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Starling Marte may have a new hole in his swing

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Uh-oh

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Colorado Rockies Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

There has long been a book on how to get Pittsburgh Pirates’ CF to chase. Now, there may be a new chapter.

The Pittsburgh Pirates have watched Starling Marte curb his strikeout rate in nearly every season since joining the big league club for the first time in 2012.

Even so, pitchers could go to a tried and true spot should they need to get a swinging miss from Marte:

“Down and away” might as well have been synonymous with “swinging strike” for hurlers looking to get Marte into favorable counts. From his break-in in 2012 through 2017, 44.6 percent of Marte’s swinging strikes came from down and away. From within that 44.6 percent, 270 pitches (42.4 percent) were sliders; 20.3 percent were changeups; 14.4 percent were curveballs and every other pitch type tallied less than 10 percent.

So, yeah. There was definitely a book. But, even with Marte’s high strikeout rates to begin his career, only 31.8 percent of the 637 total whiffs down and away in these years came on two-strike counts.

Though the numbers may look gaudy on the surface, they are not so daunting considering that they come over the course of parts of six seasons.

In 2018, Marte had been enjoying a fine season through July, slashing .285/.331/.489, albeit with an elevated 21.6 percent strikeout rate. Perhaps we could chalk that up to a rough as hell May/June, in which he dealt with a lingering oblique strain. He had rebounded to a 15.6 percent k-rate in July, after all.

However, as Pittsburgh Pirates fans slog through the dog days of summer, Marte’s strikeout rate is starting to climb again (17.2 percent on the month as of this writing), and a disturbing new trend has been shown.

Introducing the down and in

Here’s a look at Marte’s swing and miss zone profile, with a look at July’s locations as well, for comparison:

The difference is obvious. As is this:

On the left we see Marte’s overall pitch types/locations for July, and August on the right. Not only are pitchers mixing it up down and away more, but they are coming back with a more varied offering when they try to come back down and in.

Here’s that same type of graphic, isolated to swing and miss:

That’s a lot of junk being offered at. But also some good pitches as well. Notice that pitchers are getting better results (or, at least, much more whiff) on the lower edge against Marte in August:

Pitchers get paid, too. And these might just be good pitches.

In any event, there may just be another chapter being written in “The Book on Marte.”