The Miami Marlins signed Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract in the offseason, a record deal for an American sports star and something that was completely unexpected. The Fish opted to go big for their star, and that was the right move and a deserving deal for a star player with a rare talent.
The 2015 season was supposed to be the year that Stanton's play kicked in and put him and the Fish over the top. For the first half, it looked like that was going to be the case, as he went on an absolute tear through late June. Unfortunately, yet another injury spoiled Stanton's year and kept him off the field for the remainder of the season.
Stanton nearly posted a four-win season just in the first half of the campaign, which displays his mammoth star power. "Power" is the relevant term here, because he did most of his damage via his tremendous strength. He launched an insane 27 home runs in his first 318 plate appearances, a rate of one homer nearly every 12 plate appearances! The league leader in home runs in 2015, Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, hit 47 homers in 670 plate appearances, a rate of one homer every 14.2 plate appearances. In comparison, Stanton was blowing away the competition, and he indeed held a large Major League home run lead by the time he was ousted from the lineup by his injury.
Those home runs were never of the cheap variety either. Stanton famously hit one homer directly out of Dodgers Stadium this year.
These were not cheap shots, baby. According to ESPN Home Run Tracker, Stanton owns an average true distance for his homers of 417.6 feet, an insane total which ended up second in all of baseball among sluggers behind only Joc Pederson. Stanton also owns the two longest home runs of the season, surprisingly neither of which were the Dodger Stadium blast. He owns two shots with a true distance measured at 484 feet, both hit at Marlins Park. In fact, Stanton enjoys the comforts of home despite the deep walls; he hit 13 of his 27 homers in 162 plate appearances, which is barely different in rate than his road numbers. He also hit better overall at home, which likely means that those deep fences have no effect on Stanton's elite power.
It is not as though he hit homers at the expense of doubles, either. He still 27 percent of his non-homer hits for extra bases, just as he did in a nearly full campaign in 2014. Stanton was essentially continuing his powerful run after the fastball to the face ended his year last season, which is a promising sign for the future.
The most interesting thing about Stanton's season offensively is that he did all of this despite getting more balls in the strike zone and striking out more often. He saw 43 percent of pitches in the zone, which is up from 41 percent for the last two years, but on swings out of the strike zone, Stanton only made contact on 40 percent of them. This is down from 50 percent last year. He struck out 95 times on just 318 plate appearances, a rate of about 30 percent. He had not hit a 30 percent mark since his rookie season in 2010. Along with that came a lack of walks. He walked in only nine percent of non-intentional walk situations, which is down from 11 percent last season.
None of that mattered, however, because when Stanton made contact, the ball was demolished. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances, Stanton led all of baseball on hard-hit contact, with a rate of almost 50 percent of batted balls classified as "hard-hit." The next competitor, Twins rookie Miguel Sano, was second at 43.2 percent. The gap between Stanton and Sano was the same as the gap between Sano and the 30th-ranked Chris Carter. He just crushed balls all season.
Unfortunately, "all season" was not very long. Stanton swung hard and missed on a pitch in late June and felt a twinge in his hand, and later on he continued to have symptoms. He was found to have a fractured hamate bone, a common injury among athletes that swing club-like objects like in baseball or tennis. The original thought was that Stanton would be able to return within four to six weeks, since the injury requires removal of the bone from the area. However, Stanton had persistent problems with pain with grip, and he failed a minor league stint due to recurrence of symptoms. The timing of the injury was right before the All-Star Game, meaning Stanton missed yet another Midsummer Classic thanks to an injury despite him being named a starter.
Stanton did miss more time this year than he ever had in previous seasons. The hamate bone fracture caught him at 74 games, meaning he spent time on the disabled list for the remaining 88 games of the year. Prior to that, Stanton's most games missed in his career was 46 games in 2013, during a mostly injury-riddled campaign. This year felt less "injury-riddled" because he missed so much time from one injury, but it was a disappointing result to what could have been a marquee campaign.
Still, a four-win season is an impressive mark for part of a season. Stanton still needs to stay healthy for closer to a full season, but his rate if he kept up this pace until the end of the year would have been insane. He was on pace for a 7.4-win season and 51 home runs if he had made it to 600 plate appearances, and given how he has been playing since getting back to health in 2014, I would not have doubted it. Marlins fans have to cross their fingers for no more injuries, because with that should come more fantastic success in 2016.