We often talk about how the "eye test" can stand up to the raw numbers; often what we see is a game is an exaggeration (in either a positive or negative way) of what the stats have to offer. I’ll confess that my baseball "eye" is not as finely honed as I’d like it to be, but anyone who watches enough baseball can usually pretty easily classify a player somewhere along a generic great to abysmal scale. I’d recently come to dread Ketel Marte’s at bats and before researching this piece was already anticipating some less than stellar numbers. Instead, what I found passed "less than stellar" back in June and is swiftly approaching "frighteningly bad". What began as a season full of promise for the Mariners’ young prospect has now turned into something of a nightmare, but is all hope really lost?[Warning: some data may be aggressively bad. If you are an optimist, or presently caught in a good mood, I suggest you avert your eyes now.]
In late July of last year Ketel Marte was called up (along with Jesus Montero!), primarily to cover for an ailing Robinson Cano, and Brendan had a great breakdown of what could be expected from him here. He danced through the smoking embers of the hurry-up-and-end-it 2015 season and was widely heralded as a hopeful bright spot at a time when the only other glow of light came from the impending offseason. His vibrant two months of 2015 all but guaranteed him the starting shortstop position going into spring training and thus far, when not on the DL, that is where he’s been. Unfortunately, there is little to be found in his recent numbers that indicates he should continue to stay there.
This season Marte has been worth -0.2 fWAR and is toting around a measly 70 wRC+. Prior to coming down with mono Marte was already struggling at the plate, with an abysmal 2.2% walk rate and a wRC+ of 68 for the month of June. Now, coming back from what feels like an uncharacteristically rushed rehab, he’s not doing any better. Since he was activated from the DL on August 9th he’s had a 28% K rate, an ISO of zero and a wRC+ 12 points less than zero. This is, of course, a decidedly small sample size, but falls in line with what has been a steady decline since his first stint on the DL for a sprained thumb back in June. In the second half he’s slashing .143/.226/.179 with a monstrous 25.8% K rate and a miniscule 15 wRC+. Once he does get on base Marte is still a guy with plus speed, but Fangraphs has his BsR at -0.2 and thus far he has gone 8 for 13 in stolen base attempts throughout the season. This front office has done an admirable job of eradicating major black holes in the lineup, but that only makes Marte stand out further as a glaring outlier.
If you’d like to claim small sample size on Marte’s recent struggles you may, but for a team with playoff dreams larger sample sizes aren’t something that can, or should, be afforded, particularly not when the small sample is pretty darn ugly. In Marte’s 40 in 40 Brendan wrote that "Eighty-five percent of 2015 Ketel Marte is one heck of a ballplayer, and even evaluators who are down on his skillset would have to concede that he’s not a finished product." The key here is the recognition that he was not a finished product at the start of 2016 and the thing is, five months through the season, he is still not a finished product. The Mariners are not getting eighty-five percent of Ketel Marte right now, they’re getting about forty-eight percent on a good day, and for a team looking to make a playoff push that’s just not enough. He could still be recovering from mono, or he could just need some more time back down in Triple-A, or maybe the hair dye chemicals have seeped into his brain. But the fact remains that keeping Ketel Marte in the starting lineup is not doing the Mariners any favors right now.
(And no, I have no solution to offer for an alternate starting shortstop other than to suggest the Ms ride Shawn O’Malley’s bizarre hot streak until his legs give out. If you have any brilliant ideas please share them in the comments, or send them on to Dipoto at Trader4Life@aol.com.)