COMMENTARY | It's no secret that Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Starling Marte has had a tremendous start to this season. Even the casual fan can recognize that a .329 batting average signifies significant production, especially for a man whose only job as leadoff man is to get on base. But his overall numbers don't do justice to the headaches Marte is causing opposing pitchers in the first inning.
As the first Pirate to step in the batter's box in any given game, Marte sets the pace for a lineup that has struggled mightily in years past to get production from the leadoff spot. Indeed, the team finished ranked 27th in baseball last year in on-base percentage from the leadoff spot. No such worries thus far into the season.
As of May 13, Marte is sporting a ridiculous .548 batting average in 31 at-bats during the first inning. His 17 hits in the first frame are by far the most in baseball, seven ahead of the 10 hits compiled by stars like Ryan Braun, Bryce Harper and Joey Votto. Even more unbelievable is the fact that Marte is getting on base 61 percent of the time he comes to the plate in the first inning. How's that for setting the pace?
To add insult to injury for opposing pitchers, Marte isn't staying put when he reaches base. Six of his 10 stolen bases on the year have come in the first inning, giving hitters like Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones the opportunity to drive in runs early in the contest. Sometimes he doesn't even need to steal a base to get in scoring position. He has five doubles, one triple and one home run as part of his 17 hits in the first inning.
As well as Marte is hitting, the batters behind him are doing an impressive job bringing him home. Marte's 29 runs scored is tied for second best in baseball behind the Detroit Tigers' Austin Jackson, who has 33 runs scored hitting in front of names like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera.
His 48 hits on the year are best for sixth in baseball, only seven hits behind Cabrera, who's hitting an insane .379 thus far into the season. He's also tied for fifth in stolen bases with 10, only two behind the league lead. And that's to say nothing of his stellar defense play so far in left field.
There is only one part of Marte's game that could see some improvement in terms of his nine walks to 37 strikeouts. But it's pretty hard to complain about a man's walk to strikeout ratio when he's hitting the cover off the ball and getting on base at an incredible clip.
It's still very early in the 2013 campaign, but Marte thus far has proven himself to be one of the best leadoff men in baseball. Fans who haven't seen a productive leadoff man in many years are hoping the Marte Partay continues well into the summer and early fall.
Jared Stonesifer has covered the Pittsburgh Pirates on a freelance basis since 2010. He lives in Pittsburgh.
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