Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is having another terrific spring, batting .350, which is 170 lower than he batted last spring, when his OPS was 1.440 and people were crying in the streets of Pittsburgh when he failed to make the 25-man roster. When he finally joined the Pirates in July, he batted .257, with an on-base percentage of .300.
But this isn’t about batting average, it’s about the Pirates trying to put a square peg into a round hole.
Marte has 42 plate appearance this spring and two walks. In the regular season last year, he had 182 plate appearance and eight walks.
Did I mention the Pirates want Marte to bat first?
Marte is the quintessential Latin free-swinger. There is nothing in his background to indicate he would be a good leadoff hitter. All things are possible, but as Marte tries to learn a skill that goes against his baseball instincts, he will be hurting the Pirates, who have some pretty good hitters behind him.
Manager Clint Hurdle’s take on the subject is this: ``It's definitely something that we're going to give him an opportunity to run with and see where he can take it.’’
That’s mainly because the Pirates have no other options. Alex Presley has the look of a leadoff hitter -- small, fast, lacking in power -- but he had 18 walks in 370 plate appearances last year.
Jose Tabata has shown signs of being capable in this role -- an on-base percentage that was 83 points higher than his batting average in 2011 -- but first he has to play his way into the lineup after a terrible 2012 season. After a strong spring training start, Tabata has two hits in his past 17 at bats and two walks in 40 plate appearances for the spring.
I don’t know the background of the Pirates failure to get involved with Juan Pierre, who was a free agent in the offseason and who is the quintessential leadoff hitter. Pierre’s on-base percentage last year was .351. For his career, it is .346. His stolen base totals the past three years are 68, 27, 37. He signed with the Miami Marlins for $1.6 million, which is about what the Pirates will be paying backup shortstop John McDonald.
Pierre, 35, would appear to be the perfect fit for the Pirates and, even better, at the right price. Why were the Pirates not involved? My guess -- and, again this is a guess -- is they felt he would block some of their young outfield talent. Laugh if you will, but cite a better reason.
The Cincinnati Reds easily won the NL Central last year with Zack Cozart, who had a .288 on-base percentage, usually batting first. It can be done. But the Pirates are not the Reds. The Reds had an array of boppers behind Cozart the Pirates could not match. They also had a significantly better starting rotation and bullpen.
And here’s one more thing about the Reds. They went out and got a leadoff hitter, Shin-soo Choo, whose lifetime on-base percentage is .381.
Now that’s a team with a plan. That’s a team not trying to put square pegs into round holes.