Ketel Marte and the Economics of Hitting

Ketel Marte has taken the steps to become a superstar - but how?

Ketel Marte has had one of his best seasons yet in 2024, compiling a .287/.353/.521 triple slash, good for a 147 OPS+, through the end of June. Along with 3.6 fWAR and some of the best defensive metrics of his career so far, Marte has developed into a star for the Diamondbacks.

This comes after Marte signed a 5 year, $76 million extension in the 2022-2023 offseason. Since then, Marte has bounced back from a mix of injuries and mediocre performance to compile 8 fWAR, making his extension look even better.

Throughout his career, Marte has had about as many changes as any player – swing changes, approach changes, and several injuries that have impacted his day-to-day availability.

While many of his career stats were affected by these circumstances, one of the most apparent is his batted ball results or even his frequency of hitting the baseball at an ideal launch angle. Before getting into this, however, it is best to look at how launch angle affects batted ball outcomes as a whole, and how swing changes can affect them.


Contact Quantity vs. Quality


At the root of it all, hitting a baseball is like opportunity cost in economics. For every swing change to improve one aspect, such as launch angle or exit velocity, there is a tradeoff, such as a tendency to swing and miss or chase outside of the strike zone.

Most hitters aim to do one or the other; a player like Kyle Schwarber sacrifices frequency of contact for high SLG, while players like Luis Arraez aim to put the ball in play as frequently as possible in exchange for less extra-base hits.

Top hitters such as Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani are so good at hitting the ball hard that while they might swing and miss more than the average player, their ability to be some of the best hitters in the sport is not hurt.

With metrics like bat speed becoming available in 2024, a player’s ability to generate power becomes significantly more measurable. Still, to get the most power out of a high-speed swing, finding a good combination between launch angle and exit velocity is key to maximizing a player’s offensive output.

Statistics such as LA (launch angle) Sweet-Spot%, HC%, and Barrel% are measures of ideal launch angles, exit velocities, and both combined; when a player is able to maximize all three, as long as they aren’t striking out too often, they are very likely to have an impressive stat line.


Marte’s Ability


In 2024, Ketel Marte has been a player who can succeed at all three—his HC% (38.2), LA Sweet-Spot% (34.9), and Barrel% (10.5) are all above league average. This hasn’t always been the case, either; Marte posted below-average LA Sweet-Spot% every year of his career aside from 2019.

While 2019 was an equally impressive offensive season for Marte, whose 149 OPS+ is the best of his career, he was not hitting the ball nearly as hard as in 2024, as his 93.2 average EV blows away his previous-best 90.9 in 2023.

As with all hitters, this has come with some trade-off; Marte’s 22.5 Whiff% and 77.5 Contact% are a career worst, while his 13.0 Called-Strike% is a career low. Marte has gotten much more aggressive with his swings, and they have paid off massively. The crazy part? Marte is still above league average in these stats while maintaining an above-average 18.3 K% and 9.2 BB%.

Because of this, Marte likely found a solid in-between of sacrificing swings and misses in exchange for harder-hit and ideal LA contact. Still, Marte’s seemingly improved average launch angle may not be.

Marte’s 34.9 LA Sweet-Spot% and 10.5 Barrel% are solid, but nothing crazy. While still either career bests or close to it, Marte has had the lowest average LA of his career, at 7.0 degrees. While this has led to the highest GB% of his career at 52.1%, Marte also has an elite 23.7 LD% with a career-low 24.1 FB%.

Marte’s elite ability to drive baseballs on a line, as well as avoid pop-ups (4.7 PU% in 2024, career-best), has allowed Marte to be on pace for a career-best 34 home runs in 2024, as well as 38 doubles and ~7 fWAR.

Despite this elite production, there still might be some changes Marte could make in the future to maximize his production.


How Does Switch-Hitting Factor?


Being a switch-hitter, Marte has had some noticeable production differences based on his batting handedness.

As a right-handed hitter in 2024, Marte has an elite 1.080 OPS while hitting 11 of his 17 home runs in only 116 AB. As a left-handed hitter, Marte has a .755 OPS in 201 AB. While he is walking more from the left side, he is also striking out much more and hitting for far less power.

A big reason for this could be Marte’s bat speed from each side.

Data via Baseball Savant

Marte’s bat speed being about league-average from the left side is in line with his slightly above-average production, while his elite bat speed from the right side complements his insane production.

Switch-hitting provides platoon advantages that help in matchups, approaches, etc. Still, it could seem Marte should consider taking up right-handed hitting full-time. That bat speed is no joke and ranks among the top of the league, while Marte has also made consistent contact from the right side. The production has been consistently better from the right side over his career as well.

We’ve seen other hitters succeed after ditching switch-hitting – players like Cedric Mullins and Tucker Barnhart posted solid seasons after committing full-time to one side of the plate.

There’s just one difference – they switched to batting left-handed.

It might not seem like a big deal, but there is a considerable difference in a player’s sample against either handedness of a pitcher. In 2024, about 73% of MLB at-bats are against right-handed pitchers. Assuming Marte plays every day, Marte would be facing a handedness unfamiliar to him as a right-handed hitter about 73% of the time. Not only could Marte see worse results against righties, but his ability to focus on just left-handed pitchers as a righty may take a hit as well.

This might seem to be the only thing keeping Marte from becoming a superstar. For example, switch-hitter José Ramírez has an OPS above .840 from both sides in his career, as he has become one of if not the best switch hitters in MLB.

I believe Marte can surpass this. While he has only faced lefties about 35% of the time in 2024, the damage he has done is elite enough to outweigh his slightly above-average production the other 65% of the time. While Ramirez is well above average against both sides, his best OPS against either side is only .862 against righties.

As described earlier, Aaron Judge’s laughably high 29.0 Barrel% outweighs his 32.4 Whiff%, and Bobby Witt Jr.’s 48.9 Hard-Hit% outweighs his 31.2 Chase%.

This doesn’t even begin to factor in the other aspects of Marte’s game – his 9 OAA at second base are close to tops in the league, and his above-average baserunning is an added plus.

Because of this, I believe Ketel Marte should be considered among the superstars in MLB. Rarely do you find a switch-hitter who is at least above average in all aspects of the game, and Marte does it at a premium position in second base.

With his current production, Marte should finish 2024 as one of the league’s best performers, as he hopefully continues to flourish in the future and lead Arizona to another NL crown.

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