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Ask BD: What does Starling Marte’s weird 2016 season mean?

Pittsburgh Pirates v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Thanks, everyone, for your questions.

Qotsa04: Where has Starling Marte's power gone? Don’t you think his game is too dependent upon speed and BABIP?

Qotsa04 also posted a StatCast chart that showed Marte’s average exit velocity at significantly lower than those of most of his teammates. If anyone wants to play around with StatCast, you can do so here. I have to say, I don’t feel confident enough in my use of a new technology to say what Marte’s exit velocity numbers mean — his average exit velocity of 87.9 MPH last year was low, but then so were those of Charlie Blackmon and Willson Contreras and Jedd Gyorko and other clear power hitters.

What’s clear even from the older stats, though, is that Marte had a really weird year. His home run total dropped from 19 to nine, but his batting average was 24 points higher, and his walk and strikeout rates were almost identical. He still had a .362 OBP and .456 SLG, but those were propelled by a .380 batting average on balls in play that ranked second in the major leagues. Marte is extremely fast, and a lot of guys at the top of the BABIP leaderboard were also fast, like Mike Trout and Jonathan Villar, but my guess is that Marte’s BABIP will regress next year.

Marte also, of course, generated a lot of his offensive value from stolen bases — he attempted and executed more last season (59 and 47, respectively) than in any other year he’s been in the big leagues, even though he only played 129 games.

Also, if Marte is going to rely this heavily on his speed, it’s worth noting that speed often doesn’t age well, and that any decline in speed could become a problem for Marte as he heads further into his late 20s. (A loss of speed was but one of Andrew McCutchen’s many problems last year at 29, but it was a significant one, and we saw where that got him.)

It’ll be interesting, then, to see how Marte does in 2017. Sometimes, a weird year is just a weird year. He’s probably never going to be a top home run hitter, but he could easily go back to hitting 15 to 18 homers, which would reduce the need to worry about his future.

SkVolcanoes: Who will be better in 2017, Ivan Nova or Francisco Liriano, and by how much?

Both players have pretty wide error bars, but I’ll take Nova, since his control is better and PNC Park is such a good place for him. As excellent as the series of events were that brought Nova to Pittsburgh and kept him here, though, it would have been far better had the Pirates traded for Nova and gotten Liriano figured out — Liriano was only a bit worse with the Blue Jays than Nova was with the Pirates, going by the advanced numbers. Of course, maybe the series of events with Nova couldn’t have happened had Liriano’s salary still been on the books, but that’s a different problem.

SammyKhalifa: What are the odds that Felipe Rivero will close for the Pirates in 2017?

Limited, in my opinion. If the Pirates trade Tony Watson (which I’m not sure I’d count on at this point, with lots of interesting closer-type candidates still available on the free agent market — Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo, Greg Holland, Neftali Feliz and so on), they’ll need a new closer. Daniel Hudson and Rivero would be the top candidates. My guess is that the Pirates would pick Hudson, since with Rivero they’d have to worry about his salaries becoming inflated during his arbitration seasons due to his saves totals.

Kareemofwheat: When are you going to do an MLBTR chat?

Not anytime soon. They’re too intimidating. I have no idea how Steve, Jeff and Jason come up with the answers they do so quickly.

WHYGZaneSmith: what will the Pirates do for a backup shortstop? With current personnel the most likely bench configuration is Chris Stewart, John Jaso, David Freese, Adam Frazier, and Alen Hanson. This would leave Kang and Harrison as the only players besides Jordy Mercer with major league shortstop experience, while Hanson and Frazier have barely even played short at Indy. Wouldn’t this put a lot of pressure on Mercer? Would there be a chance they go with Max Moroff, or try to get a Pedro Florimon type?

I see what you’re getting at, but unless the Pirates trade someone, I don’t see a lot of alternatives, and I think the sheer number of available options (however dubious they might be) will give the Pirates a degree of comfort. Perhaps they’ll option Frazier to the minors and add a Florimon type, but probably not.

The real problem arises if Mercer gets hurt, in which case my best guess is that Kang would start and the Pirates would grab a Florimon type — either Gift Ngoepe or someone from some other team’s Triple-A roster — to back him up. Kang at shortstop and Freese at third would leave a lot to be desired defensively, but it would be terrific offensively.