The comparison between Mike Stanton and former young Marlins star Miguel Cabrera has once again risen to the top of Marlins discussion. Of course, just a couple of months ago, amidst the worst month in Marlins history, I made that comparison myself in an attempt to make people feel better about the state of the team. Of course, I would not have made the comparison if it were not so apt, but indeed it is quite the effective comparison. Here are how the two players have performed through their first two years in the big leagues.
Again, despite going about it in different ways, Cabrera and Stanton have come out quite similarly in their first two seasons in the majors. Where Stanton lacked in batting average and OBP, he made it up in power with superior slugging numbers. Essentially, not much has changed since the last time we checked on Stanton and compared him to Cabrera.
So why bring it up now? Well it seems the Marlins are taking my cue and considering a long-term extension for Stanton to be signed some time next season. If the Fish are interested in extending Stanton, they may be in a rare and lucky situation: they might have a player who at the time of signing is not a star but is almost a sure bet to develop into one in the future.
How Stanton can improve
The Marlins are looking to catch lightning in a bottle by extending Stanton long-term. They’ll be looking to trade off flexibility in terms of his performance for a return of guaranteed free agent seasons that they think will benefit the team. In the case of Stanton, they have a player who has not yet developed into a star, but given his age and current skill is almost a lock to do so. Just being favorably compared to a player like Cabrera makes for a bright future, but what can Stanton take from Cabrera’s example in order to improve as a hitter?
Here are their peripherals for comparison:
Where did Cabrera go from there after his second season? Cabrera finished off his three remaining seasons with the Fish batting .327/.404/.564, producing these peripherals:
It is obvious that Cabrera showed significant improvement in two areas: strikeouts and BABIP. His power remained mostly static, though this comparison does not capture the fact that he did hit more home runs during his final three years in Florida. His walk rate, when excluding the increase in intentional walks resulting from being the biggest threat in the Florida lineup, remained the same throughout his five years with the Marlins. Cabrera’s biggest improvements essentially bumped his batting average upwards and dragged his other statistics along the way. The fact that his power remained mostly static means that he continued to get the different types of hits at similar rates as those of his first two seasons; he simply collected more of them in this time period.
How can Stanton improve his current rates? Obviously Stanton could use some improvement in the strikeout category. This aspect of his game remains the glaring hole in an otherwise scary set of tools. Stanton’s improvement in terms of strikeouts this season is encouraging, and even though I have concerns about the fact that pitchers may simply be approaching him more carefully without him necessarily being more selective, the changes may still “stick” anyway. Look at another player with high strikeout rates and about an average walk rate to go along with his enormous power: Ryan Howard. In Howard’s first few seasons, he struck out in 27.9 percent of his plate appearances and walked in 9.3 percent of them – numbers which are quite comparable to Stanton’s. Looking at his called strike rates since 2007, you can see that pitchers are handling Howard to a called strike rate in the mid- to low-20 percent mark, very similar to what Stanton is seeing now. Perhaps that sort of mammoth power yields those numbers.
However, do not be so encouraged by this comparison. Howard has not drastically improved that strikeout rate since he started his career; despite receiving this sort of treatment from pitchers, Howard has a career strikeout rate of 28.1 percent. So even if Stanton continues to get this approach from pitchers, he will not see much further improvement if he does not improve his actual contact or selectivity.
How can Stanton improve in other categories? It seems pretty difficult to imagine him getting better in terms of power, but it is so rare to see this kind of strength out of a hitter. Looking at all players with at least 800 PA since last season, Stanton is eighth in terms of ISO, behind only some of the best power hitters in all of baseball (Jose Bautista, Albert Pujols, and Cabrera among others). Taking that comparison back to 2008, more than three and a half seasons, and Stanton ranks sixth behind Pujols, Bautista, Howard, Jim Thome, and Nelson Cruz. Essentially, Stanton is already one of the strongest players in baseball, and right now it is difficult to imagine him getting a whole lot stronger. I suspect at his peak he could be a .300 ISO player like Pujols or Howard, but going any further would seem pretty absurd.
The contract extension
As for Stanton’s possible extension, I put out this initial proposal a few months back:
Now that we know that Stanton will be under pre-arbitration control through 2013, this would be my new amended contract, effective starting in 2012.
In this case, there is basically no change to the old deal, as there really is not anything new for the Marlins to consider. This adds up to a seven-year, $52 million extension that would buy out two free agent years and commit the Marlins to paying Stanton at a very similar scale to what they paid Hanley Ramirez during his arbitration years.
However, there is a possibility that the Marlins could get away with an even easier deal because of the unique situation that they have with Stanton that they did not have with Ramirez. Ramirez was a star when he signed, having posted almost a six-win season in 2007 and a strong start to an eventual seven-win season in 2008 before signing halfway through the 2008 year. Stanton is on his way to posting a four-win season in his second year, meaning he is not nearly as established as Ramirez was when he signed. The Fish could push for an even cheaper deal during the arbitration years, though it is likely unnecessary. What is more likely is that the Fish could push for more free agent seasons for Stanton because he is so young and yet to be established. If they could coax a few more years at the end of the deal, once again trading security to the player in return for cheaper service, the Marlins could come out well ahead in this extension.