The Miami Marlins should know that their players should have better days ahead of them given their rest-of-season projections. But it is hard to be not concerned by the occurrences of April, even if many of them are likely to be isolated problems that should turn out all right in the end.
One of the biggest concerns is probably the Marlins with regards to their young outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton is off to a rough start this season, and the Marlins are depending on him to recuperate from a rough early start to help carry the team through the rest of 2012. But if you will recall, Stanton did not have much of a power output in 2011, as he only had one more home run at the end of last year's April than he does this season. However, his performance was significantly more uplifting last year.
As you can see, Stanton has lost a good deal of power and has walked less in this season than he did in April of last year, so the idea that he was pretty similar only extends to home runs. Last year, Stanton also knocked seven doubles along with his two homers, while this year he has only four to start the year.
The biggest culprit for that loss of power? Ground balls. And the possible reason? A new approach against Stanton by pitchers.Power Grounded
Stanton has hit into a ton more grounders this season than in his career.
This is the direct cause of Stanton's lack of power; clearly it is much more difficult to hit doubles and home runs off of ground balls. This early performance is distinctly different from his balls in play from April of last year, as pointed out by FanGraphs' Mike Axisa in yesterday's piece concerning this very topic. Check out the two charts of his balls in play from this year and last year, courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com.
Here is last season.
And compare that to this season's distribution.
In terms of long fly balls, it does not seem like there is a whole lot of difference. There are about six or so fly balls that were warning track shots this season as compared to eight from last year. The mid-ranged balls caught in the outfield look a little closer on average to home plate in this season than they did last season. But the biggest difference is very clearly in the large propensity of ground balls to the third base side that you can see from this season. It is not as if Stanton does poorly on grounders, as he hit .267 last season on ground balls and is hitting .303 this year. But those ground balls will not leave parks and steal a huge amount of value from him.
A Different Approach
The question is why Stanton is hitting these ground balls. Axisa brings up the possibility of Stanton's knee injury continuing to bother him, and I do think that is contributing to the potential problem. But another factor could be involved, and it may be a new approach that pitchers are taking with Stanton.
Consider the following plate discipline stats for Stanton.
These numbers do not look all that different from each other. Stanton is swinging at more pitches, but his selectivity has not gone down, as almost all of those extra pitches are inside the zone. His contact rate has not decreased at all. With that extra contact however, Stanton's strikeouts and walks have both decreased; he is down to a 26 percent strikeout rate and a 5.2 percent walk rate.
But why swing more at this stage? Because pitchers, oddly enough, are forcing him to. Pitchers this year have thrown 50 percent of pitches to him in the zone, as compared to 42 percent last season. Pitchers are in the zone against him more than they were in his rookie season. They are attacking the zone more often, knowing perhaps that Stanton is weakened with injury or that throwing it in the zone is going to result in a lack of contact in any case. For whatever reason, even though pitchers are attacking the zone more, Stanton has not been able to take advantage and make more contact on his pitches, resulting in him being forced to swing more often at pitches that would otherwise become strikes. Perhaps it is this change that is forcing Stanton to make less ideal contact by not letting him wait for his pitch like he usually would.
This is merely a suggestion for another aspect that could be affecting his game in 2012. It could just be a simple slump, but the combination of more grounders, a different approach by pitchers, and weakened power results does point to a difference in skills that may not just go away. It may be something that can be quickly fixed by coaching or video, so here is hoping the right adjustments are on their way.