short of league average. Marte’s always posted strong BABIPs thanks largely to his foot speed. He’ll steal some infield hits considering how well he runs. That’s true again this year as he’s posting a BABIP of .324 which fits nicely with his career BABIP of .322. Nothing seems out of line here. He has pulled the ball a bit more this season, but not at a staggering level when considering we’re working with a sample of just 35 games.
Instead, the big changes seems to be in his plate discipline. Marte’s 18.8% strikeout rate is a tick above his career average (17.9%), but his walk rate has rebounded. In his breakout rookie season, he walked nearly ten percent of the time. Last year, that number dipped below four percent, but this season, it’s back up to a career-high 10.7%. With his speed, getting Marte on base is a good strategy. His OBP catered last year to .287 but is up to .366 in 2017 with his added walks. Along with the power surge, that’s propelled his value as he’s been worth 1.5-wins more already this year than he totaled in 119 games last season.
To walk, a hitter has to get into a three-ball count. In those counts, Marte is acting differently. While his overall plate discipline numbers (swing rate, contact rate, etc.) haven’t changed much, his approach with three balls has.
Against virtually all pitch types, Marte has done a better job of laying off pitches out of the zone with three balls. He’s only seen two sliders in three-ball counts this season and swung at both, but otherwise he’s been much more discerning. We’re looking at small sample for 2017 — just 31 plate appearances — but you can’t argue with the change. It’s hard to imagine that this has happened by accident. Instead, it looks like a purposeful change in approach for Marte when he finds himself in a three-ball count. For clarity, he’s not necessarily working himself into more three-ball counts in 2017, he’s just doing a better job of being patient in them.
The power is going to get the headlines, but it’s anyone guess how long it lasts. It doesn’t seem practical to think that in a full season Marte will be hitting 20 home runs. The ability to get on base more frequently, however, looks real and it’s as simple as Ketel making an adjustment when he finds himself in the batter’s box with three-balls. That’s something that can be replicated time and again. Getting on base is good, especially with the guys like Paul Goldschmidt, J.D. Martinez and Jake Lamb hitting the heart of the order. Even if the power fades, maintaining a good OBP will continue to work in Ketel Marte’s favor and make him a young, controllable, valuable asset going forward.
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