Ketel Marte, 20 Homer Man

If you had told me during spring training that Ketel Marte would enjoy a fantasy breakout during his age 25 season, I would have guessed it would include something like 15 dingers and 30 steals. Fast forward two and a half months, and Marte is indeed enjoying that fantasy breakout, but the shape of that breakout is rather shocking. As I type this, Marte ranks tied for seventh in baseball in homers with 20. TWENTY! He’s now on pace for about 44 homers. Heading into the season, he had only hit 22 throughout his entire career, and that came over 1,402 at-bats! His HR/FB rate stood at a measly 6.7%. Measly no longer describes Marte’s power.

Obviously, the knee-jerk reaction is always to doubt this newfound ability. Perhaps this is just an extended hot streak, or he’s been the beneficiary of some errant gusts of wind that have pushed previous fly outs over the fence. But man, whether you think these underlying skills are sustainable or not, check out these trends.

Fly Ball Trends
Season FB% FB Pull% FB Oppo%
2015 26.2% 8.9% 44.4%
2016 26.2% 23.3% 38.9%
2017 34.2% 27.0% 44.4%
2018 29.0% 19.5% 41.4%
2019 38.2% 37.4% 28.6%

Outside of hitting an inside-the-park home run on a ground ball, a hitter must lift a fly ball for a shot at a dinger. So naturally, with all else being equal, more fly balls results in more homers. Like we have seen frequently over the last two seasons, it appears that Marte has enthusiastically joined the Fly Ball Revolution. Having posted below league average FB% marks every season of his career, including three seasons below 30%, Marte has seen his fly ball rate surge to a new career high and the first time it’s been above the league average. This is unlikely an accident, and most likely a conscious change in plate approach to tap into power we had no idea he had.

Another driver of hitting home runs is pulling your fly balls. While Marte had hovered around the FB Pull% league average of around 23% to 24% since 2016, he has now taken his pulled fly ball skills to an entirely new level. In fact, he now ranks 27th among 285 qualified hitters in fly ball pull rate. That’s quite the accomplishment given where he was coming from, as his current mark is nearly double last year’s.

Relatedly, you see that as his FB Pull% has spiked, his FB Oppo% has collapsed. That might not be great for his BABIP, but we’re only evaluating his power here, and this is another validation for his breakout.

Fly Ball Quality Trends
Season FB Hard% FB+LD EV (MPH) FB+LD Avg Dist (ft)
2015 22.2% 88.7 260
2016 25.6% 87.2 264
2017 33.3% 90.2 276
2018 38.3% 92.0 287
2019 52.8% 94.0 302

This table displays the FanGraphs Hard% for just fly balls, and data from Statcast, including exit velocity of Marte’s fly balls and line drives, plus the average distance of his fly balls and line drives. His fly ball Hard% has increased each season, but has skyrocketed this year. Similar to his fly ball pull rate, he ranks 28th in fly ball Hard%. Who woulda thunk?!

Aside from the drop from 2015 to 2016, Marte’s exit velocity has also risen each year, and he has finally pushed it above the league average, currently sitting at 92.8 MPH.

Finally, his average distance has taken its biggest step up yet, continuing its annual ascent. While his mark was just barely above the league average last year, it’s now firmly above it this year.

HR/FB Trend
Season HR/FB
2015 4.4%
2016 1.1%
2017 7.9%
2018 10.9%
2019 20.9%

And of course, Marte’s HR/FB rate has doubled from last season. He’s simply hitting more of his fly balls over the wall than he had been, driven by the improvements discussed earlier.

So to summarize how Marte is now tied for seventh in homers:

  • He’s hitting more fly balls than ever before
  • He’s pulling more of those fly balls than ever before
  • He’s going the opposite way with those fly balls less frequently than ever before
  • He’s hitting his fly balls harder than ever before
  • He’s hitting his fly balls further than ever before
  • He’s hitting more of his fly balls over the fence than ever before

While I can’t possibly tell you whether the above bullet points will continue over the rest of the season and whether Marte comes anywhere close to the 44 dingers he’s currently on pace for, what I can tell you is that his 20 homers is the result of 100% skill and not extraordinary good fortune. His xHR/FB rate of 23.5% is right in line with his actual mark. All the trends point to a completely new hitter, rather than one merely on a hot streak.

I wouldn’t fault you for at least attempting to sell high. However, I don’t think owners should feel pressure to rush out and try to do so before an extended cold streak that never comes.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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4 years ago

I turned down an offer of Marte for Leclerc in my 16 team mixed keep 12 league (OBP) the first week of April: fml.