Stanton’s strikeouts still a concern
By Michael Jong
Amidst growing concerns over a terribly slumping outfield trio, Marlins fans everywhere are getting antsy to see one Mike Stanton come up to the majors. As I discussed with Steve Keane last night on BBA Baseball Talk, fans are anxious to see the mammoth home runs and perhaps are not paying attention to a critical problem in Stanton’s game that may translate poorly to the big league level.
It’s been mentioned before, but Stanton strikes out a lot. In fact, for his minor league career, he has struck out 27.4% of the time. This is isn’t extravagantly high, but we would expect such a result to increase if he were to be promoted and get significant playing time this season. Just as a quick comparison, I dug up the players who racked up strikeouts at this sort of rate over the past three seasons and looked at how well they did.
I used FanGraphs and looked at all players from the last three calendar years with over 300 plate appearances to strike out in more than 27% of those PA. The list was consistent of 20 players, ranging in talent from Brandon Boggs of the Texas Rangers to Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies. As a group, the average K% (straight average of the percentages so that there was no bias towards players who were given the opportunity to play more) was 30.1%, a reasonable expectation given the difficulty of moving up to the majors and Stanton’s history with strikeouts. The group also had an average wOBA of .325 (again, straight average), slightly below average.
To narrow the list of “comparables” a bit, I excluded any players with a HR/FB% of less than 12%. This filtered out a few weaker hitters in the power department, but still left some undesirables like Wilson Betemit and Bill Hall. Nevertheless, excluding the weakest power hitters naturally increased the wOBA to .337, which is approximately the same wOBA Rangers first baseman Chris Davis had.
Cautionary Tale #1
It’s funny that Davis should come up, as I think he is an interesting comparison. Here are their minor league hitting careers side-by-side.
Davis’ actual counts for home runs, walks, and strikeouts are almost identical to those of Stanton, though Davis had 125 more PA than Stanton. Still, I find an uncanny similarity between the players, with Davis essentially being a less extreme version of Stanton. Now, Davis was 20 years old when he became a pro, whereas Stanton is 20 years old now, so there’s a distinct difference going forward; Stanton is miles ahead of Davis as a prospect, but right now we aren’t discussing Stanton as a prospect, but rather Stanton as a major league player right now. Davis’ .335 wOBA during that three-year period started off with a bang, as he batted .285/.331/.549 (.371 wOBA) in 317 PA in the majors in 2008. It all went downhill from there, but the overall .335 wOBA would be something I would expect to see from Stanton now.
Cautionary Tale #2
OK, Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves is by far the least likely “cautionary tale” I should use for the history of 20-year old major leaguers. He’s currently hitting .300/.423/.611, a .444 wOBA. That’s absurd. But here is what I thought was interesting. Heyward has still struck out in 23.6% of his PA this season. This certainly is not a big deal in comparison to the league, but back in the minors, Heyward struck out only 13.9% of the time (138 times in 995 PA). His strikeouts have unsurprisingly jumped since hitting in the minors, up around 10%. My fear is that if a player like Heyward, who showed no issues and essentially cruised in the minor leagues can see this kind of a jump (small sample size alert, of course; we’re probably still 150 PA from strikeout rates “stabilizing” and being moderately predictive), Stanton and his already problematic minor league K% may skyrocket Chris Davis style.
Temper you expectations
That’s all I want. Mike Stanton is not going to save this team. He simply can’t. As individual a sport as baseball is, you’re still depending on the rest of your team for the entire group to win. And as a 20-year old, mounting expectations on him will only lead to the disappointment of those who were expecting. The more and more Chris Coghlan and Cameron Maybin struggle, the more likely it is for us to see Stanton later this year (and perhaps sooner rather than later). Let’s just keep our Stanton-fever to ourselves until he proves himself a bit in the majors.