In reviewing the 2012 Miami Marlins season these past few weeks, we have hit very few bright spots along the way. One of them was Jose Reyes, whom I went over last week. Another candidate for a positive review, however, was clearly the team's best player, Giancarlo Stanton. We actually spoke about Stanton in our very first installment of this series, but we went over a lot of what went right with Stanton's 2012 season. Indeed, a lot did go well, but it is worth discussing some of the problems he also had in 2012.
The positives about Stanton's campaign were numerous. He was highly productive in the time that he did spend as starter. Stanton set a career high in home runs with 37 despite getting just 501 PA on the year. His 37 home runs ranked second in the National League and seventh in the majors, and no player in the top ten of either list had fewer than 600 PA. Stanton's 501 PA was lower than all but one of the top 30 home run hitters in the majors this year, with only rookie Colorado Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario having fewer opportunities at the plate.
Stanton's .608 slugging percentage led the majors in 2012 among players with at least 500 PA. In addition, the season was among the best power years since the most recent offensive downturn that began in 2010. Stanton's 2012 season ranks ninth in all player seasons in slugging, ranking behind seasons put up by the likes of Jose Bautista, Josh Hamilton, and David Ortiz. Only two seasons since 2010 with at least 250 PA had higher ISO than Stanton's .318. One of those years was Jim Thome's excellent 2010 year off the bench, and the other was Jose Bautista's 54-homer year.
At the same time, Stanton somehow managed a .290 batting average despite all that power, thanks to a .344 BABIP. This was a career high as well and got folks thinking about a .300 batting average for 2013. In fact, Stanton's 2012 season even had him consider .300 a reasonable goal for the future, despite his other difficulties at the plate.
But Stanton was not merely a hard-hitting slugger with a first baseman's glove and the lead feet of a catcher in the field. In terms of the advanced defensive statistics, Stanton was also one of the best right fielders in baseball this season. For example, Stanton ranked fifth among right fielders this year in runs above average according to UZR, behind only Jason Heyward, Josh Reddick, Ichiro Suzuki, and Torii Hunter. He ranked fifth and fourth in DRS and TotalZone systems respectively as well, meaning that the defensive stats all saw him as a Gold Glove-level defender in 2012.
But despite all the good things that Stanton did this year, you cannot ignore that there were a few problems in his game this past season. It is easy to look at his .290 batting average and think he was more well-rounded at the plate, but his strikeout numbers suggest that this problem persists. His 28.6 percent strikeout rate was higher than last year's mark, and it was steadily rising as the season went along.
You can see that Stanton's strikeouts starting climbing from about 25 percent in early- to mid-August and began taking a sharp turn up that continued on through September. Stanton whiffed in 33 percent of his PA in August and 37 percent in September, averaging a 35 percent rate in those final two months. Meanwhile, it is not hard to see the concurrent steady fall of his walk rate from a high closer to 10 percent all the way down to what ended up being an 9.2 percent rate. His rate got as low as in the seven percent region before climbing in September.
The reason for Stanton's faltering strikeout and walk rates was a loss of plate discipline, especially late in the season. His overall season showed a decrease in selectivity as compared to last season.
Stanton got a few more pitches in the zone to hit this season, though that may have been due to his struggles in April, during which pitchers attacked him in the strike zone. Since his crazy month of May, Stanton has more or less been avoided at the plate, but in August and September, he fell for those tricks by pitchers and chased a lot of pitches out of the zone, as evidenced by the increased rate of swings out of the zone. While he made more contact this year, you can be certain he turned a lot of balls into foul balls by swinging out of the zone, and that can only lead to worse results and fewer walks.
Of course, Stanton's biggest problem in 2012 was staying healthy. Despite the great numbers, 501 PA is simply not enough Stanton for the Marlins to win, and him missing significant time in July particularly hurt the club's slight chances of contention at that stage. Stanton likely cost the Marlins at least one win during his injury time.
Overall though, Stanton's season could not be considered anything but a success, as the Marlins got the most wins from Stanton than from any one other individual player. The team could not be happier with his production this past year, and the Marlins will have a chance to hopefully see a fully healthy Stanton and what he is capable of in 2013.