Earlier today, I discussed how Fish Stripes would do the 2012 Miami Marlins Season Review series, and we mentioned that we would start with a series of What Went Right and What Went Wrong articles. This series of articles begins today and should run on our usual publishing days until next Thursday, meaning we will go over five things that went right and five things that went wrong.
Since Fish Stripes is all about the #minorvictories of the 2012 season, I figured we would start with the first positive, the first What Went Right of the 2012 season. And if there was any one thing that went right in 2012, it was Giancarlo Stanton.
Stanton had the best season of his career so far, and he took another monumental leap from his previous season's production to this year. Before the season, the projection systems expected some improvement from the 22 year-old star outfielder. If you look at the projections from before the season, most guessed a modest improvement from Stanton's .262/.357/.536 slash line (.378 wOBA) from 2011. If you were a Marlins fan, you were probably expecting a modest improvement as well, but it was hard to make big jumps about Stanton's performance. Sure, you could project that he would hit 40 home runs in 2012, but given his already elite home run power, how much better could he possibly get? Maybe you would expect Stanton to drop his strikeouts a little more and increase his walks slightly, but it was hard to think Stanton would hit any better than, at best, .270 with a .360 on-base percentage.
Indeed, the projections reflected that. If you took the average of the six projections on the above linked page, you would get a batting line of .267/.359/.550, with an average wOBA of .385. That would be a decent improvement over his previous mark, with much of the expected advantage coming from an increase in power. No projection system that had Stanton getting more than 600 PA had him hitting fewer than 37 home runs.
Well, the systems did nail his OBP, and they also were right in that Stanton did not hit fewer than 37 home runs. The amazing thing is that he did it in only 501 PA this season. Due to injuries that kept him out of 39 games this year, Stanton missed out on what was likely at least 120 PA this year and as a result failed to get a full season's work. But if you looked at his numbers, you would not think that to be the case, as Stanton still hit 37 home runs despite being incapacitated for more than a month.
Stanton's home runs were a revelation of a season. Since 1961 (the expansion era), only 24 player-seasons have had 35 or more home runs in fewer than 550 PA. Stanton's 37 bombs is tied for 16th among that list of 24 player-seasons. Of the 15 player-seasons in front of him, only two (Hank Aaron's 40 homers in 1973 and Boog Powell's 39 homers in 1964) were clearly out of the steroid era that saw record-highs in the scoring environment in the mid-1990's on to perhaps the mid-2000's. Eight of those seasons occurred in the very clear steroids-laden environment of the mid-90's. This means that Stanton's accomplishment in 2012, one of the worst scoring environments since 1992, was only matched by one of the greatest hitters of all-time in Aaron and players in the highest scoring environment in league history. Stanton's home run hitting was that prolific.
Prior to this season, Stanton had only hit home runs once every 17.8 plate appearances. In a typical 600 PA season, Stanton had averaged just about 34 home runs, exactly what he did in 2011. This year, however, he took that to another, more ridiculous level. In 2012, Stanton hit a home run once every 13.5 PA. There have only been 88 seasons in league history in which a player has had at least 501 PA and hit a home run once every 14 PA or fewer. With a few exceptions, the names that appear on the list more than twice are all Hall-of-Famers or Hall-of-Fame caliber players. Only once did a season like this happen in the most recent depressed run-scoring environment, and that was Jose Bautista's 2010 season. No matter how you look at it, Stanton's 2012 sits in elite power company.
But Stanton's year was not all about power. Thanks to a (likely anomalous) .344 BABIP, he also ended the season inexplicably hitting .290 despite striking out more often than he did the previous season. No one could have expected that, even with the home run increase. But if you did watch Stanton all season, you could see that, for the most part, he was not getting seeing-eye grounders to go through. He squared up a significantly larger number of balls this season, as evidenced by his 22.1 percent line drive rate. He also decreased the number of pop ups he hit this season as well. When Stanton made contact, he did a better job of either launching the ball into the outfield or driving it with solid contact. It may not be repeatable, but it certainly is a positive sign.
Beyond that, many of the defensive statistics of the season seem to imply that Stanton has done a good job this year in the outfield. The statistics range from between seven to 11 runs above average, which would at least show that he recovered from his early spat of difficulty in the outfield in April. As expected, Stanton's athleticism and his cannon of an arm have helped also save runs for the Marlins in the outfield. He was beyond a one-dimensional slugger for the Marlins this season, and instead continued to be one of the team's most complete players on the team.
There were definitely flaws in Stanton's 2012 campaign, and we will go over them in more detail when we get to his season review, but in terms of searching for positives in this ugly 2012 season, the positives of Giancarlo Stanton's year were the ones that shined the brightest and deserved the most attention.