Marte focused on his defense
SAN FRANCISCO – On Thursday afternoon, shortstop Ketel Marte made a lunging, backhanded grab of a D.J. LeMahieu ball. He spun and popped to his feet in one motion, then fired the ball to first.
It was a flashy play made to look easy, the kind Marte is becoming known for with the Diamondbacks. But it’s not the type that’s most representative of his improvement at shortstop this season.
Highlight-reel plays have never been an issue for him. The routine ones have been. But during his tenure as the Diamondbacks’ everyday shortstop for the past couple of months, Marte has developed into a reliable defender, someone who is both sure-handed with his glove and accurate with his arm.
“I’m just focusing on those routine ground balls,” Marte said. “I have good talent, I know that, and I’m athletic. So I’m going to make the fantastic plays, the diving catches. But, right now, I’m focused on making the routine plays. That’s what’s going to help me play here for a long time.”
Marte’s advanced metrics don’t show him to be much more than an average defender at shortstop, but the improvement has been significant nevertheless. A year ago, while playing for the Seattle Mariners, he had a minus-10.3 UZR (ultimate zone rating), ranking 18th out of 20 shortstops with at least 1,000 innings.
This year, Marte, with a 0.3 UZR, is a slightly positive defender, though he still ranks just 20th out of 39 shortstops with 400 innings at the position.
Still, it’s a definite improvement compared to what scouts were saying about Marte entering the year. One said he was “more sizzle than substance” with the Mariners.
“We heard those same things, and we outlined that in spring training about being consistent,” Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said. “Everyday major-league baseball players are consistent day in and day out. They don’t have down moments. I just think that that is part of the maturation process for him.
“Luckily for us, we got him here, and I think the player development staff got him in Triple-A and worked extremely hard with him and outlined a lot of thoughts about what it would take for him to be an everyday major-league player. He’s shown us that since he’s been here.”
Marte said he’s tried to be prepared on every pitch, telling himself to expect every ball to be hit his way. He also gave credit to infield coach Tony Perezchica, who has been working with him before games since he was promoted from Triple-A Reno in June.
Marte also has seen his production at the plate tick up from last season, particularly with his walk rate, which has gone from 3.7 percent to 10.7 percent year to year.
“He’s done a great job, especially given that we’re in a pennant chase,” General Manager Mike Hazen said. “He’s handled the position, locked it down after we lost both guys (Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings) to injury in the middle of the year.”
Hazen was asked if Marte is playing his way into a larger role for next season.
“I would think so,” he said. “Look at what he’s done here offensively and defensively. We’re in a very fortunate position, I think, given the depth we have at the position.”
The D-Backs’ Paul Goldschmidt (44) high-fives J.D. Martinez and David Peralta after hitting a two-run home run in the first inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on Saturday.