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Ketel Marte Just Woke Us Up

Sound the alarms! We’ve got a power surge from Arizona that won’t go out!

Oh, it’s nothing, just another one of those monstrous months from Paul Gold-- Wait, Goldy’s no longer in the desert. Then who is the source of this power surge? Ketel Marte?? Second on the team in home runs with 14 in 61 games??

Okay, time to get out of bed and make sure this is for real…

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The Background

Marte first came up to the big leagues with Mariners in 2015, with a minor league profile that showed great contact numbers and a lot of stolen base potential, but extremely little in terms of power. In his last full minor league season, 2014, he hit just four home runs across 128 games in Double-A and Triple-A.

In the big leagues with the Mariners in 2015 and 2016, he showed an ability to get on base decently well, hitting .283 across 57 games in 2015 and hitting .259 in 119 games in 2016. He stole a total of 19 bases in that stretch and only hit three home runs.

Prior to the 2017 season, he was traded to Arizona. He showed a hint of power growth in his first year with Arizona, hitting 11 home runs across 143 games in Triple-A and in the MLB in 2017. His Triple-A numbers were especially impressive in 2017, hitting .338 with a .905 OPS in 70 games. His batting average dipped to .260 in the majors.


The Surface Numbers in 2018 and 2019

Now let’s look at the most relevant surface stats we have from Marte, his last full season and his production so far this season.

The 2018 Ketel Marte:
153 games, .260 batting average, 14 home runs, 59 RBI, .768 OPS

Ketel Marte so far in 2019:
61 games, .271 batting average, 14 home runs, 43 RBI, .842 OPS

Needless to say, we’re seeing a very different hitter in Marte this year than we did last year. It took a third of the season for him to reach his home run total from last year. He’s currently on a 162-game pace of about 37 home runs and 114 RBI, which is just mindboggling given what we’d seen from him prior to this year.


Ranking Amongst Piers

Shortstop has become one of the most stacked positions in fantasy, yet Marte has been right near the top in terms of production, holding his own up against Trevor Story, Alex Bregman, Xander Bogaerts, Javier Baez and his teammate Eduardo Escobar. The order at the top varies greatly based on league settings, with Adalberto Mondesi skewing the picture with his 22 stolen bases in rotisserie and categories leagues. Still, in all league formats, Marte comfortably outranks a number of shortstops who went in the early round of drafts, such as Manny Machado, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa and Jean Segura.


The New Power-Friendly Approach

Marte’s peripheral numbers this year don’t suggest that this power display is a fluke. They show that Marte has greatly changed his approach at the plate to favor elevating the ball more.

Marte has doubled his barrel % from last year, raising it from 5% in 2018 to 10.8% so far this season. His launch angle has also nearly doubled, from 5.7 in 2018 to 10.6 in 2019.

Meanwhile, he’s lowered his groundball rate from 52% in 2018 to 43.1% in 2019 and lowered his weak contact rate from 3.6% in 2018 to 1.5% in 2019, continuing an impressive descent that began after an 8% weak contact rate during his first year in Arizona in 2017.

Marte’s strikeout rate has increased a bit from 13.6% in 2018 to 16.7% this year, while his walk rate has dipped from 9.3% in 2018 to 6.7% this year. These are drop-offs that would be concerning if the rest of the profile looked identical to 2018, but given the effort to promote more power, you can live with them.


Will It Continue?

Everything in Marte’s profile suggests that the power output in 2019 is legit. Don’t expect him to keep this exact pace going, which would have him flirting with 40 home runs, but 30 home runs with 100+ RBI is certainly in play. His 18.4% HR/FB rate this year is a big increase from last year’s 10.9%, but because of the shift in focus, it’s reasonable to expect at least a 2-3% increase. So that rate should drop off a bit as the year goes on, which would mostly just lower him to a 30 home run pace rather than the mid-to-high 30s.

Marte has an xBA this season of .283, so there may be some room for growth in his .271 batting average. Also, he’s shown a better walk rate in the past two months than he did in the opening weeks of the season as he went 15 games into the 2019 season without drawing a walk, so there’s probably some room for growth in his .323 on-base percentage as well.


Rest of Season Ranking

There’s really only a small handful of shortstops I’d take over Marte the rest of the season. Story, Bregman, Baez and Lindor are the four I would prefer to Marte without question. I’d also probably favor Bogaerts, but it’s close. Mondesi would have to get the edge in rotisserie or categories leagues, but I’d go with Marte for his power advantage in points.

I could go either way with Marte’s teammate Escobar, who may be primed for more power going forward, but I trust Marte’s plate discipline much more than Escobar.

Some of the shortstops I wouldn’t trade Marte for who clearly outranked him going into the year are Machado, Gleyber Torres, Corey Seager, Segura and Correa. We need to see more sustained success from Machado outside of Camden Yards and Correa needs to get healthy and return to form before moving back into the elite shortstop discussion. The other three don’t offer as much help across the board as Marte – Gleyber’s bad plate discipline holds him back and Seager and Segura’s low power ceiling limit their upside.

In dynasty terms, few players have helped their stock as much as the 25-year-old Marte this year. Don’t move him unless you’re getting another foundational piece in return.

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