Giancarlo Stanton is a new, much richer man starting this year, as he embarks on the first season of a record 13-year, $325 million contract with the Miami Marlins. He has already has a few ideas on how to spend that cash. but for the Marlins, they are more concerned about whether he can rack up the value on the field.
A large part of Stanton's value is in his power at the plate. Stanton has become the preeminent example of right-handed power since he arrived in the big leagues in 2010. Since that year, only two players have hit more home runs than Stanton, and both have logged at least 300 more plate appearances than the big slugger. His 25 percent home run per fly ball (HR/FB) rate in that time frame is the best in baseball by 1.5 percentage points, ahead of second-place Chris Davis. Stanton's 154 bombs are tied for a Marlins all-time record with Dan Uggla, and with him likely to stick around for at least another six years, it is unlikely any Marlin will reach that mark in some time, perhaps ever.
But as of right now, one plateau has avoided Stanton in his young career. Despite flirting with the 40-homer line in multiple seasons, the best power hitter in baseball has yet to reach that mark in parts of five seasons. He appeared poised to make it last season before the infamous Mike Fiers hit-by-pitch, but this year is a brand new campaign with great promise. Can Stanton make 40 home runs in 2015? Let's dig into the math.
Earlier today, we projected 580 plate appearances for Stanton in 2015. This is a low expectation for him compared to what a lot of the projection systems put out as estimates. Most systems had Stanton at 600 plate appearances or better for this upcoming year. That is great news for the Marlins, but Stanton is less than two years removed from arthroscopic knee surgery to clean out debris that limited him in 2013.
The playing time expectations make a huge difference. Forty-homer seasons are becoming rarer and rarer in baseball, and they are even harder to get when you fail to reach 600 plate appearances. In fact, since 2010, the 13 individual seasons with at least 40 home runs took an average of 671 plate appearances to reach an average of 44 home runs. Extrapolating that down, you would expect it to take about 610 plate appearances to get to 40 homers.
Based on Stanton's prodigious strength, one would expect getting to 40 homers in a year would not be out of reach. However, Stanton has averaged an even 35 home runs per 600 plate appearances for his career. That rate, however, falls well below the 40 homers per 610 plate appearances rate that the last few 40-homer hitters have reached. Based on Stanton's career rate, it would take 686 plate appearances to make it to 40 home runs on average. Using a simple binomial distribution, in 580 plate appearances, you would expect Stanton to reach 40 homers about 16 percent of the time.
One of those seasons includes an injury-riddled 2013 campaign in which he hit a career-low .231 ISO, however. If you are a believer that those injury woes are not a factor in 2015, his career homer rate per 600 plate appearances bumps up to 36.5. At that rate, the odds go up slightly, up to about 23 percent.
The projection systems have different expectations of Stanton's home run power. PECOTA has the lowest total at 35 homers in 604 plate appearances, while Steamer sees the highest amount at 41 homers in 645 chances. The average of the rates between those two systems and ZiPS is 36.3 homers per 600 plate appearances, about the same as his rate minus the 2013 season. That leaves us at a 22 percent chance to reach 40 homers in 580 appearances.
Playing Time Corollary
What if you give him back that playing time we are taking away that the projection systems are not? Average out the three systems' playing time and you get an estimate of 621 plate appearances. If you had him back those extra 41 chances, Stanton's odds of reaching go up significantly. At his career rate, the odds go up to 28 percent, while at the projections' average rate, it goes all the way to 37 percent!
The Betting Game
If you were a betting person, you might have seen this article by SB Nation's Grant Brisbee about picking the over/unders of the 2015 season. The highest recorded home run total for the over/under choice was 42 1/2, meaning an over bet would have you expect the league leader in homers to hit at least 43 homers.
Stanton led the National League in homers with 37 last year and fell behind only Nelson Cruz for the overall lead despite having missed 17 games last year due to his late season injury and an occasional rest day. What are the odds he at least makes your over bet a reality at -115 odds (a $11.5 bet would net you $10 extra)? At 580 plate appearances at his career rate, the odds are at just 6.6 percent. With his projected odds at 621 plate appearances, that goes up to 21 percent. If Stanton himself has 21 percent odds, you have to figure a few other premiere power hitters could fill in the additional 30 percent to make this coin flip a reality!
The chances of Stanton achieving this goal appear to be decent, with a range between 16 and 37 percent depending on your assumptions. The Fish would be happy to see Stanton eke out the extra three home runs (average value of 4.5 runs above average), as every small run is going to make a difference in this potentially hotly-contested 2015 season. The team would also love for Stanton to cement his power legacy with the Fish by setting a club single-season home run record and beating out Gary Sheffield's 42 home runs from 1996. If he can do that in 2015, it would be a great achievement in what should be a long run of accomplishments for Stanton in a Marlins uniform.