Sunday, July 3, 2016

Free Passes: Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco

There is an old Dominican baseball adage that says "You can't walk off the island." Dominican baseball players are known as free swingers who rarely walk. The Pirates Starling Marte is the personification of the adage.

Last night in Oakland Starling Marte walked twice, once intentionally. It was the first time Marte has walked twice in one game since August 9th of last year against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Marte was also hit by a pitch in the game against LA. The Pirates other corner outfielder Gregory Polanco, like Marte, is also from the DR. In fact, both were born in Santo Domingo, Distrito Nacional, Marte three years the senior. Polanco also walked twice in that August 9th game against LA. But, unlike Marte, Polanco wasn't hit by a pitch. Apparently nobody was telling Polanco old Dominican adages while he was growing up.

Let's take a look at what's happened since then:

Starling Marte     509     473     13     4     16
Gregory Polanco     542     486     43     6     0

The career numbers are even more striking:

Starling Marte     2231     2035     96    8    73  
Gregory Polanco     1284     1147    110    12      1 

In about a thousand fewer plate appearances Polanco has now passed Marte in walks. But, in terms of free passes, Marte still has the lead because he's a human cowhide magnet. This ratio will never not amuse me:

BB:HBP Marte 1.3:1. Polanco 110:1.

Both are having outstanding seasons. Polanco leads the Pirates (min 200 PA) with an OPS of .872. Marte is second at .860. Marte has the slightly better OBP, .374/.370, while Polanco has the slightly higher SLG, .502/.486. Both are striking out at just over a 20% clip. But at 24, it's Polanco's plate discipline and increased walk rate that has contributed to his breakout 2016 season. His walk rate has increased from 8.8% to 11.5%.

In contrast Marte is swinging more than ever, sporting a career low walk rate of 3.6%. While Marte has shown that he has developed an HBP "skill," averaging 20/yr over the last three seasons and right on that pace with 10 at the midpoint of this season, one can only imagine the player he could be if he, at the mature age of 27, was as disciplined as his fellow Dominican.

With Andrew McCutchen struggling it's these two who have been focal point of the Pirates offense. It doesn't feel like either has reached his ceiling. It will be entertaining to watch how they progress in the second half.

*Image Courtesy of Charles LeClaire, USA Today

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