The 2019 season was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Franchise icon Paul Goldschmidt was traded for prospects over the winter, and key contributors Patrick Corbin and A.J. Pollock were allowed to leave as free agents. The D-Backs were necessarily in full blown tank mode, but clearly the future was the priority.

Fast forward three months, and the D-Backs were one game over .500 at 38-37 heading into Thursday’s game with the Rockies (GameTracker). As of last week, Arizona had increased their SportsLine postseason odds more than all but one National League team. They’re two games behind the second wild-card spot and have one of the league’s best offenses. The numbers:

  1. Colorado Rockies: 5.74 runs per game
  2. Atlanta Braves: 5.43
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers: 5.21
  4. Arizona Diamondbacks: 5.19
  5. Chicago Cubs: 5.08

Leading the way offensively is superutility man Ketel Marte, who has started 38 games in center field and 29 games at second base, plus a handful of others at shortstop. The 25-year-old switch-hitter leads the team in pretty much every significant offensive category and ranks ninth among all position players with 3.2 WAR.

Marte hit 14 home runs in 153 games last season and came into this season with 22 home runs in 402 games. He already has 20 homers in 73 games this year. Granted, everyone seems to be hitting more home runs these days, but Marte has added 132 points to his slugging percentage this year, 16th most among the 381 players with 200 plate appearances this year and last.

Here’s what Marte told MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert about his power breakout last month:

“I focused on keeping my body strong for the whole,” Marte said. “I’ve [added] a couple of more pounds. I’m maybe a little bit slower, but I hit the ball with more pop. I can’t hit 10 triples, but I can hit 25 homers. I’m still fast, but I think I’m a little slower.” 

“It’s kind of crazy, but I’m just trying to take my best swing every time,” Marte said. “I’m seeing the ball good right now. I feel great from both sides. I’ve been working so much harder at my offense. When I feel good out there, I can do something special.” 

Marte added he “put a little pressure on myself (last season) because I was in my first year of my contract,” referring to the five-year extension he signed last March. The deal guarantees him $24 million and includes club options for an additional two seasons. Given his breakout, that contract makes Marte one of the biggest bargains in the game.

Not surprisingly, Marte’s breakout comes with significant improvements in his exit velocity and launch angle. It sounds simple, and it is, but “trying to take my best swing every time” creates better contact. Marte’s upped his exit velocity without a huge spike in his strikeout rate. He’s become pre-2019 Jose Ramirez. Lots of power and lots of contact.

Because he’s a switch-hitter, we have to look at Marte from each side of the plate. Here are his underlying numbers with 2018’s rates in parenthesis:

as RHB as LHB

Exit velocity

92.8 mph (91.1 mph)

89.7 mph (87.0 mph)

Launch angle

11.5° (5.6°)

10.8° (5.8°)

Slugging percentage

.646 (.584)

.530 (.352)

Expected slugging percentage

.593 (.487)

.499 (.354)  

Strikeout rate

11.4% (11.8%)

17.2% (14.7%)

Marte’s expected slugging percentage, which Statcast calculates using exit velocity and launch angle, is a bit below his actual slugging percentage, so perhaps that means he’s due to come back to Earth a bit. Either way, there are clear improvements here. Marte is making harder contact and getting the ball in the air more often, and he’s doing it from both sides of the plate.

Truth be told, Marte’s breakout started last season. He lowered his ground ball rate from 54.3 percent in the first half to 46.0 percent in the second half, and it is down further to 42.4 percent in the early going this year. It’s easy to think development and improvement happens neatly within in a season. That’s not the case. It often spans multiple years, and it has with Marte.

As Arizona transitions away from the Goldschmidt era and into the next contending D-Backs team, they’ll need a centerpiece to build around. Marte can be that centerpiece, as unexpected as that may be. He plays a premium position well — two premium positions well, that is — and has become an impact power/contact hitter from both sides of that plate. That equals a star.

Marte is currently in line to finish in the top three of the All-Star Game voting at second base, putting him in position to enter the new runoff vote. Even if he doesn’t win the starting spot, Marte belongs in Cleveland for the All-Star Game next month. Some adjustments and added power have made him one of the game’s most valuable players, and the D-Backs are in the wild-card race because of it.

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