Apr 3, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher John Baker (left) chases and tags Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) after dropped ball on a swinging third strike during the sixth inning at PNC Park. The Cubs won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates: Can Bucs Survive With Starling Marte Hitting Leadoff?


The problems were evident during the Pittsburgh Pirates’ five-game loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in last year’s NLDS when Starling Marte and Neil Walker had a horrific series at the top of the Pirates batting order, all but killing any chances the Bucs had of moving on.

While Pedro Alvarez had a big series, there were very few RBI situations for the middle of the Pirates order as Marte went a mere 1 for 19 and Walker followed by going an even-worse 0 for 19.

Apr 17, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (6) singles down the third base line against the Milwaukee Brewers during the seventh inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 11-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

To put it simply, you are going to have a hard time winning when the top of your batting order combines to go 1 for 38 in five games.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, the problems at the top of the order have not taken care of themselves as the Bucs’ offense has struggled in a major way to start the 2014 campaign.

While many were hoping that Marte would take the next step into being a more patient and competent hitter during his second full season in the big leagues, that hasn’t been the case and the Pirates are paying for it.

Marte hasn’t been more patient at the plate, something the Pirates needed from him as he is chasing balls out of the zone at an alarming rate. The result is that in only 25 games played, Marte leads the majors with a whopping 36 strikeouts.

You simply can’t have that coming from your leadoff hitter.

Marte is on pace for 236 strikeouts for the season, which would easily break the major league record of 223 set by Mark Reynolds in 2009.

Even if Marte comes off that pace somewhat, he likely could still join Reynolds, Adam DunnChris Carter and Drew Stubbs as the only players to strike out 200 times in a season.

The sad part is that this is coming from the team’s leadoff hitter.At the minimum, Marte is certainly on pace to crush the record of Bobby Bonds, who fanned 184 from the leadoff spot in 1970.

Currently Marte is hitting only .238 on the season and his .319 OBP is well below the .343 mark he posted a season ago.

That OBP number would be much worse if he didn’t get hit by so many pitches.

With the way Marte is going, he simply can’t remain in the leadoff spot and that is not likely the plan for him going forward in his career. However the Pirates don’t have many other options at the top of the order and the fact that he is 7 for 8 stealing bases this season is a sign that the team likely needs him at the top of the order.

However, he has to produce and he simply is not doing so at the moment.

Then there is the fact that the Pirates don’t have a capable No. 2 hitter at the moment either as the likes of Travis Snider, Jose Tabata and Josh Harrison have all taken turns and the results haven’t been good. The Pirates likely need Walker in the middle of the lineup right now, leaving a huge hole at the top of the lineup.

Russell Martin could be an intriguing option in the No. 2 hole, but with him on the 15-day disabled list at the moment, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is best served picking his two-hole hitter out of a hat right now.

If you want to know why the Pirates offense is so bad right now, look no further than Marte, who is absolutely killing the team.

Many point to the fact that the team needs to call up Gregory Polanco to play right field immediately. But at the end of the day, right field isn’t the Pirates biggest concern, it is the guy in left field.

And until he picks things up and stops chasing pitches out of the strike zone, this Pirates offense is going to continue to falter.

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Pittsburgh Pirates Starling Marte

  • KauaiCoffee

    Starling should never have been viewed as a leadoff hitter. But he should be fine overall. His walk rate is way up, and he is still playing great defense and stealing bases effectively. His strikeout rate is way up, but it was never nearly this high in the minors, and he should settle down to his normal 24% K rate (still high, but not ridiculous). Starling has never been a high OBP hitter, and he should never have been plugged in atop the lineup. He should be batting 6th or 7th. He is going to be a good player for many years, but he will never be great nor will he be a productive leadoff hitter.

    • Matt Gajtka

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Baseball always tries to force the fast guy into the top spot, even a decade after the proliferation of sabermetrics among front offices. OBP is king up there.