Mike Stanton, devourer of worlds

Remember on April 17, when Mike Stanton went one-for-four with two strikeouts and Edwin Rodriguez sent him down in the order in favor of Gaby Sanchez in the cleanup spot? No offense to Sanchez, who is hitting pretty well (but just .245/.339/.449 since April 17), but it is almost as if Stanton took that demotion to heart, because he has been devouring pitchers since that time. Since April 17, Stanton is hitting an absurd .304/.407/.674, including four homers and six walks in 54 plate appearances.

I chose an admittedly convenient point in Stanton’s season to date to illustrate one thing that has to have every Marlins fan excited and major league pitchers nervous: it seems that Mike Stanton is learning.

Stanton PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA
2011 89 .260 .360 .532 .388
2010 396 .259 .326 .507 .355

The batting average is static, but the huge spike in OBP and SLG are indicative of good things, possibly things that may be repeatable for the rest of the season. Just like when I took a look at Logan Morrison‘s impressive start, a look into Stanton’s peripherals shows a lot of positive signs that could lead to significant improvement from an already excellent hitter.

Stanton K% BB% XB / H BABIP
2011 31.1 8.6 0.957 .330
2010 28.1 10.1 1.050 .333

The Four Factors table above shows quite a few interesting tidbits of information. The combination of a static strikeout rate and an almost identical BABIP through the early part of 2011 season explain the near-identical batting averages. The power is, unsurprisingly, pretty similar as well; Marlins fans are well aware of how strong Stanton’s swing is, and he isn’t disappointing. So far this season, he has collected 20 hits, and 12 of them have gone for extra bases, including the four homers and seven doubles.

What is most promising from this look is the increase in walk rate. Sure, it is only 89 PA, but Stanton has drawn nine walks to start the year. In 2010, it took him 123 PA to reach the 10-walk mark. Beyond that, the 8.6 percent from the 2010 season includes six intentional walks from the time when Stanton hit eighth in the lineup and received free passes ahead of the pitcher.

The best part about the change in walk rate is that it seems very repeatable.

Stanton Pitches/PA Swing% Whiff% Called Strike%
2011 4.04 43.8 30.8 31.7
2010 3.87 45.6 33.8 25.7

The key here is that even though Stanton is swinging more often and missing on more swings, pitchers just do not seem to be willing to throw him strikes. For his called strike rate to fall to 25.7 percent, one of two things has to happen:

1) He is making more contact with pitches in the zone.

2) He is receiving fewer pitches in the zone.

Either situation would be preferable. If pitchers are attempting to avoid Stanton and Stanton follows suit by taking those extra balls, then the walk rate is possibly sustainable for as long as pitchers continue to approach him that way. If he is making more contact on pitches in the zone, then Marlins fans can’t feel too bad about that either, as making contact on any sort of pitch is better than swinging and missing.

If you are comfortable using the zone stats provided by either FanGraphs or StatCorner, they do say that both possibilities seem to be occurring at the same time. According to FanGraphs, Stanton is swinging and making contact on more pitches in the zone (up to 84.5 percent from 81.4 percent in 2010) and also has seen fewer pitches (not including pitches swung at) in the zone than last year (down to 42.4 percent from 43.3 percent in 2010). StatCorner shows similar numbers, with a three percent decrease in pitches seen inside the zone and a five percent increase in contact made in the zone by Stanton. Again, if you buy those numbers (and the legitimacy of these statistics has been called into question, at least for FanGraphs’s BIS-based pitch stats), both of the possibilities mentioned above could possibly be happening in 2011.

With an improved walk rate, Stanton has bumped his OBP up to above average levels to supplement his mammoth power, which should continue to flourish in the majors. Even if he can maintain a 30 percent strikeout rate, a decent BABIP could still buy him a solid enough batting average and OBP to maintain respectable numbers. Essentially, with just an increase in walk rate for whatever reason, Stanton’s game might fill out faster than any of us expected, and that would be a very good thing for the Marlins.

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