Ketel Marte transformed himself from a fairly average MLB starter in 2018 into a legitimate MVP candidate in 2019. Marte made many improvements that led to a massive fWAR jump from 2.6 last year to 7.1 this year. On an even crazier note, Marte’s fWAR this year was 2.4 points higher than his total career fWAR from his first 4 seasons in the MLB. His fWAR was the 4th best this season in the National League. Marte finished 2nd in the NL in batting average, missing out on winning the batting title by just .0006 points to Christian Yelich. He also finished 2nd in the NL with 187 hits and 4th in OPS with .981. Finishing 4th in the major categories was a common theme for Marte as he finished behind the three NL MVP favorites, Yelich, Bellinger, and Rendon, in OPS, Runs Created, OPS+, and Offensive Win %. Marte rounded out his 2019 stat line by slugging 32 home runs and driving in 92 runs. This power surge for Marte in 2019 was remarkable considering he had only hit 22 home runs in his first four seasons of pro ball. He also showcased his speed by adding on 10 stolen bases while being caught stealing just twice. Let’s dive in and see where this breakout season came from.
One of the big reasons for his increased power and slugging was a major drop in his ground ball percentage. His percentage dropped by a whopping 8.1 points in 2019 from his prior season. In addition, his fly ball percentage increased by 5.8 points this season. In 2019, Marte transformed from a hitter who sprayed the ball fairly equally to a pull hitter as he pulled the ball 43.7% of the time, 7 points higher than the previous season. A hitters’ slugging percentage and percentage of fly balls that go for home runs skyrocket on balls pulled compared to balls hit elsewhere. Looking at Marte’s increase in hard-hit percentage of 5.9 points and his decrease in soft hit ball percentage of 5.2 points shows improved discipline and pitch recognition as he barreled up a lot more pitches in 2019 than in 2018. Even more impressive, was Marte’s ability to improve this from both sides of the plate as he is a switch hitter. The following heat maps from Fangraphs show how Marte has improved:
This heat map displays Marte’s swings as a right-handed hitter. In both years we can see that Marte was selective and focused his swings on a spot. However, the location Marte focused his swings on in 2019 was more outside than the prior season, where he has more power. The charts below from Baseball Savant show Marte’s average exit velocity, batting average, and slugging percentage by location in 2019 from the right side of the plate.
Marte’s slugging percentage on down and away pitches was .727 and on middle-down pitches was 1.211. His batting average on these pitches was .455 and .579, respectively. In addition, his average exit velocity was 94.5 and 99.4 in these areas. The only minor change in his swing selection makes sense as in 2018 he was still a very good right-handed hitter as he went from slashing .321/.387/.584 with 9 home runs in 212 plate appearances in 2018 to slashing .333/.368/.630 with 12 home runs in 174 plate appearances in 2019. His slight change in swing selection shows that he still did improve in 2019 from the right side of the plate but he did not have to change much from this side of the plate to become a star.
This heat map shows Marte’s swings as a left-handed hitter. The changes Marte made in 2019 from this side of the plate are the reason for why he had a breakout year in 2019. In 2019, Marte was much more selective than in the past and focused his swings on middle-away pitches where he generated most of his power. In fact, the charts below from Baseball Savant support this by showing Marte’s average exit velocity, batting average, and slugging percentage by location in 2019 from the left side of the plate.
Marte’s slugging percentage in 2019 on middle-away pitches was .738 and on middle-middle pitches was 1.110. His batting average on these pitches was .452 on middle-out and .651 on middle-middle. His average exit velocity was 93.2 and 91.5 in this area. Thus, by focusing his swings on middle-middle and middle-out pitches, Marte was able to be more successful in 2019. The big changes in his swing selection are why Marte went from slashing .224/.300/.352 with 5 home runs in 368 plate appearances from the left side in 2018 to slashing .327/.396/.577 with 20 home runs in 454 plate appearances from the left side in 2019. This massive improvement, combined with being slightly more successful from the right side of the plate, led to Marte breaking out in 2019 and turning into a legitimate MVP candidate.