Early in the season, you always start reading stories about how hitters and pitchers are struggling or are red-hot, and if those streaks of good or bad continue for a decent amount of time, they start engulfing the narrative of the entire season for that player. The narrative around the Miami Marlins has already been written, and the Fish are not exactly doing anything to stop it. But for star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, the season has not started well either, and he may want to repair that before the bad start engulfs his entire 2013 campaign.
But for his part, he recognizes that it is way too early in the season to panic about his numbers.
"It’s a marathon not a race," Stanton said. "We’ve only had six games, 20, 25 at-bats. People want to say this is how the season is going to go. No, you’ve got to go through the whole year."
That is technically the politically correct thing to say as a struggling player opening up the regular season, but at least it sounds as though Stanton knows something that a lot of players inherently understand, but do not express all the time. Most players intuitively understand the concept of "regression to the mean," or the idea that extremes on any given measurement are likely to appear closer to their true average on the next measure. The quote above does not necessarily say the concept, but it reflects the idea that we cannot make snap judgments about him or this Marlins team with only eight or nine games in the books.
Of course, we expected the Marlins to struggle before the season, so while the team should do better than its 1-8 start, we know that this squad is not playoff-bound or anything of that sort. Any thoughts about that would be more unbridled optimism than a point towards regression. But Stanton avoided claiming anything of that nature, simply saying that the he and the Marlins needed to play out the entire year to see where they end up. Marlins fans probably should just not get their hopes up.
As for Stanton's own play, he mentioned an interesting point regarding his unique situation as the team's best hitter and its only threat.
Stanton isn’t placing the blame for his struggles on anyone but himself. Even though the Marlins lineup doesn’t feature a true clean-up hitter to protect him, Stanton said Monday he has been seeing about the same amount of pitches inside the strike zone as he did a year ago. He has just been swinging and missing more often than not.
"They’ve been going at him with fastballs — he’s just not there yet," manager Mike Redmond said. "I know he’s a streaky guy. We’ll keep running him out there and stay positive."
Luckily for Stanton, I just discussed the topic of Stanton's strike zone struggles so far this year. The numbers from FanGraphs state the opposite of what Stanton has mentioned; he has swung and missed on the same number of pitches in the zone, but the number of pitches out of the zone has increased and he has swung and missed on more of those.
As for the fastballs manager Mike Redmond mentions, this is actually true according to Pitch F/X. Stanton has seen fastballs 41.3 percent of the time, which is not surprising if pitchers are trying to aim away from the zone. Why risk hanging an off-speed pitch in the middle of the plate for Stanton to crush when you can command your fastball to the edges better? In addition, it has been difficult not to notice Stanton taking strikes at the onset of a plate appearance, mostly on fastballs in the strike zone, only to get behind and be forced to swing away at a breaking pitch. His relative lack of performance versus fastballs has led to the slider eating him alive according to FanGraphs' pitch run values.
As mentioned in the previous article, how Stanton adjusts to this approach will determine how well he will regress to his expected mean this season. But at least in his case, Marlins fans should be patient and wait out a return to the Stanton of old.