“Speed kills.” –Al Davis
Starling Marte is having a hell of a season stealing bases and this is one of the things that should have propelled him into the All Star Game without needing this stupid final vote. He is the top baserunner in the NL this year, is second in the league with 25 stolen bases, and has a better percentage than the leader Jonathan Villar.
Monday’s game against the Cardinals gave a strong piece of evidence of Marte's preternatural baserunning ability when he stole second base with Carlos Martinez pitching in the sixth inning:
The Pirates' announcers commented on the fact that people very rarely steal off of Martinez. I went to look at the numbers: in 399 2/3 innings since entering MLB, Martinez has yielded only 10 stolen bases in 19 attempts. I think the 19 attempts is really indicative of his abilities to control the running game; people just don’t even try to run on Carlos Martinez. Martinez ranks 36th among all pitchers in SB/IP who have thrown at least 200 innings since 2013, which is decent. However, if we limit ourselves to looking at only righty starters over this time period (since it is much harder to steal against lefties and game circumstances are a bit different between starters and relievers), Martinez ranks 13th among pitchers with the same innings restrictions. (I’m not including tables for all of these stats, but if you want to see for yourself, mosey on over to the Baseball Reference Play Index, where all of this data comes from.)
Martinez has really shut down the running game since becoming a full time starter in 2015, however. Over that time period, he ranks fourth among all pitchers (lefty, righty, starter, and reliever alike) having at least 250 innings in SB/IP, yielding only 4 SB in 9 attempts over 282 innings.
(Note: If you bump this down to 150 innings to get more relievers on the list, Martinez is still in the top 10 for SB/IP.)
Of the four pitchers ahead of him in the table, two are lefties. (Sidebar: How the hell is R.A. Dickey on this list given the fact that he throws a knuckleball? It seems like it should be really easy to steal on him given that.) Martinez is similarly ranked (fifth) if you look at SB/Total Baserunners over the same period; in short, Martinez is really, really good at controlling the running game.
Furthermore, reigning eight-time Gold Glove winner Yadier Molina was behind the dish attempting to throw Marte out. Molina ranks first among all catchers since 2002 in his ability to control the running game by the defensive metric rSB. Obviously Martinez’s ability to prevent the stolen base is helped by having Molina behind the dish, but the combination of these two has been deadly over the past season and a half, making Marte’s accomplishment all the more impressive.
The Martinez/Molina duo (and Martinez in general) has only allowed one other stolen base this season so far. Who was it? None other than Bartolo Colon! Actually, I’m kidding, it was Starling Marte, which is almost as crazy! He has the only two stolen bases this season against a guy who only gave up two all of last season. These are also the only two attempts against Martinez all season. On May 6, after a bunch of false starts, pickoff moves, foul balls, and laughs between Molina and Marte, he finally got his stolen base:
The thing I find most entertaining is how loose everyone seems, goofing off and laughing about the play that just happened, which seems relatively rare in this day of boring interviews and generic soundbites. Molina had a good laugh about that one, but he was pretty upset about the more recent stolen base.
There’s nothing to be mad about, though; Martinez and Molina simply got burned by the best baserunner in the game right now.