The Miami Marlins have not gotten a lot of good news this season, and Giancarlo Stanton is among the team's bad news overall. Stanton's 2013 campaign was nothing like what we expected, and it has to be considered a disappointment.
It has been difficult to pinpoint just what the problems with Stanton's year have been. A look at his strike zone issues showed no extra problems. He is displaying odd home/road splits. Earlier in the year, there was a question about whether he was adjusting to the way pitchers were pitching to him, but it seems that that has improved significantly. Maybe Stanton is just a slow starter.
Whatever the issues have been, it has been a struggle of a year for Stanton. But there is a bright spot in all of this, and at this point Marlins fans should be looking at the #minorvictories regarding Stanton as well as the rest of the team. So while Stanton's 2013 year overall has been poor, there are good signs heading into the final month of the season.
Perception: Giancarlo Stanton has been bad in 2013
When you compare it to what he was expected to do, it is difficult to argue against that point. ZiPS expected Stanton to hit .287/.367/.606 (.407 wOBA), while Steamer was expecting a .274/.357/.573 (.390 wOBA) line at the lowest. In light of those numbers, Stanton's paltry .251/.363/.470 (.364 wOBA) batting line does not compare. He needed a recent slew of home runs to boost his current performance past his 2010 rookie year, and Stanton was supposed to making progress this year rather than stagnating.
Perception = Reality
Perception: All of Giancarlo Stanton's 2013 season has been bad
Surprisingly, Stanton has been bad only in spurts. We know that he started slowly again this year, but he did so in each of his two full seasons before this one, and he did have a minor shoulder injury interrupt him in the middle of the month. After the hamstring injury, however, Stanton appeared to be back to his old self. Over June and July, he hit .270/.391/.541 (.402 wOBA) with 10 of his 16 home runs and a .276 ISO. That sounds very similar to the Giancarlo Stanton we came to expect, and certainly close to the one we saw last year.
But in August, he again struggled to a .235/.326/.407 (.322 wOBA) line very similar to the one he posted in April. In reality, Stanton's seasons have been split pretty evenly between spectacular (June and July) and awful (April and August), meaning he has been merely inconsistent with his good / poor play rather than consistently bad all year.
Perception =/= Reality
Perception: Stanton is struggling to adjust to the new pitching style against him
This seems untrue given what we have seen of him. Stanton's overall numbers in terms of plate discipline seem to match his career numbers.
His career numbers look like exact averages of his 2012 and 2013 seasons. Despite a significant decrease in pitches seen in the strike zone (Stanton has the second-lowest zone rate among all Major Leaguers with at least 350 plate appearances), he has adjusted to the avoiding style that pitchers have thrown him this year. Without "protection" in the lineup, pitchers are naturally avoiding Stanton more often, but this has not been the cause of his failures this year. He has made contact on exactly the same percentage of pitches as he has for his career, including on pitches out of the zone in which you might expect him to make weak contact.
The one difference, as you can see, is that he has been swinging a lot less this season. But while initially, he appeared to be too patient with pitches both in and out of the zone, it looks as though he has adjusted to be more selective in avoiding just the pitches out of the zone. His swing rate on those pitches is down to just 27 percent, and with even contact rates, you have to imagine that Stanton is basically just taking the extra balls that pitchers are sending him, leading to positive results.
Perception =/= Reality
Perception: Stanton has lost some power
It is true that Stanton has dropped in power overall this season. However, that drop has not been throughout the year. In June and July, he had an ISO higher than his career average, though it stood lower than his career-best .318 mark from last season. In the other two months, he looked like a normal power hitter, with an ISO around .160 to .170.
Given this context, it is difficult to say that Stanton "lost" power, so much as he has struggled in some months and done well in others. According to Pitch F/X data gathered by Baseball Heat Maps, Stanton's fly balls and home runs have gone similar distances this year, from an average of 299 feet last year to one of 302 feet this season. Then again, Stanton has clearly hit fewer fly balls in lieu of more grounders this year, but could that have been enough to suppress his ISO? It is difficult to tell, so I am going to hedge the fence on this perception.
Perception ??? Reality
Stanton's 2013 season has some significant upside but some still unknown quantities. What caused the slumps in April and August? How come his June and July passed by so quietly and unnoticed? Is he still an injury risk heading into 2013, and how much are those injuries from this season holding his game back? The 2013 season may not be all bad, but it certainly is puzzling.