Thursday, March 25, 2010

Room for Improvement: Andy Marte

This choice looked a lot more inspired in November when I was planning the series, but ... heck, I'll stick with it. We're coming down the home stretch of players I can legitimately claim have reasonable shots at double-digit VORP improvement, so we're talking about the tail of the curve anyway.

The other wrinkle here, of course, is that Andy Marte would get nearly 4 points of VORP improvement by moving to Australia or playing in Columbus. Andy Marte was really not very good last season, posting a sub-.300 OBP and generating a discouraging -3.9 VORP as a corner utility guy. Andy Marte may not have as much upside as he was once perceived to have, but conversely, Andy Marte is now ALL upside because it is hard to generate less value and still get 130+ PA unless you are Chris Gimenez, which, thankfully, he is not.

Now, the Indians brought in a number of futility infielders to Spring Training, including Mark Grudzielanek, Brian Bixler, and Anderson Hernandez, so it may be that Marte won't even break camp with the big leaguers. On the other hand, none of these men is particularly good at playing third base (Marte's natural position), and playing any of them at first base would be flat-out unfortunate. Marte's chances improve with Russ Windmill on the DL, because Marte would be the primary backup at first.

For now, let's say Marte gets a few shots here and there: he takes some reps at third, he gives Russ a day off against a lefty while LaPorta rests or plays left, he gets a couple shots at DH when Travis is tired, he gets some PAs when someone tweaks a hammy. Baseball Prospectus is projecting him for some 174 PAs, which sounds about right to me: either he'll be hot and get a few more or he'll be lousy and get a lot fewer, but unless LaPorta AND Peralta AND Branyan AND Hafner all have serious problems, there's kind of a hard ceiling on Marte's chances at 250 PA.

Last season, Marte "hit" .232/.293/.400, which is plainly bad. On the other hand, he is one of the better sources of raw right-handed power on the roster, or at least was last season when LaPorta was considered ... I dunno, to have scurvy or something, I can't tell you why LaPorta didn't play more last season ... and Peralta was virtually powerless. He's always had some pop, which was why he was considered to be a prospect in the first place. He posted nearly a .200 ISO in his first season (2006), and last season's .168 is perfectly sustainable.

This power is kind of a double-edged sword, though, even though the good side is rather blunt: Marte has a severe upward plane on his swing, generating two balls in the air for every one he puts on the ground. According to some very interesting research done by Matt Swartz at BP (subscription pieces), this severely hampers one's BABIP, meaning that Marte almost has to hit the ball to/over the wall to generate a decent AVG.

Look, Marte's weaknesses are legend and well-known at this point: he can hit fastballs middle-in quite well ... doesn't hit the outside fastball very well because he has a pull-leveraged swing ... could not hit a good breaking ball given a boat oar, advanced notice, and permission to step on the plate. This is not the recipe for a real, long-term, very successful hitter. He is a destitute man's Richie Sexson without the height or trendy facial hair.

But really, now, how much are we asking of Marte? We want a guy who can balance the lefties in the lineup, either in replacing Peralta on a day off or Windmill against a lefty. We want a guy who will play acceptible defense at the corners, which by all reports Marte can do. (He was once known as a superior defender, but I have not seen evidence of superiority. He's no Corey Smiff, but he's not Pedro Feliz, either.) We won't give him a lot of at-bats, but when he gets them, it would be nice to have either OBP or SLG. (With the 25th guy on the roster, you can't really have both. If he had both, he'd be at least a quasi-regular. The last guy on the roster is flawed, even on the Big Boys like the Red Sox or Yankees.) He can do these things.

BP calls for a lovely .258/.314/.429 line that would generate 4.6 VORP. I'm a little more optimistic, especially in the power department: Marte is slugging .567 in the spring, albeit against UPS drivers and Washington Nationals, but hey. Guys "like" Marte last year like Ed Encarnacion, Jerry Hairston, and Mat Gamel were putting up VORPs in the 4 range at third base. I'm not sure why I thought this at the time, but I think Marte can get some new coaching, some bit of confidence, some near-peak aging, and a partridge in a pear tree and lift himself to the 10 VORP barrier, which is really just a handful over these estimates. I sold Masterson a little short, perhaps, so I'll go a little long here and say it is plausible to expect at 14-point improvement in VORP from Andy Marte this season.


  1. I had a nice second-row seat last week in Goodyear to see Marte get all bent out of shape at Jason Donald (or Carlos Rivera, I forget which), for fielding a grounder to short that he was trying to get by cutting Donald (or Rivera) off. It was a ball that clearly was shortstops.
    Marte spent the rest of the inning glaring at Donald (or Rivera).

    He needs to go.

  2. Andy Marte is still alive? Huh.