Investigating Giancarlo Stanton, Is He Worth Acquiring?

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The perception among fans and media in regards to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton seems to be of a franchise savior. An athletic monster with prodigious power, who has yet to even arrive at his peak performance. The 24 year-old Stanton has elite raw power, and the propensity to launch tape measure, majestic home runs which leave many in awe. These are just a few of the many home runs Stanton has crushed far beyond the outfield fence. 
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There is no denying the raw power Stanton possesses is remarkable. One could say the first home run landed on another planet as the ball literally bounced off of the top of the restaurant, Planet Hoagie. The scoreboard Giancarlo cleared in the second gif was the same scoreboard he damaged with a line drive home run he hit off of the geriatric Jamie Moyer in 2012.

The final home run might not appear to be as impressive, but look closely and notice who he hit the home run off of. 2013 National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw does not allow many home runs at Dodger Stadium to travel such a distance. The 434 foot True Distance blast is the second longest home run allowed by Kershaw in the last three seasons at home. According to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, only Kyle Blanks has hit a ball further at Dodger Stadium off of Kershaw in the last three years, and the ball managed to exceed Stanton’s homer by one measly foot.

Due primarily to Stanton playing for an organization which is known for trading many of it’s best players before they become expensive, Stanton has been rumored for the past year or so to be on the trading block. The Texas Rangers have been mentioned as a possible trade suitor with Miami since the genesis of the Stanton trade hypothetical because the Rangers have a deep farm system stocked with potential inexpensive, cost-effective young talent a frugal organization such as Miami desires. With the Rangers searching for a potent corner outfield bat this off season, and possessing a luxury of middle infielders the Marlins could use in their seemingly perpetual rebuilding process, on paper, a trade between the two teams makes some bit of sense.

Since Stanton has been mentioned so often in trade discussions among the masses, and was once given a “Giancarlo Watch” by the fantastic website I author material for, I thought I would do some investigating into Stanton’s numbers to find out if a team really should be willing to part with potential future value for his services.

Bill James

I realize this is a piece dedicated to Giancarlo Stanton, and not the father of modern sabermetrics, but allow me to preface my piece with some pertinent information James authored many years ago in one of his Historical Abstracts in regards to what he described as “old-people skills”. Players with “old-people skills” have the propensity to be a three true outcome player, which means relying on the walk, whiffing frequently, and trying to hit homers with little regard for contact. Players with “young-people skills” possess speed and are more reliant on contact. James discovered players with “old” skills peaked sooner, and declined much more quickly than players with “young” skills.

Players with “old” skills have difficulty maintaining high batting averages, and will have lower BABIPs due to their inability to beat many ground balls out in the infield. The bat speed deteriorates, and one will notice more whiffs and less hard contact. Their defense peaks early, and is expected to decline drastically as they approach 30 years old. Here is what James wrote courtesy of Fangraphs, and Tommy Bennett:

The outfielders that had “old players skills” did in fact peak earlier and fade faster than the players who had “young players skills.” From ages 21 to 23 the two groups of players were equal in value, 614 Win Shares for the “Young” players, 615 for the “Old” players. But from ages 24-26 the players with “old” skills had 7% less value (1482-1379), and as time passed the gap widened steadily… from ages 31-33 they had 10% less value (1340-1207).

After reading this particular quote from the sabermetric guru, I immediately thought of Stanton because he just completed his age 23 season, his fourth major league year, and seemed to possess some of the perilous traits James cautioned his readers about any years ago. Here is some intriguing statistical evidence I found.

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What immediately jumps out to me is Stanton was worth over three wins less than he was in ’12, while only playing in seven fewer games. His wRC+ dropped 21%, he hit thirteen fewer home runs, and his ISO was an amazing 87 points lower than it was in ’12. One will also notice the 31 point dip in BABIP, and while a .313 BABIP is not horrendous, the 31 point fall seems indicative of the “old” skills written by James.

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Predictably, the batting average fell 41 points, and the slugging plummeted an incredulous 128 points. These numbers, along with the BABIP, would seem to further indicate the “old” skills, and potential decline in ability. Perhaps, a loss of speed could also be credited (more on that later).

The increase in BB% is a dependable and desirable skill, but the elevation in walks could have been due to Stanton hitting in the middle of a putrid Marlins lineup ranked among the worst in baseball. Also, with Stanton increasing his BB%, and lowering his K%, one would assume his improved plate discipline would lead to better contact rates.

