Ken Laird and Guy Junker had Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on the show on Friday and asked him about Starling Marte and when he'll be in the big leagues. A specific question was raised about the "magic number" of at-bats that he had to reach before he could be brought up. Obviously that's not how these things work, but it was an interesting question to get a response to. Here's what Hurdle said:
"Numbers are numbers, but the magical number? He's no where near it. I mean truthfully, the people that are curious should look at how many AAA at-bats McCutchen got, how many Walker got – then look at the Alvarez at-bats, the Tabata at-bats, the Presley at bats – there's a difference. Not that you have to have 600 or 700, but we want to make sure that when we call up an individual that has the skill set that you need, we give him every opportunity to succeed and get through the growing pains. There's been growing pains with Presley, Tabata, and with Alvarez; not as many as with McCutchen and Walker. That's not to say that this kid Starling in particular couldn't make the move here at some point in time this season, but I think those are the things we factor in; it's the quality of play. We're not just looking at the box score the next day. How are the swings? Did he chase? Did he control the strike zone? How was he on the bases? Were the routes good in the outfield? He's in the right lane, he's headed here and I anticipate that when he does get here, it'll be at the right time. His development is critical."
So let's look at that information. Here's the minor league data-
I took out the AAA numbers for Alvarez, Presley and Tabata after they made their big league debuts, because there were some at-bats there that might have skewed the data due to demotions.
Anyways, you see that McCutchen and Walker both had a ton of minor league at bats before making the big league club. That's especially true with AAA. Tabata was in the minors for a good amount of time but his stay in AAA wasn't very long. Alvarez went through the minors especially quick, and a lot of people blame that fact for his struggles last year.
There's a lot more to this than just minor league and AAA at-bats. You can't just say that McCutchen is an MVP candidate right now because he stayed in the minor leagues for an extra half season, there are huge differences in talent level and the types of players these guys are. Walker is a whole different story, because he wasn't good for long periods of time in the minors. They didn't hold him down because they wanted to fully develop him, they held him down because he flat out stunk most of the time. He finally figured something out in 2010 and then made a big, surprising impact at the big league level.
For Hurdle to even point to this as a reason that Marte isn't up here is a bit ridiculous. Every player is different and you just can't compare guys like this. Sure, having a ton of AAA at-bats certainly can't hurt you, but it's not like there's a magic number of at-bats a guy has to get to to ensure that he won't struggle in the big leagues. Some guys could skip AAA entirely and not struggle much in the big leagues, some guys could be there for three or four years and still have those growing pains.
I don't believe that the Pirates are really holding Marte down because of his number of at-bats. They aren't thinking "oh, well McCutchen and Walker had more at-bats and are doing well so we'd better give Marte more at-bats", that's just illogical. This was just Hurdle responding to a specific question about at-bats. He points to true information, it's just not real relevant in my opinion.
The Pirates are struggling for production out of the corner outfield spots while they are in the midst of a playoff race, but that hasn't caused the Pirates to crack and promote Marte prematurely. They feel that it is best for his future to be in Indianapolis right now, so that's what they're going to do. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but we're all ready to see what he can do with a big boy uniform on.