A Watched Ketel Never Barrels

Josh Kurzer covers all of Friday's most interesting hitters.

After a breakout 2019 season, expectations were high for Ketel Marte in 2020. Many fantasy pundits looked at last year’s production and anticipated regression coming for the Arizona second baseman. So far this season Marte has become one of the best contact hitters in the league, but the power numbers from 2019 are nowhere to be found. Last season Marte cranked 32 long balls, and through 37 games this season he has just two. If this was a full season, Marte would finish with about eight home runs at this pace — just about 25% of last year’s total. The juiced ball theory may contribute to Marte’s power outage, but might not tell the whole story.

Most of Marte’s underlying numbers are similar to last season’s, but there are major differences in two key categories. Marte is not pulling the ball nearly as much as he did last season. It is much easier for batters to hit home runs to the pull side because they can throw their weight all the way through the baseball to generate an immense amount of power. In 2019 Marte had a pull rate of 40.2%, a career-high. This season that number is down to 33.8%, his lowest since 2017. The second category in which Marte has fallen off this season is barrel rate. Marte earned a career-high barrel rate of 9.3% last season. His barrel rate this season is 4.5%, less than half of last year’s. A barrel is the best possible kind of contact you can make, defined by MLB.com as “a well-struck ball where the combination of exit velocity and launch angle generally leads to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage.”

Marte simply hasn’t squared the ball up the same way this season. Last night was different, though. He homered in the first inning, as he caught a pitch with the barrel when he pulled a belt-high fastball on the inside corner into the left field seats. Then he picked up two hard-hit doubles later in the game and an infield single to finish off a four-hit night.

Ronald Acuña Jr. (OF, Atlanta Braves) — 2-3, 2 HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, BB. The Nationals picked up a win over the Braves by a score of 10-9 in seven innings last night, despite a late Atlanta comeback attempt. This was in no part thanks to Acuña, however, who made life miserable for Washington pitchers all night. Atlanta’s star center fielder went deep twice, reminding everybody of just how dangerous he is.

Freddie Freeman (1B, Atlanta Braves) — 2-3, 2B, HR, 2 R, 4 RBI, BB. Atlanta’s bats were scorching hot last night, and Freeman was no exception. The star first basemen drove in four runs and grabbed two extra base hits, one of which got out of the ballpark. There is still a long way to go but Freeman is batting .323 and if he continues to hit at this pace he will have a new career-high single-season batting average. (His current career-high is .319, set in 2013.)

Wilson Contreras (C, Chicago Cubs) — 3-4, HR, R, 4 RBI. With just over 20 games to play, the Chicago Cubs lead the NL Central by 4.5 games. Chicago possesses one of the most dangerous lineups in baseball and it can beat you at every spot in the lineup, but all it took last night was one batter. Contreras was the sole run producer for Chicago last night, driving in all four of the Cubs runs in a 4-1 win over St. Louis.

Mookie Betts (OF, Los Angeles Dodgers) — 3-5, HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. As a Yankees fan there are few things that give me more joy in the world than seeing upset Red Sox fans. Mookie Betts has made a lot of Red Sox fans upset with his performance with the Dodgers this season, so by the transitive property, there are few things that give me more joy in the world than Mookie Betts. Last night was more of the same for the part-time bowler, who picked up three hits, including his 13th home run of the year.

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, San Diego Padres) — 2-5, 2B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. What more can I write about Tatis that hasn’t already been published? He’s running away with the NL MVP and establishing himself as one of the premier talents in baseball. Last night Tatis mashed his 14th home run of the season to tie Mike Trout for the league lead, perhaps marking the official start of the race for the home run title down the stretch.

Trent Grisham (OF, San Diego Padres) — 3-4, 2B, R, RBI. Grisham’s first “full” MLB season has been filled with ups and downs. While his batting average rests at .248, Grisham has shown some serious pop in his bat. 17 of his 38 hits have gone for extra bases, and one came last night in a three-hit effort for San Diego. Grisham has been a great value this year and is somebody to keep an eye on down the road.

Nick Ahmed (SS, Arizona Diamonbacks) — 3-4, 2B, R, RBI. The defensive specialist got it done at the dish last night. Now in his age-30 season, Ahmed has made a name for himself with stellar defense at shortstop, but it was his three hits that made the difference for Arizona last night. His RBI single in the fifth put run number six on the board for the D-Backs, which would be the eventual winning run.

Keston Hiura (2B, Milwaukee Brewers) — 2-4, 2B, HR, 2 R, 3 RBI, BB. The former top prospect showed why he was so highly touted coming into the league with last night’s performance, and why we shouldn’t discount his tremendous talent despite a rough go in 2020. The 23-year-old doubled and went deep in the Brew Crew’s 7-1 win over Cleveland. Hiura could still be a star in the making, but he must cut down on his alarmingly high whiff rate of 45% before he grabs any headlines. Maybe last night will help spark him. 

 

Photo by Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire

One response to “A Watched Ketel Never Barrels”

  1. Avatar theKraken says:

    Tatis is not running away with the MVP. The media is running away with that narrative though. This is the kind of crap that really influences the unknowing masses and impacts the actual vote a lot. It is how Bellinger won over Yelich last year as people just gave it to him in May. It makes it so people just start championing for something and they stop following reality. It makes sense to sell transient fans something new and shiny as they don’t know how to evaluate anything to start with. It is always going to be the newer player, not the better one necessarily. Rather than alayzing, people just start championing for an idea. Mookie is not far off at all. He is leading in WAR. Hell, Corey Seager is a huge weekend away from being pretty in the conversation. What about Beiber? What is with the early declarations for things? I just don’t get it but I might be the only one. No personal offense intended – I saw three separate headlines declaring Tatis MVP last evening too. Tatis is an immense talent to be sure but the he isn’t running away with anything. His last 10 games are actually well beneath his first 30 in terms of production specifically in HR. How far off is Manny Machado? It’s not like he is carrying the team on his back either. He might get my vote but he isn’t running away with the MVP.

    Hiura is not doing anything remotely resembling why he was heralded as a prospect. He was supposed to be a batting title guy, not a low average good power guy. Factor in that he is an absolute negative on defense and he isn’t that exciting to me. I think we have seen his peak – that doesn’t make him bad but he isn’t working with exciting tools. He was always more of the most polished bat in the draft type. The HR are exciting but the 2B are through the floor and that is always a symptom of a problem. The BB rate further sinks his value. There could be some putting it all together but I could also see this becoming pretty mediocre pretty soon.

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