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Miami Marlins Season Preview: Right Field

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Welcome to the Miami Marlins Season Preview! After this, check out the other previews:

02/24: Catcher
02/27: First base
Second base
Third base
03/05: Shortstop
03/06: Left Field
Center Field

When we last left off, we once again discussed the possibility of getting a contract extension done with Giancarlo Stanton. Fish Stripes has been all over this campaign since I took over the site, so suffice to say we are all in favor of an extension. But 2012 is going to be an important year for Stanton, if only because it will be a supremely important year for the Marlins. The club has transitioned into its latest era fairly smoothly, abandoning many of the offensive pieces of the 2006 era team and handing the position player keys to the likes of Stanton, Logan Morrison, and Gaby Sanchez. In return, Stanton has certainly taken the ball and run with it, and it is very likely that he has taken over the role of top Marlins position player by 2012.

Depth Chart

1. Giancarlo Stanton
2. Bryan Petersen
3. Scott Cousins

Minor League Depth: Austin Kearns, Chris Coghlan

Stanton has gone a long way since his first season in the majors, and improvement has been incremental between his rookie and sophomore seasons. One area where the concern was highest was in terms of strikeouts. In his first season, he struck out in just over 31 percent of his plate appearances. That rate fell in 2011, however, down to 27.6 percent. However, do not think that this was all Stanton's doing, as his discipline did not improve greatly in the last season.

Stanton, Season Swing% O-Swing% Contact% O-Contact%
2011 45.9 30.6 66.4 40.4
2010 43.5 29.4 70.1 49.2

It turns out that Stanton improved in two ways in 2011, according to these numbers:

- He swung at more pitches inside the zone than he had in 2010. According to FanGraphs's numbers based off Pitch F/X data, Stanton swung at 67 percent of pitches in the zone, compared to 60 percent last season.

- Pitchers were more fearful of Stanton and avoided the zone more often. Though he essentially swung at the same percentage of out-of-zone pitches and actually made less contact on those balls, Stanton saw more of those pitches and that helped him to draw more walks. Only 42 percent of pitches taken by Stanton were located in the zone last year, compared to 47 percent in 2010.

Those are important numbers because we do suspect that Stanton, with some coaching, can become more selective at the plate. Pitchers are already assisting him by dodging him at the plate more often and throwing more balls, but Stanton is helping them out by offering at a similar amount of those pitches. As a result, his contact rates and strikeouts remained high. We may not be able to suspect immediate improvement in 2012, but with proper coaching, Stanton could develop a more disciplined approach at the plate, and that will only help his already tremendous game.

The one other thing that occurs to people when talking about Stanton is that he is a home run machine. But as we mentioned when we went over when we discussed Stanton and other players in terms of fantasy baseball, there is not a whole lot of room for improvement for Stanton in terms of true home run power, as he is already one of the best in the game.

One figures that Stanton and his true-80 power can ramp up his home run total to closer to 40 in 2012, but it is worth asking whether he can really get any more powerful than he already is. For his career, he has hit home runs in 24 percent of his fly balls. Since 2009, only one player with over 1000 PA has hit more homers per fly ball than Stanton, and that's future Hall of Famer Jim Thome. The next closest competitors are sluggers Mark Reynolds and Ryan Howard, who hit 22.9 percent of their fly balls out of the park. Can we actually expect Stanton to improve on that category when he already is the best at it?

Of course, as mentioned in that article, Stanton could improve by simply hitting more fly balls like sluggers such as Ryan Howard and Mark Reynolds. The more fly balls Stanton launches, the more likely those balls land out of the park given his tremendous power. As for the power level he is at right now, I do not expect any steep regression, if only because we know Stanton to be a true power hitting monster based on his previous scouting. Were this the first time we had seen anything like this from him, it would be concerning, but because he had already established a track record of power hitting, it would not surprise anyone to see him continue to hit home runs at this rate on his fly balls.

What does this all mean for Stanton's offensive performance? Everyone wants to know whether Stanton can hit 40 home runs this season, and it is certainly a possibility. Here are what various projections are expecting in terms of home runs and playing time.

Proj System PA HR
ZiPS 643 37
Steamer 632 37
PECOTA 636 35
Fans 660 39

Each of those rates are pretty similar, with PECOTA being less optimistic and the Fans being naturally more optimistic. The home run rates per 600 PA in these projections ranged between 33 and 35 dingers per 600 PA, so the differences are fairly minor. For what it is worth, PECOTA thinks a 40-homer season from Stanton would be in his 80th (39 homers) or 90th (42) percentile performance, meaning it would be among the top 10 or 20 percent of performances he could provide in 2012.

ZiPS 643 .267 .361 .549 .385
Steamer 632 .267 .365 .568 .395
PECOTA 636 .254 .335 .505 .298
Fans 660 .268 .356 .538 .380

These are all lofty projections by respected systems. Only PECOTA foresees a regression from Stanton's career numbers, and I suspect PECOTA is unfairly pessimistic in that regard. Still, let us use an estimated average of a .381 wOBA as the mark for Stanton in 2012. This would represent some improvement over 2011, and such improvement would not seem far-fetched given Stanton's age and the stuff he has already shown.

With all of that offensive stuff out of the way, we can actually talk a little bit about Stanton's unheralded defense. Depending on the source of your choice, Stanton has been either very effective or Gold Glove-deserving in right field for the last two years.

Def. Stat Runs Above Average, 2010-2011
UZR (FanGraphs) +12
DRS (FanGraphs, Baseball-Ref) +28
TotalZone (Baseball-Ref) +35
FRAA (Baseball Prospectus) +21

These numbers vary pretty wildly, and it is hard to say how good Stanton actually has been over the last two seasons. Our eyes can certainly tell he is very good on defense, but how many runs is he saving with that cannon arm and tremendous athleticism? If we take a straight average of these results, we would see a value of +24 runs over the last two years, and with some regression we would estimate +15 runs above average per season for his true talent performance. However, I suspect after some regression, we should at least knock that down to +10 runs, as I am less trusting of the DRS and TotalZone data available. If we only took the UZR and FRAA data, you would get an estimate of +10 runs a season without regression, and regression this early in his career should knock him down to around +7 runs above average per year.

What is the total projection using all of that and docking Stanton a run for poor baserunning?

Projection: 640 PA, 5.4 WAR

This is a conservative projection based on unknown defensive quantities, though it also contains a decent step up in terms of offensive performance. Even if you take a more pessimistic approach, it is difficult to see Stanton getting less than five wins this season, meaning that he does indeed take the title of best projected position player on the team by a slight margin over Hanley Ramirez.