The Miami Marlins made the biggest splash of the offseason before this 2015 campaign by signing Giancarlo Stanton to the biggest contract in American sports history, a 13-year, $325 million contract that seemed unheard of but was well-deserved. Stanton is a star-caliber player entering the prime of his career and free agency in just two years, so the Marlins got him at what was a completely fair price for essentially a lifetime deal. Stanton and the Marlins also got favorable terms in the form of a contract opt-out at the six-year mark that both sides insist are to ensure for competitiveness and not monetary gain.
All of that means that the Marlins have a short time window to build a championship team around Stanton. The presence of Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are a good start, as is the return of a healthy Jose Fernandez, but Stanton's performance is going to be critical to that potential success. How will he fare in the first year of his record deal?
1. Giancarlo Stanton
2. Ichiro Suzuiki
Minor League Depth: Austin Wates
Stanton fulfilled a lot of the promise that came from his first three seasons in the bigs and answered a lot of the questions from his disappointing 2013 campaign. The power that had been there from before returned with a vengeance in 2014; Stanton was on pace to reach 42 home runs by the end of the season had he played full-time, erasing the doubts that his meager 24-homer season in 2013 presented. Last year's .288/.395/.555 line (.403 wOBA) was nearly identical in value to his 2012 career-best .290/..361/.608 (.405 wOBA). The power production was actually slightly less than what he displayed from 2010 to 2012, as Stanton put up 34 homers per 600 plate appearances versus 37 in those first three seasons.
However, there may have been a good reason for that. Stanton walked a career-high 14.7 percent of the time, and even if you take out the intentional passes (league-high 24 last year), he still put up an 11.4 percent rate that was second-highest of his career behind 2013. It seemed that the concerns about Stanton adjusting to pitchers staying away from the strike zone were not warranted. Pitchers still strayed from the zone, throwing only 41 percent of their pitches in the zone, an identical rate to 2013. However, Stanton adjusted by swinging just a bit more, and while he was not more any more selective than before, he did make better contact more in line with his career norms.
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Stanton also stayed on the field and healthy for the majority of the campaign. After two straight years struggling with leg issues that led to month-long DL stints, he played through with Miami all the way into September before a Mike Fiers errant fastball beaned Stanton in the cheek and fractured parts of his face. This being a freak accident, it is unlikely to contribute to his checkered injury past. Stanton should be expected to stick around a little longer on the field in 2015. The only remnant of that scary hit-by-pitch is now a batting helmet face guard that Stanton will use for 2015.
The lack of leg problems also likely contributed to a healthy defensive campaign, as Stanton's range numbers with most metrics returned to their usual above-average marks. Stanton was a Gold Glove finalist in right field as well, giving him some recognition for his defensive work.
The projection systems are universally expecting a repeat performance for Stanton in 2015. The first surprise was the expectation of almost full playing time by each of the systems; all three are expecting between 145 and 148 games played. Stanton has only reached those totals twice in four full years in the big leagues. He is two years removed from arthroscopic knee surgery and last year's injury is not necessarily a harbinger for future injuries, but expecting Stanton to put up near a full season may still be premature. For this projection, I am assuming Stanton played 155 games last year (estimated 682 plate appearances) and estimating based on three years of data for playing time. Here, we will peg Stanton for a conservative 580 plate appearances, less than any of the above systems.
Even still, Stanton is expected to be a monster in that time frame, putting up huge power numbers. PECOTA is expecting the lowest home run rate of the three systems, and it is seeing a 35-homer season in line for Stanton. On the other hand, Steamer is expecting more playing time and a monster 41-homer campaign that would finally push the league's best slugger over the 40-homer line. The advances in walk and strikeout rates are also expected to mostly stick, with projected strikeout rates between 26 and 28 percent for the most part and projected walk rates at or above his career rate.
The overall composite line expected here appears to be a .274/.369/.550 batting line that likely correlates to something like a .394 wOBA. In the amount of playing time we are projecting, that would be worth 37 runs above average on its own. If Stanton can stay reasonably healthy, accounting for some more minor problems, he may be playing 136 near-prime games in the outfield next season. How valuable defensively would he be? In healthier seasons (discounting 2013), he was worth between 21 and 38 (!) runs above average in the field according to various metrics. It seems safe to at least predict a player worth five runs above average per full year.
Add all of this up and you get a conservative estimate of 5.1 wins in 2015. This is far lower than all three metrics, in part because we are short-changing Stanton 30 to 50 plate appearances, depending on who you ask. I think this is the safest estimate given Stanton's injury history, but at the same time, it leaves us some wiggle room at the top. Each of the systems are expecting closer to a six-win season, so if you think Stanton will stay on the field and provide near-Gold Glove work defensively, a six-win season is well within reach.