2011 Marlins Season Preview: Right Field
By Michael Jong
Ah, finally something good to talk about.
The Marlins started last season with Cody Ross in right field, but ended the year surprisingly with phenom Mike Stanton out there for the ballclub. The fact that Stanton survived the major league season and came out of it as one of the best rookies in baseball was surprising to me given his age. However, by the end of the season there was no doubt that he was ready for the big leagues and worthy of a starting spot on the 2011 Marlins.
Starter: Mike Stanton
Backup: Scott Cousins
Minor league depth: Bryan Petersen
Simply put, Stanton was magnificent in 2010, belting 22 home runs in just under 400 PA in the big leagues after a mammoth .312/.442/.729 (!) showing in 240 Double-A PA. In total, Stanton hit 43 home runs in 636 PA split between the minors and majors, a rate of just about 40 per 600 PA. Of course, you can’t weigh his minor league PA with the same impact as his major league numbers, but even his major league sample yields an average of 33 home runs per 600 PA, a more than acceptable number.
You know what is most exciting about Mike Stanton’s power? It hasn’t even reached the tip of the iceberg. Last season, Stanton’s HR/FB rate was a very high 22.9 percent, which ranked second in the majors behind only Joey Votto. I often refer to the flukiness of HR/FB rates over single seasons, but since we know that Stanton has always had plus-plus power, it may be useful to compare his power to those of others around that number. In the last three seasons, only two players with at least 390 PA have a higher HR/FB rate han Stanton had, and those two players were (unsurprisingly) Jim Thome and Ryan Howard. Near our power-hitting youngster are some other big power names such as Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, and Carlos Pena. Do you think Stanton is as strong as any one of these guys? I do, and that means that we can reasonably project Stanton to hit similar home run marks this season.
Now for the most interesting fact yet about Stanton’s awesome 2010 year. That 22.9 percent HR/FB rate includes his pop ups and infield flies, which usually don’t have much of a chance to leave the park and are generally automatic outs. Stanton apparently hit a popup in 10.2 percent of his balls in play, leaving him with only a 27.2 percent fly ball rate (data according to MLB Gameday). That means that Stanton’s power stats may have been further dampened by a propensity to pop up; we could see even more power production than we’ve already witnessed this past season. Even if we don’t, any improvement or regression in Stanton’s popup rate will lead to a guaranteed fewer number of outs, which should help Stanton’s likely low batting average and OBP.
Stanton’s only major problem at the plate is obviously his strikeouts. Last season, he struck out in 31.1 percent of his plate appearances, which is right around the range at which I pegged him prior to his major league debut. As we all know, the strikeout can bury a man, regardless of his power, if his plate approach is not yet refined. Adam Dunn can make a living whiffing as much as he does because he still excels at getting on base via the walk, but Stanton has yet to develop that kind of strong approach. For now, expecting him to repeat a .259 batting average seems unlikely; his power will really have to support him to outweigh the downside of the number of outs he is likely to make.
I handed out a similar amount of praise for Logan Morrison earlier this week, but there is one aspect of the game that separates these two players. While Morrison is still learning and struggling in left field, Stanton is an experienced enough right fielder to excel at the position due to his athleticism. Stanton has already impressed the defensive stats, all of which rate him as well above average in his first major league stint. The eyes can tell that as well, as the Marlins Fans rated him above average via the Fans Scouting Report. Marlin Maniac prospect maven John Herold agreed in his last assessment of Stanton, stating that his defensive numbers in the minors were very good as well.
Projection: 625 PA, 2.3 WAR
Here I am giving a conservative projection due to various unknowns. How will those strikeouts affect Stanton in 2011? How much of that power will return? Is he really an elite defender? I think the answers to those questions will be largely positive, and if they are, you can expect a batting line a little closer to what the professional systems are projecting.
Note that the Fans are the optimists here once again, while my simplest of simple Marcels-like projections is the pessimist. Just taking the middle ground between the two yields a .348 wOBA which seems completely believable. If we were to assume such a mark alongside my defensive projections, we’d be looking at a 3.0 WAR player in 2011. If you like ZiPS’s and PECOTA’s outlooks on offense, expect a slightly better 3.3 WAR player. If the projections work out as they say they will here, we should be getting a season worth noticing from Stanton; only two players in Marlins history have come close to reaching 3.0 WAR in their second big league season with the Fish, and those two were Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera. Big names for a big bat to live up to.