I’ve been thinking a lot about Mike Stanton’s power output. On my Twitter account, I mentioned that Stanton has hit 41 home runs this season, between Double-A and the majors, in just 561 PA. That translates to a rate of 13.68 PA/HR, a pretty sick home run rate. While I was in class not listening to the current lecture, I was perusing this article from FanGraphs’ Trade Value series that includes Stanton on the list. One of the commenters in the article mentioned a scary comparison player that no Marlins fan wants to hear. Take a look at Stanton’s 2010 season and Wily Mo Pena’s 2004 season, his second full season in the majors.
At first blush, this seems pretty scary. Pena notably flamed out in just a few seasons after a promising start to his career. Given the strong comparison between these two years, is this a possible endpoint for Stanton? Let’s examine what fits and what doesn’t in this comparison.
The good (and the scary)
Let’s take an even closer look at the data from those player seasons via the four factors.
That’s some scary stuff indeed. Pena and Stanton share a penchant for strikeouts and high power (evident from the POWH). Stanton seems to be a bit more patient and willing to take a pitch than Pena was, as the greater strikeout and walk numbers probably suggest. Still, the high power and strikeouts, along with the average OBP, seem to indicate that Pena is a decent comparison.
I attempted to scour the Googles for some information on Pena in terms of scouting, to see if the scouts had him ranked in the same stratosphere as Stanton’s power. I couldn’t find anything related to Pena’s power on a 20-80 scouting scale, and Baseball Prospectus’ blurb from their 2003 annual read like an indictment on his production. In terms of minor league production, Pena had one great season in the minors, belting 26 homers and batting .264/.327/.465 in the Midwest League (the average batting line that year was .258/.331/.383). In fact, FanGraphs prospect expert Bryan Smith ranks that as one of the best seasons in the history of the league by a teenager; Pena was just 19 years old that season.
So we have some commonalities between these two players:
- both have great power, though it is unlikely that Pena had the sort of heralded power for which Stanton was known in the minors
- both strike out a lot
- both had dominant seasons as teenagers in the minors
The bad (which is good for us)
No one wants to be directly compared to Wily Mo Pena, because Pena ultimately flamed out. Luckily, there are a few things that are markedly different between Stanton and Pena that are worth a look. The first and perhaps most obvious difference is age. Stanton is 20 years old this season and hitting 20 homers in less than 400 PA in the majors. On the other hand, Pena’s season quoted above came in his age-22 season, meaning he had two more years of development in the minors before posting those numbers, numbers that are nevertheless impressive for a 22-year old. We are more likely to see improvement in Stanton’s game than we saw in Pena’s.
In addition, though both player’s struck out a lot, I found that the ways in which they struck out differed a bit as well.
It turns out that Pena was the hitter with the more discerning eye that season, as he swung at fewer pitches out of the zone. However, he clearly wasn’t the more patient one, as he swung at well over 50% of pitches in total, well above the league average. In fact, he swung at almost 80% of pitches in the zone! Among qualifying players over the last three seasons, only four players (Josh Hamilton, Vladimir Guerrero, Delmon Young, and Jeff Francouer) swung at more than 79% of pitches in the zone, according to BIS. It would have been acceptable for Pena were he able to make better contact, but his contact% of 62.0% was atrocious, and it remained that low for his entire career. Stanton’s 70% rate is much better, as it stands only 10% below the league average. The difference between these two players in terms of contact is the difference between Mark Reynolds (62.4% the last three years) and Adam Dunn (71.2%).
Of course, Stanton could still whiff more often; we’ve only seen a small sample of what he can do. But his more patient approach should help him eventually draw more walks, especially as pitchers begin to pitch a little more carefully to him in order to avoid his powerful stroke. Still, some aspects of the comparison do indeed hold, and it should be yet another cautionary tale about Stanton and his game. Let’s hope those home runs remain plentiful and that the strikeouts and plate discipline problems do not overwhelm him heading into next year. It should be interesting to watch.