Let me just lay this right out on the table from the start — I’m a huge proponent of Starling Marte. I’ve been following his path through the Pirates’ minor leagues since 2009 and over the course of my writing career here at TPOP and at two other stops, I’ve probably written the most articles related to a single player about Marte. I’m a fan.
But his 2016 season is built on a house of unsustainable metrics that may start to crash down.
On the surface, 2016 looks like Starling Marte’s best season — .312 AVG/.362 OBP/.461 SLG are all career highs for him. He already has 32 steals to which he should easily eclipse his career high of 41 steals by the end of the year. He’s already accrued 2.7 WAR by Fangraphs, which if it weren’t for some wacky defensive metrics he’d be even higher and on the path to topping his career high of 4.8 WAR in 2013. He just made his first All-Star game.
However, all of this work is supported by an unsustainably high BABIP (Batting Average Balls in Play) of .386. For a crash course in BABIP, here’s the formula with homers (HR), hits (H), at-bats (AB), strikeouts (K), sacrifice flies (SF). Essentially, it captures how a player does when the ball is put into the playing field, hence the name.
A typical player has a BABIP of .300 over the course of a season. BABIP is a very abused stat, though, because people just tend to look at a number and if it is above .300 they scream regression or if it is below they say a player will snap out of it. They wipe their hands, sit back, and wait for the statistical adjustment to happen.
The way I interpret BABIP is by looking at a player’s history, both in the minors and majors, and try to set a reasonable baseline for what that player should be sitting at over the course of a season. For me, BABIP is more a function of how hard a player hits a ball, rather than just how lucky he is or isn’t to evade a player’s glove. There are plenty of fast players with high BABIP’s due to infield hits and plenty of players with high BABIP’s that drive the ball into gaps. Marte is both of those things.
Marte has run up high BABIP’s all throughout his minor league career and carried that into his major league tenure, too. Here’s the rundown:
- 2012 — .333
- 2013 — .363
- 2014 — .373
- 2015 — .333
- 2016 — .386
His career BABIP is .358. If you regress Marte back to those levels, he’ll probably finish the year around .290/.340/.440. That’s still a great year, but not quite as shiny as what he’s posting now. And that also means that a “slump” may be on the way in order for those levels to drop. Let’s presume that of the 69 remaining games, Marte plays 64. And let’s give him 4.1 at-bats per game, which is his average per game right now.
That’s 262 at-bats remaining. If he were to “slump” to .290 from his current .312, he would have to hit .263 (69 for 262) over the course of the remainder of the season. Many observers would not understand why this is happening, but it would essentially be Marte ever-so-slightly returning to Earth after a trip into rarefied air via the BABIP rocket.