Many of the Miami Marlins players mentioned already on the Fish Stripes 2014 Marlins Season Preview ranged from marginally important cogs to average players of some interest to the team. The Marlins currently are expected to boast at least two league average talents in Christian Yelich and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but those players will not have the impact on how well the position players will perform in 2014 that right fielder Giancarlo Stanton will have. Stanton is looking to impress this season for reasons beyond the team's success, and likewise the Marlins have a vested interest in a bounce back season that goes past winning games in 2014.
Depth Chart: Right Field
1. Giancarlo Stanton
2. Brian Bogusevic
Minor League Depth: Marcell Ozuna/Jake Marisnick, Brent Keys
The Marlins are looking to parlay Stanton's 2014 success into one of two things:
1) Further success with the team in the form of a long-term extension, or;
2) A major trade windfall after the 2014 season
The odds of the former occurring are very low at this point, so Miami is really depending on a strong trade return next season to create value. But in order to get that trade value, Stanton needs to prove that he still has his herculean power that he displayed all throughout his career and that he can stay healthy enough to remain on the field to display it.
Last year, the power dip was significant enough to cause concern. There was a definite change in how he was pitched to, and it is easy to connect the dots and see a correlation between that and his failing power. But the truth was that, according to the MLB Gameday data, Stanton's fly balls and home runs were traveling about the same distance as they were in 2012, when he a monster campaign with 37 home runs in just over 500 plate appearances. If that is the case, the problem may be one of simple distribution. If Stanton's luck returns to something closer to even his 2011 levels, the Marlins should be very happy. There does not appear to be any true deterioration of Stanton's power.
As for lineup protection, we have discussed this before. Yes, Stanton should receive a few more pitches to hit now that he has Saltalamacchia likely batting behind him, and that should cut down his strikeouts and walks for the year. But it should not drastically improve his performance at the plate. As we showed before, protection is real in terms of how the results are compiled, but not in terms of the actual value of the results.
The health factor may be the most difficult one to manage. Stanton has suffered injuries that have caused him to miss significant time in each of the past two seasons. Overall, he has missed an average of 31 games per season over the last three years, which represents a solid 130 or so plate appearances per season. Many of the injuries have focused on his right lower extremity, including the two major ones for which he missed the most time. Neither of this bodes well for his future, but the Marlins need him to stay as healthy as possible so that they can show contenders that he can be relied upon to play games. The injury concern may also have lingering effects on his defensive play, which suffered a notable dip last season in statistics and in terms of the eye test.
Thanks to a difficult 2013 season, the projections on Stanton are all over the map.
Oliver and ZiPS are projecting slightly worse numbers than we expected heading into last season, while Oliver appears undeterred by Stanton's unsuccessful campaign last year. The bounce back by Stanton is probably better than a simple three-year average would probably show, as I am of the belief that 2013 was a great anomaly in performance. But the injury concerns are still present, and given his last three years of work, I would not be comfortable projecting more than 525 plate appearances for Stanton this year.
As for the power, each system has him hitting more than 30 home runs, though you will not find a 40-homer projection like the was heading into last year. Given that that was where he was just two seasons ago, it seems totally reasonable. If you take the average of the three projections, Stanton is projected to hit 32 home runs in 525 plate appearances, or a rate of 36 per 600 innings. That sort of expectation would not be present if he had not struggled last year, so the systems are hedging their bets that Stanton can return to prominence.
Two of the three systems believe Stanton will return to being an above-average right fielder, but the days of thinking he may contend for awards for his defense appear to be over. While he is probably still above average, his injuries may have limited his athleticism and range in the outfield, though it likely has not taken away from his arm.
Overall, Stanton is projected to put up 4.6 WAR in 525 plate appearances, which is a very solid five-win or more pace in a full season. After 2012, the world was expecting major things out of a full year of Stanton, but last season dulled those expectations. Right now, Stanton is currently rated as "just" an All-Star player and not a superstar talent. The Marlins are hoping that he can prove the projections wrong and return to something close to 2012 prominence.