Starling Marte Carries Real Regression Risk
One of the more coveted free agent outfielders at the moment is Starling Marte. He really stands out among a very thin crowd due to his speed, his ability to play center, and his not having a qualifying offer attached.
Marte is coming off a season where he had a 4.7 WAR while hitting .310/.383/.458 with 27 doubles, three triples, 12 homers, and 55 RBI. He led the majors in stolen bases while being successful in 47 of his 52 stolen base attempts. Marte had a career high 133 wRC+, and he had a 3 OAA in center.
Part of the career high 133 wRC+ were some big positives. Marte had a career best 8.3 BB%. The 39.6 hard hit percentage was also the best of his career. The 8.4 barrel percentage was also the very best of his career. Really, across the board, this was the best year of his career at the plate.
When you combine the bat with the base running and defense, it was an All-Star caliber season. In fact, by WAR, it was the fourth best year of his career. This should be the exact type of player you want to invest in during free agency. If you get him, your team should be thrilled.
There are some real red flags for Marte. First and foremost, with his turning 33 after the 2021 season was over, Marte is firmly, at least by age, on the outside of the prime seasons of his career. This may or may not be fair to Marte, but we have seen it several times.
For every Carlos Beltran with the Cardinals and Yankees or Curtis Granderson with the Mets, you get a lot of busts. The history of free agency is replete with them. When you sign players that age, it’s difficult to ascertain which way the rest of their career is going to go. That would be an argument to try to get Marte to a short-term deal, but with the amount of suitors, that may not be possible.
There are other issues beyond age. While there were some real standout numbers driving the career best 133 wRC+, there were some problematic numbers. While Marte has always had a higher BABIP, he had a .369 BABIP, a number which is going to drop precipitously. Even with the hard hit rate and barrels, Marte’s .148 ISO was the third worst of his career, and it was the second straight year his ISO dropped. It should also be noted his average exit velocity was one of the worst in the majors.
More alarming with Marte is his speed. Like with the ISO, he’s had a two year drop in sprint speed. With the drop in speed comes some problems because much of his value is wrapped up in his speed. His speed is behind his terrific base running. It is why his BABIPs have been traditionally high. It is a driving force of his defense.
Overall, Marte is a very good player. We don’t know how long he will be very good. We don’t know what his regression will look like. Perhaps, it will be gradual. Maybe, he will fall off a cliff. Standing here right now, it is very difficult to know how 2022 and the ensuing years will go for Marte.
In the end, if your team signs Marte, you should be very happy. Marte is a very good player and a real difference maker. That said, there are some real areas of concern, and no one should be surprised if he can’t replicate his 2021 season. No one should be surprised if he can’t replicate even an average Marte season.