It may surprise you that Jerry Dipoto likes to trade, but he does. Last offseason, he made one of the more interesting moves of the offseason, shipping off Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, and Zac Curtis.
The two biggest names in the trade were Jean Segura and Taijuan Walker. Segura had success with the Brewers in the past, and had come off a 126 wRC+ season with the Diamondbacks, slashing .319/.368/.499 en route to a 5.0 fWAR season. To put it lightly, moving a 26 year old at a premium position was a confusing move at the time, but they did acquire a cost-controlled starter at a time when the price for pitching is at a premium. Segura rewarded that faith in his breakout with a .300/.349/.427 slash, putting up 2.9 fWAR in an injury-shortened 2017.
I’m never a fan of trading from the big-league roster. Where one hole is filled, another opens up. Dave Cameron wrote a piece back when the trade happened, calling it “The Mitch Haniger Trade” , and that article still holds merit. Haniger put up 2.5 WAR in an injury-shortened season, putting up a 129 wRC+ as a 27-year old. Steamer is a bit bearish on Haniger heading into 2018, but a large part of this impressive debut was driven by a swing change, as well as a change in approach, neither of which Steamer takes into account.
Taijuan Walker was one of the more forgotten players on a surprising Diamondbacks team, in a surprisingly deep rotation. He still has three years left of arbitration, but will obviously make less than what the market would pay. Projections are a bit down on him, as ERA estimators were not a believer in the 3.49 ERA last year, especially given the hitter-friendly tendencies of Chase Field. He’s projected for a 4.55 ERA by Steamer in a career-high 189 innings, which seems especially egregious. Regardless, the Diamondbacks were probably happy with a 2.5 WAR season and a playoff berth. And Walker has always had top-of-the-rotation potential. Whether or not you believe he’ll reach that potential, it is another part of his appeal to the Diamondbacks (and fantasy owners everywhere).
Zac Curtis is with the Phillies and has been an absolute non-factor in the trade.
So far, the analysis of this trade has clearly favored the Mariners. Good job, Dipoto. He finally managed to acquire high-level talent and traded away low-ceiling talent, something which has not been Dipoto’s trading strategy so far. But there’s still one more factor in this trade. Many trades you can’t accurately judge until years after the trade. Take for example the Wil Myers trade, thought to be disastrous at the time, when in hindsight, Dayton Moore might have known something. Last offseason it was the Mitch Haniger trade, but this offseason, it might be the Ketel Marte trade.
I mentioned earlier that I wasn’t a fan of trading from the major league roster. You’re solving one problem by creating another. Segura was traded, and Marte took his place. He was never a Top-100 prospect, but he was an interesting player amongst fantasy circles after an enticing 2015, in which he put up 1.7 fWAR in 57 games. This was mainly due to his speed, as Marte could have been a cheap source of steals. Baseball America described his speed in 2014 as “above-average”, and it’s difficult to think Marte has gotten faster. He still stole eight bases in a seventy-three game season last year, so he’s a decent source of speed for the Diamondbacks going forward.
Baseball America was also pretty bullish on his fielding abilities, and defensive metrics have generally agreed, although his 2016 was brutal on that front. Having an average glove at shortstop is a huge asset to the Diamondbacks, especially considering he has one more year (also had one last year) under team control, in addition to three more years of arbitration. Scouts have said his defense would play up more at second, citing concerns about his arm at shortstop. At second base, he could be an extreme defensive asset.
For some reason when I think of Ketel Marte, I think he’s a lot older, but he actually just turned twenty-four. The Diamondbacks took that luxury, and let Marte marinate in AAA for a bit last season, and the results were encouraging. He put up a 135 wRC+ in seventy games and slashed .338/.391/.514. The power output was surprising, but Baseball America noted that Marte “is comfortable with deep counts, but he’s always looking to hit”. While the .391 OBP was encouraging, the 7.4% walk percentage shows that he’s still not world-beating in drawing walks. Baseball America also described Marte as “a difficult hitter to strike out and nearly impossible to walk”, so while he’s below-average still, it’s not by much and he was crushing what was thrown at him. With a minuscule 10.1% strikeout rate, Marte continued to be a tough out for pitchers.
