Giancarlo Stanton probably does not have a problem with getting noticed, but I will fully admit that I was unaware of just how ridiculous his month of May has been for the Miami Marlins. While his run of recent play does not match up to Troy Tulowitzki's insane year so far, Stanton has dominated pitchers after a perfectly expected month of April. Maybe it's the lack of home runs (he has only hit four so far in May after belting eight in April), but somehow the best hitter on the Marlins has gone strictly under the radar during one of the best months of his career.
So how has Stanton generated value this past month? He has been a monster at the plate, batting .385/.500/.662 (.490 wOBA) in 80 plate appearances thus far this month. The batting line just looks absurd, and perhaps the most absurd part of it is not his power. Stanton has drawn walks in a whopping 18.8 percent of plate appearances. He has 15 walks versus just 13 strikeouts on the month, with only three of those 15 intentional. That means that, for a player who has always been known for strikeouts, Stanton is generating fewer whiffs this month than he has in a while.
His walk rate is through the rough, and it is in part because pitchers saw the eight homers in April and ran for cover.
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The bolded emphasis is my own. Stanton has taken the approach that he had last season to take what the pitchers would give him and turned it into an on-base machine. Pitchers perhaps perceived a hot month of April as a sign once again to avoid Stanton, especially with Miami performing so well offensively. Stanton stopped swinging in turn, dropping his overall hack rate down nine percentage points. Pitchers threw just 34 percent of their pitches seen in the strike zone, which is an absurdly low number for almost any player. Most of the guys who receive that kind of treatment are undisciplined hacks like Pablo Sandoval or Josh Hamilton who have a tendency to swing at anything. But Stanton has learned from years past and taken a patient approach to the plate.
But it is not as if when Stanton hits the ball, he has not hit it with authority. The ball may not be flying out as often, but Stanton is still posting fantastic power numbers for the month, His Isolated Power (ISO) of .277 this month is comfortably among the league's best (15th for the month) and well in line with his career numbers. He has hit four doubles and a triple to go with those four homers this month as well.
The other factor playing into this is his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP. Stanton is known for being a streaky hitter, and the streak is alive and well this month. After hitting .323 on balls in play last month, Stanton has been getting hits left and right, to the tune of a .438 BABIP for the month. He has smacked things on a line and hard as well, as he has a 25 percent line drive rate according to FanGraphs and just a 32 percent rate of balls on the ground. Not that his grounders are not hard hit either.
That ball was smoked so hard off the mound that it would have arrived in center field in at the speed of a regular grounder had Chase Utley not shaded towards the middle for the out. Stanton is crushing pitches when he does get the opportunity to hit, hence his enormous (and ultimately fluky) BABIP.
This is why Stanton is actually on the early list of players who could contend for end-of-season honors if they continue to play well. Two years ago, Stanton put up a huge season that was only interrupted by a knee injury that required arthroscopic cleanup. Had he stuck around for the entire year and put up 601 plate appearances (his career high from 2011), he was on pace to put up a 6.7-win season. This year, Stanton is outdoing even that pace; he has a current pace of 8.7 wins by the end of the year, and though he is unlikely to match that mark, he could easily stay near the lead in offensive categories and Wins Above Replacement.
Stanton right now ranks second among position players in WAR, behind only Tulowitzki and his unfathomable season. If he can remain hot while still staying calm at the plate and taking only what the pitchers will give him, this approach could lead to a spike in OBP along with his usual power antics. With a healthy knee underneath him, Stanton is cleaning up defensively as well, as he illustrated last night.
His defensive numbers have also been off the charts and match the sort of work he did when he was a rangier player before the lower leg problems from the last two years. Staying healthy is always a concern for Stanton, but if he plays more than 130 games this season, he has a realistic shot of helping the Marlins continue to contend and getting some well-deserved recognition and attention at the end of the year. His hot streaks may not go unnoticed like they have in May.