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Stanton certainly enhanced his plate discipline in ’13, and the decrease in the amount of pitches thrown in the zone provide some reasoning as to why his BB% increased. However, when a player improves his batting eye in the manner Stanton did, his contact % should not decrease, even in the small amount Stanton’s did. This would seem to indicate the eroding of bat speed, which will lead to more whiffs and weaker contact when Stanton does manage to make contact. Let’s first look at Stanton’s whiff percentages the last two seasons.

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As one can tell, Stanton certainly did have more difficulty hitting pitches in the strike zone in ’13. One will also notice much more blue in the top graph, than in the bottom graph. Stanton was missing with more regularity in ’13, which seems to suggest deteriorating bat speed. For further proof, let’s find out what type of contact Stanton made when he was able to actually hit the baseball.  
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Again, we see more evidence of worsening bat speed as the the ground ball percentage increased, the fly ball percentage decreased, and Stanton was unable to square the baseball with as much regularity. Even more alarming is the percentage of infield fly balls hit increased six percent. The loss of 31 points in BABIP makes sense as Stanton is hitting more balls on the ground, and with his possible lack of speed, will be unable to beat out many balls hit in the infield. We will now segue into Stanton’s speed and base running.  
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Stanton has never been a superb base runner, but the one stolen base in ’13 was a career low. Also, his speed score declined 50%, and he was a negative base runner in ’13. But, not as worse as he was in 2010 and 2011 when he yielded BsRs of -4 and -12.5 respectively.

For a player as young as Stanton, the low speed score and inability to run the bases is concerning. The decline in BABIP, batting average, and even SLG, now makes sense as he continues to exhibit “old” skills in all areas.. Let’s now transition over to Stanton’s defense the last two seasons.  

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Stanton has never been an excellent defender, and defensive metrics are not yet as reliable as offensive numbers, but Stanton’s defense all around was below average in ’13. While he was once quite adept at catching what was mostly hit in his direction, he appears to now have trouble even doing that. This seems to be indicative of the declining defensive ability displayed by players with “old” skills.

Conclusion

Even though we are working with an extremely limited sample of 116 games in ’13, the numbers do seem to specify a decline of a player exhibiting “old” skills before he has even reached his peak age 24-26 years. Remember, Stanton’s ’13 season was his age 23 season. While Stanton’s ’13 could have been an aberration due to injury issues, the drop in BABIP, dive in batting average, high whiff rate, decrease in LD%, reduced contact %, decline in Spd/BsR, plunge in defensive metrics, and nosedive in ISO and SLG are not good indicators of future success for the Marlins outfielder. Again, this could be a small sample aberration, but the numbers are alarming.

The Marlins are probably cognizant of Stanton’s disappointing ’13 season, but general manager Dan Jennings has already stated that Stanton will be in the Miami lineup opening day in 2014. However, a prudent move for the Marlins might be to acquire a king’s ransom of potential future cost-effective young value, in exchange for a player whose price is about increase exponentially due to arbitration and could be declining overall. Finding a team desperate for a right-handed power bat should not be difficult as contenders such as the Rangers seek right-handed power in a market where Nelson Cruz is rumored to receive a multi-year deal soon.

While the Fighting Lorias should be dangling Stanton for a potential suitor, other teams , including Texas, should seek options elsewhere this offseason and find out if Stanton is able to refine his skills in ’14. If Stanton improves in ’14, perhaps then teams should begin to phone Dan Jennings inquiring about the slugger’s availability. Trading potential cheap, young value for Stanton appears far too risky at the moment, and would not be advisable. Stanton is certainly a rare talent, but I am simply frightened by his injury history and decline in many important numbers. A rebound season is certainly possible, but I would make Stanton prove he is the player he was in ’12 before sacrificing my farm to acquire him.

A final parting thought for the readers who believe I am stating Giancarlo Stanton is close to retirement; only five players in baseball history have hit 117 or more home runs in their first four years being their age 20-23 seasons. One is Giancarlo Stanton, and the other four are Eddie Mathews, Frank Robinson, Ted Williams, and Orlando Cepeda. All four of those players are in the baseball hall of fame. Stanton is not exactly destined for Cooperstown at the moment, but if he wants to join the other four players in Cooperstown one day, he must not continue to allow his numbers to dwindle in the manner they did in ’13. If they do, Stanton might have reached his peak well before he should have actually entered it.

Dustin Dietz is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Dustin.Dietz@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @DustinDietz18
Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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