With a pretty special ability to put the bat to the ball, the question then becomes what Ketel Marte could become. After all, if this new era of hitters has shown us anything, it’s been the ability to evolve. It may surprise you to know that last year, when Marte was in the majors, he actually put up an impressive 11.4% walk rate. He still only struck out 14.5% of the time, but there’s clearly a change in approach here.
Previously I had mentioned that Marte is comfortable working the count, but wants to hit. It looks like Marte is becoming more selective, and trying to punish certain pitches. Sound familiar? It’s only the hitting philosophy that has captured the attention of an entire era of hitters. Marte’s hard contact jumped up to 28.2% last year from a career 23.6%, and his fly ball percentage has jumped to 34.2% from a career 28.3%. He made contact on a stunning 91% of pitches in the zone, and his swinging strike percentage sat at an absurdly low 7.2%. Basically what we’ve established is that Ketel Marte is elite at making contact, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to an elite hit tool.
The problem with Ketel Marte isn’t making contact with pitches, it’s actually making authoritative contact with pitches. He hit a combined eleven home runs between two levels last year, by far the highest total he’s had in any year. He had a .290 BABIP, which is below average, especially for a player who has consistently sat at ~.320 for most of his professional career. Steamer believes in a bounce-back, and actually believes in some of his gains from this past year. However, Steamer views BABIP as linear, believing Marte’s struggles in that department were only luck based. What it didn’t take into account was that Marte was putting it in the air more, and not very well.
But I thought I said his hard contact percentage jumped up? Well, it did. The issue is hard contact and how hard he actually hit the ball are two different things. One is based on launch angle, one is based on velocity. Of players with 150 batted ball events, Ketel Marte ranked a brutal #283 overall, in between Sandy Leon and Adam Rosales. Hitting weak fly balls is not going to help your BABIP, especially if you’re hitting towards the middle of the field more than anything (39.4% vs. 36% for his career).
This is a new generation of hitters, spurred by a couple different things; change in swing, and change in approach. Right now we’re seeing the change in approach. The process is there, the results are not. If people want to say Ketel Marte is going to be a 90 wRC+ hitter for his whole career, fine. More often than not, a player like Marte will not evolve, especially if he doesn’t change his swing.
This past week, Jose Ramirez finished third in the AL MVP voting, putting up a remarkable 6.6 fWAR in a memorable campaign. In 2015, of batters with 150 batted ball events, Ramirez ranked #292 overall in average exit velocity. In 2017, Ramirez jumped to a more manageable #121, contributing twenty-nine home runs in the process. Again, nothing world beating, but a marked improvement. Ramirez had the approach, the elite bat to ball skills, and didn’t walk much. Sound familiar?
A couple years ago, Ramirez made a couple pretty substantial changes to his swing, and it changed everything. His walk and strikeout rates in the majors this year (8.1%, 10.1% respectively) were nearly identical to the numbers Marte put up in AAA (7.4%, 10.1%). Yes, there is a talent gap between AAA and the majors, but the approaches are remarkably similar. At first, Marte struck me as someone who might not have more power potential simply due to his slim frame and 165 pound figure. You know who else is 165 pounds? Jose Ramirez. Coincidence? Absolutely, but it’s also an indication that this has been done before.
It’s not like Ramirez went from an absolute zero to crushing the ball, and his #121 ranking is indicative of that, but there was a huge improvement. That improvement could be another ten or so home runs from Marte if he gets into that territory, especially at Chase Field where the ball has a tendency to carry. If he can change his swing to drive the ball more, the average will also improve, and the BABIP will rebound.
By no means am I saying Marte will have a Jose Ramirez transformation, but some of the similarities are striking. There has been a clear change in approach, we can see that. There is a path to turning this skillset into an elite player, or even just a good player, and Ramirez is proof of that. We’re obviously banking a lot on the swing overhaul, but the indicators are here that Marte may be starting to change. Of the obvious 2018 breakout candidates, Marte is not one of them, but he’s one of the more interesting upside plays. This trade may not be done surprising us yet.