Is Starling Marte Still Beating BABIP?

PITTSBURGH – Prior to the 2015 MLB season, both FanGraphs and Beyond The Box Score each took turns trying to figure out if Starling Marte’s high BABIP would be sustainable in 2015.

Marte, who signed a six-year deal worth $31 million prior to the 2014 season, led MLB with a .373 BABIP in 2014 – well above the league average of .299 – and has accumulated a .363 BABIP over the course of his three-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates (good enough for the 11th-highest BABIP in MLB history, among players with a minimum of 1000 PA).

As we’ve come to learn in this day and age, though, numbers like these aren’t sustainable.

Or are they…

Following the 2013 season, FanGraphs wrote a post titled, “Starling Marte Trying to Beat BABIP,” calling for regression in 2014. The author of that piece later felt compelled to issue a public apology when Marte raised his BABIP to from .363 in 2013 to .373 in 2014.

So how is Marte doing in 2015? Is he still ‘beating’ BABIP, or has regression to the mean ‘won’ yet again.

Let’s find out.

In the BTBS article, author Justin Schultz references Derek Carty of Baseball Prospectus and how Carty came to the conclusion that BABIP stabilizes after around 2.4 years (a year being 650 plate appearances). Schultz points out that Marte, who prior to the 2015 season had been MLB almost exactly 2.4 years, should have already seen his BABIP stabilize.

He finishes by saying, “Given what we’ve seen out of Marte, if nothing substantial changes, we could expect around a .350+ BABIP year in and year out from him.”

As it stands in 2015, Marte has a BABIP of .337, good enough to currently rank him No. 32 in MLB, and well above the league average of .296, and the Pirates’ team BABIP average of .310.

To understand why that number is what it is, let’s examine Marte’s 2015 batted ball profile and compare it to years past.

Source: FanGraphs

In 2014, Marte’s line drive rate was 23.5% which resulted in a BABIP of .691, the bell cow and main reason for his high BABIP. This year, his line drive rate is similar, sitting at 22.8%, resulting in a BABIP of .571, which while lower than .691 is still very good.

Looking further, his ground ball rate in 2014 was 47.3%, giving him a .291 BABIP. This year his 58.2% ground ball rate has resulted in a BABIP of .308, which is 17 points higher than last year.

Where Marte’s BABIP suffers is fly balls – the usual suspect in most cases, but especially for Marte.

In 2014, Marte’s BABIP was .222 on fly balls, at a rate of 29.2%.

This year, Marte’s BABIP on fly balls is a measly .087, at a rate of 19.0%.

Combine the .571 BABIP on line drives with the .308 BABIP on ground balls with the .087 BABIP on fly balls and we get an overall BABIP of .337.

While his BABIP is still well above league average (.296), Marte’s saving grace this year has been his added power.

Through 272 AB’s this year, he’s already hit 12 HR’s, compared to 13 in 545 AB’s 2014 and 12 in 566 AB’s 2013.

His HR/FB% is a career-high 34.3%, almost three times as high, compared to a 12.7 HR/FB% last year and 12.2HR/FB% in 2013. Currently, Marte is hitting a home run in every 20.8 plate appearances, compared to 38.1 PA’s in 2014 and 42.5 PA’s  in 2013.

Moreover, Marte is producing an RBI every 5.5 plate appearances, as opposed to an RBI every 8.8 PA’s in 2014 and 14.6 PA’s in 2013 (even though that has more to do with where Marte was placed in the batting order).

Starling Marte (1)
Courtesy of Baseball Savant

To further illustrate Marte’s 2015 power explosion, take note that on fly balls he’s slashing a ridiculous .412/.400/.1.529, but his BABIP is just .087.

With line drives his batting average is .585, with a BABIP of .571, while ground balls finds both his batting average and BABIP at exactly .308.

As it stands right now, it’s clear Marte has sacrificed a little bit of BABIP  for a lot of power. A trade that the Pirates’ fans – and front office – probably aren’t too concerned with.