As quietly and unassumingly as possible the Arizona Diamondbacks have managed to not be terrible this year. I know that sounds like I’m damning them with faint praise, but it truly is a feat that they have managed to stay an average team. They find themselves only two games under .500, and just 2.5 games back of a National League Wild Card spot. When the Diamondbacks traded away Paul Goldschmidt they weren’t supposed to stay contenders, that’s not how it usually works when you trade away your franchise player and perennial MVP candidate.
The D-backs have relied on pretty much their entire roster to stay in the Wild Card hunt this year. They’ve dealt with injuries and underperformance and managed to remain in said hunt. One of the main reasons for their success is someone who is as quiet and unassuming as the team has managed to be on the whole. Ketel Marte isn’t a household name, but he’s proving this year that he is worthy of just a wee bit of name recognition.
Marte has always had talent, but whether it was with the Seattle Mariners organization or the Diamondbacks he’s never quite been able to harness his talent. Until 2019 that is, when he has become the heart and soul of a Diamondbacks team that desperately needed an everyday player to step into the vacuum left by Goldschmidt. As is becoming a Major League Baseball tradition Marte is doing it by being Mr. Everyman and playing multiple positions on the diamond. The Dominican Republic product sees action at second base, shortstop, and centerfield while consistently remaining the top producer on the club.
At the dish, Marte finds himself with a slash line of .279/.333/.523, good for a well above average DRC+ of 119. His previous career high DRC+ came in 2018 when he topped out at 102. An 18 point jump is significant and it’s most likely because of Marte’s increased power. In 2018 Marte had 14 home runs in 580 plate appearances, while in 2019 he has 12 home runs in just 243 plate appearances. I know, I know, the ball is juiced again, but I’m here to tell you, that doesn’t really matter when it comes to Marte.
If we dig a little deeper into the sometimes shortstop’s numbers an Exit Velocity of 91.1mph jumps off the page. Prior to 2019 Marte’s career-best EV was 88.5 in 2018. Still, simply hitting the ball with more oomph could be the product of the juiced ball. His Launch Angle of 10.1 is 3.7 degrees better than his career average. He’s getting far more loft when he’s making contact, but again, this could be because of a juiced ball, right? A Barrel% of 12.0 and a Hard Hit% of 40.8 are career highs, by very large amounts. No, it isn’t a juiced ball that is responsible for Marte’s success this year. Simply put, he’s squaring up the ball more, hitting it harder than ever before, and getting far more launch into his batted balls than he has ever produced at any other point in his career.
When he started playing in centerfield there were thoughts that Marte was being spread too thin. Here we are after 36 games in center and Marte has a DRS of 3 at the position. He’s not always pretty out there, but he does get the job done and has been able to use his natural middle infield athleticism to translate to being a net gain for the D-backs in the outfield. He’s still slightly above average at either second or short, and his overall positional flexibility is something the Diamondbacks couldn’t live without.
The former Reno Aces standout has improved himself from a decent player to the best all-around player on the Diamondbacks. Marte is going to keep being great, and he’s going to keep doing so on an Arizona team that everyone has already written off. Chances are Marte won’t often find recognition for the improvements he has made or the great player he has become. Marte will just have to keep mashing the ball, until people either realize how good he is or the rest of his team catches up and the Diamondbacks become relevant again. My money is on Pike making the rest of the baseball world stand up and take notice of him, sooner rather than later.
Lead photo courtesy of Christian Petersen – Getty Images