Monthly splits are inherently arbitrary. The players and the sport don’t suddenly change because the calendar turns from one month to the next, and that makes drawing conclusions based on them risky.
One positive trait of monthly splits, however, is they can help us spot a turning point for a player or team. There may not be much of an explanation for that turning point, but that doesn’t make it nonexistent. Two-thirds of June is in our collective rear-view mirror, which makes it perfectly appropriate to look back at what has transpired this month. Down in Arizona, a certain hyped player who had struggled for the first two months of the season has passed through a turning point. No, it’s not who you think.
Paul Goldschmidt’s midseason turnaround has received plenty of attention, but teammate Ketel Marte’s has not. Marte, who was seen as the sort of potential breakout player who could help make up for the loss of J.D. Martinez, was one of the least productive everyday position players through May. He hit .216/.273/.309 in 209 plate appearances, striking out twice as often as he walked. It seemed all the promise he showed at Triple A Reno and in the second half last year lacked any real staying power.
Since the beginning of June, Marte has looked like a completely different hitter. He’s slashing .352/.400/.778 with four homers, five doubles, three triples and 15 RBI in 60 plate appearances across 17 games this month. He has balanced eight strikeouts with six walks, and has provided the Diamondbacks another powerful, reliable bat with A.J. Pollock on the DL. The .778 slugging percentage in June ranks fifth in the majors, behind Goldschmidt, Eduardo Escobar, Max Muncy and Eddie Rosario. Who is right behind Marte in slugging for the month? Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna. Yeah, he has been that good.
Marte is a switch hitter with an odd, upright setup from both sides of the plate and that hasn’t changed in June. The first two screenshots come from May, while the second two are from June.
Marte has always had more power as a righty, though “more” is a bit of a misnomer here. He entered this season with a .384 slugging percentage and .133 ISO as a righty, compared with .365 and .099 as a lefty. Still, he has always been more likely to hit for extra bases as a righty, and that has remained true during this surge. While he has been good from both sides of the plate, he’s 11-for-21 on balls on play with eight of his 12 extra-base hits as a righty.
In recent columns on Andrelton Simmons and Andrew Benintendi, we discussed the importance of selective aggressiveness. We’ve seen players improve their performance simply by getting more aggressive on pitches in the zone. Two of the best recent examples of that on a macro level are two of the players right behind Marte on the June slugging percentage leaderboard, Freeman and Ozuna. Both of them went from good to great hitters by abandoning their previous patience, which doubled almost as a vice, and attacking more pitches in the zone. We’re seeing the same approach from Marte in June.
Below are Marte’s swing rates by zone, courtesy of Brooks Baseball. The first covers the first two months of this season, while the second is just June.
Add up the nine boxes that comprise the strike zone, and you’ll get a 72.8% swing rate for April and May, and an 80.8% swing rate for June. What’s more, Marte is crushing pitches in the zone this month, hitting .429 with a .943 slugging percentage.
June could prove to be a turning point not only for Marte, but for the Diamondbacks as a whole. They entered the month at 28–27, 1.5 games behind the Rockeis for first place in the NL West. Through June 19, they’ve gone 12-6 in the month and hold a 1.5-game lead over the Dodgers for first place. Marte’s heroics are a big reason for the team’s move back to the top of the division. If the increased aggressiveness on pitches in the strike zone proves to be the foundation for his midseason turnaround, there’s good reason to believe he can keep it going the rest of the year.