Few players were as frustrating to own as Giancarlo Stanton was in 2013. If you owned the Miami Marlins outfielder last season it likely cost you a second-round pick, and the return you got on that investment was a meager 62 runs, 62 RBI, 24 home runs and just one steal to go with a .249 batting average — certainly not what you were expecting when you drafted him.
Stanton was plagued with a hamstring injury last season that resulted in a five week DL stint, and he was also weighed down by one of the worst major league lineups of the last decade. I’m a believer that lineup protection, for the most part, is a myth. I do believe, though, that in extreme circumstances where a lineup is historically bad — like the Marlins were in 2013 — that it can have a taxing effect on an individual’s performance (i.e. Stanton last year).
First, let’s just start with the counting stats. Unless a player is going to hit a home run every time they step to the plate, it’s nearly impossible to score a run or drive one in without a teammate making a positive play. The Marlins’ offense has been one of the bottom two in MLB for each of the last two seasons, but in 2013 they truly hit rock bottom. In 2012, the Marlins averaged 3.76 runs per game, and in that season Stanton recorded 75 runs and 86 RBI over 501 plate appearances. In 2013, the Marlins averaged 3.17 runs per game and Stanton recorded just 62 runs and 62 RBI over 504 plate appearances. It would be naive to not acknowledge that Stanton’s individual production dipped from 2012-2013 (his ISO and batting average both decreased significantly along with an increase in ground balls and a decrease in both line drives and fly balls), but it would also be ignorant to not think the pitiful lineup surrounding him had an effect.
When we dive a little deeper we can also see that Stanton’s walk rate in 2013 was significantly higher than it has ever been at any point in his major league career. Stanton posted a 14.7 percent walk percentage last season, and prior to that his career-high was 11.6 percent in 2011. Stanton is just 24-years-old, and walk rate is something that does generally rise as a player gets into his mid-late 20s. But similar to his counting numbers it would be ignorant to think that pitchers weren’t taking advantage of the lineup behind him and pitching to the young slugger at least somewhat more carefully than if he had at least league average hitters behind him.
So what are we supposed to do with Stanton in 2014?
The Marlins’ lineup should certainly be better in 2014 than they were in 2013 (Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Casey McGehee are definitely upgrades at each of their positions), and they should provide Stanton with enough support that lineup protection shouldn’t be as much of a factor. That being said, I still wouldn’t draft Stanton expecting him to rebound to his 2012 form.
His .290 average in 2012 was a fluke that was largely fueled by a .344 BABIP along with a crazy high 28.9 percent home-run-to-fly-ball percentage. The BABIP suggests a great deal of luck went into that average and his batted ball distance in 2013 was actually seven feet further than it was in 2012, suggesting his 2012 home-run-to-fly-ball rate was a little fluky as well.
Stanton also has some legitimate injury concerns. In 2012, Stanton had a knee surgery that limited him to just 501 plate appearances, and last year he was limited to 504 plate appearances thanks to a grade-two hamstring injury. Soft tissue injuries like the ones Stanton has suffered don’t typically bode well for an athlete as big as him. Injury history is something that definitely needs to be taken into account when evaluating Stanton for 2014.
I have Stanton projected to record 72 runs, 78 RBI, 31 home runs, four steals and a .260 average over 535 plate appearances in 2014. He’s my 35th ranked outfielder (behind Domonic Brown, Will Venable and Coco Crisp) and I have him ranked as my 61st overall batter (behind Pedro Alvarez, Billy Butler and Buster Posey). I have a feeling that he’s going to be picked within the first five rounds in many fantasy drafts, and that’s not a price I’m willing to pay.