Yesterday, we asked whether Giancarlo Stanton, at the tender age of 21, was already the Miami Marlins' best power hitter in team history. Given his extreme success in the first few seasons of his career, the question is surprisingly legitimate and, as we explored yesterday, the answer may very well be "yes" already.
Stanton's extreme power has no better example than the 2012 season. He is second in the National League in home runs with 29, only six behind the National League leader Ryan Braun. We have previously discussed whether Stanton still has a shot to catch Braun for the National League lead, and while he is behind by six homers, he is still just a hot streak away from cutting into that lead significantly; after all, Stanton just hit eight homers in 11 games on this last road trip to the west coast.
But the thing about Stanton's home run escapades in 2012 is not necessarily the number so much as the lack of opportunities. Stanton having hit 29 homers through August and being in second place in the National League is not an accomplishment until you realize he has only 397 PA through that time period and missed an entire month with injury. Stanton does not have the luxury of a full season of PA, but he is still marching his way forward and has an outside shot at 40 home runs despite not playing a full year!
Just how likely is that to happen? It is worth examining the rarity of 40-homer seasons and seeing if Stanton has a shot.Forty Home Runs a Rare Feat
When I grew up watching baseball, we were right in the middle of the so-called "Steroids Era" of the game. Forty home runs did not seem like a major feat at the time, as there seemingly were two to five guys who accomplished the task every season. But as that time period passed, players hitting 40 homers began being more of a special situation. Let's arbitrarily end the Steroid Era in 2005, the first season after Barry Bonds's monster four-year run. From 2005 to 2011, there have been 36 player-seasons with 40 or more home runs. That represents 3.4 percent of all qualified player seasons (1065 qualified player seasons total). Fast forward that to 2009, the first season in which the league-wide run environment began falling to its current levels. There were only nine player-seasons with 40 or more homers out of 448 qualified seasons, a mark of 2.0 percent. The rate of these types of years is falling.
Even Rarer Without Full Seasons
The accomplishment is even more rare when you consider players who did not play full seasons. There have been only nine player seasons in baseball history with over 40 home runs and fewer than 550 PA. If you cut that down to 520 PA, a ballpark estimate for Stanton's end-of-season total, that number goes down to just four.
In addition to that, most of these seasons occurred at a much higher run environment than the one Stanton and the rest of baseball is in right now. Only one of those nine seasons, Hank Aaron's 1973 season year with the Atlanta Braves, occurred before 1994. Each of the other eight seasons occurred between 1994 and 2003, smack dab in the middle of the steroids era. From 2005 to 2011, the lowest number of PA in a player-season that reached 40 homers is 564 by Travis Hafner in 2006. No other player hit more than 40 homers in that time period without going at least 600 PA. The most homers by a player with fewer than 550 PA in that time frame was 35 by Jim Thome.
So not only are 40-homer seasons getting increasingly more rare as the run environment decreases, but they are even harder to accomplish when you do not get a full season's worth of work. Both factors are working against Giancarlo Stanton, but working in his favor is his mammoth power. For his career, Stanton has hit a homer every 16.4 PA. In almost every rate category in terms of power, Stanton is far exceeding his peers. Indeed, we may have never seen a player with Stanton's power profile, especially in an environment so unfriendly to hitters.
So does he have a shot? ZIPS projects seven more home runs in 119 PA for the rest of the year for Stanton, and the playing time estimate seems relatively sound provided he stays healthy the rest of the year. Recently, manager Ozzie Guillen has played Stanton in an afternoon game following a night game, meaning he is more willing to go to Stanton even on a fast turnover.
Stanton's projected chance of hitting a homer on any given PA is 5.9 percent. Given those odds, Stanton has a 9.4 percent chance to hit at least 11 home runs and reach 40 homers in those 119 PA. That gives him almost a 10 percent shot of being the player with the least number of PA to hit at least 40 homers in a season, and it would put him in an impressive list of company including names like Aaron, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr, and others. And Stanton is doing this in an era with fewer home runs and tougher pitching than in recent memory, making his accomplishment all that more impressive.
An almost 10 percent shot at one of the most impressive home run seasons in baseball history? Yes, there is still reason to watch the 2012 Miami Marlins, and that reason is once again Giancarlo Stanton.