Last night, Giancarlo Stanton added another strikeout and another home run to his 2015 resume as the Miami Marlins took a loss in the first game of a three-game set against the St. Louis Cardinals. That was the 26th home run of the year and the 90th strikeout of the season. At this point, Stanton figures to break career records in both categories, and that should be OK for Marlins fans. We already discussed why Stanton can strike out and still be a monster. However, this season, he could take that premise to an even greater extreme.
Stanton could have one of the best high-strikeout seasons in Major League Baseball history.
The era of high strikeouts has only really started in the last two decades of baseball. Strikeouts hit a league low at an average of 12.5 percent in 1980, but by 1993, strikeouts were up to 15.1 percent, around the level they had been at in the late 80's. By 2000, that mark was at 16.5 percent. By 2010, when the latest dip in scoring trends first started, it was up to 18.5 percent. In the last two seasons, the average strikeout rate has actually surpassed 20 percent for the entire league. Suffice to say, strikeouts have become more of the norm in this day and age, so it is unsurprising that some of the highest-strikeout seasons have occurred in the last few years.
However, just because players are striking out more does not make holding a sky-high strikeout rate an easy task. Whiffing is still a negative outcome, even if it is equal to other types of outs, and it makes it harder for you to get on base often enough to justify plate appearances. It should stand to reason that the more you strike out, the lower your chances are of sticking around in the big leagues.
That is what makes Giancarlo Stanton's current 2015 season so fascinating. He is on absolute career tear, having set his first-half home run mark and barreling his way towards the Marlins first half home run record of 28 set in 2003. Yet at the same time, he is doing this with a tenuous 29.4 percent strikeout rate. The 30 percent strikeout rate mark is one that generally shuts off value for most players. Guys who strike out that often are often at best average players who display extraordinary other skills to make up their value. Stanton has extraordinary other skills, but he has them to such a degree that he is threatening to be the first MVP-level candidate with that many whiffs in a season.
Since 1993, there have been 29 player-seasons that qualify for the batting title that contained a strikeout rate greater than 30 percent. The highest rate was the astronomical 36.2 percent mark Chris Carter put up for the Houston Astros two years ago in 2013. But if we were to judge the 10 best seasons by FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement, we would see that very few of these players qualified as anything but bit names on a roster.
|Jose Hernandez, 2002||32.3||.288||.356||.478||119||4.5|
|Mike Napoli, 2013||32.4||.259||.360||.482||129||3.9|
|Mark Reynolds, 2009||33.7||.260||.349||.543||127||3.3|
|Ryan Howard, 2007||30.7||.268||.392||.584||135||3.1|
|Adam Dunn, 2010||30.7||.260||.356||.536||136||3.0|
|Pedro Alvarez, 2013||30.3||.233||.296||.473||112||3.0|
|Jack Cust, 2007||32.3||.256||.408||.504||145||2.8|
|Pedro Alvarez, 2012||30.7||.244||.317||.467||112||2.2|
|Drew Stubbs, 2011||30.1||.243||.321||.364||90||2.2|
|Jack Cust, 2008||32.9||.231||.375||.476||131||2.1|
The 10th-best player on this list was a league-average player, and only two more players hit the two-win mark for the entire season. Only two players hit about the All-Star level in terms of overall play. One of them was Jose Hernandez during the height of his career, when he was a decent shortstop and had a .400 BABIP to boost him to his only All-Star season. The other was Mike Napoli in his resurgent 2013 season. Outside of that, hitting the 30 percent strikeout mark made you at best an above-average player. Ryan Howard hit 47 home runs in that 2007 season and earned MVP consideration for a division-winning Philadelphia Phillies team, but he was still just 35 percent better than the league average and played an offensively-demanding first base position. Mark Reynolds did a similar thing in 2009 with similar results at third base.
Stanton stands at around 3.4 WAR, meaning that he has already matched all but two of these players in terms of wins produced this season. We are only halfway into the 2015 campaign and Stanton is already well on his way to passing these players by the end of the year. He may catch Napoli's numbers by the All-Star break! Stanton currently owns a 152 wRC+, which would be the highest among this list of players by a fair margin. He is projected to finish with 49 or 50 homers by the end of the year, which should surpass all of these players in terms of power production. And unlike some of these guys, who paired decent to great power numbers with a huge BABIP, Stanton has a career track record for high BABIPs with a career .329 mark. He has not even hit that mark yet, which he will eventually find by the end of the year.
Of course, Stanton technically is not striking out 30 percent of the time right now. If we extend the cutoff for the list down to 28 percent, the competition becomes much harder to beat. Six players other than Hernandez have reached four wins or better with a strikeout rate at 28 percent, with the top mark going to Chris Davis's insane 53-homer season in 2013, during which he hit .286/.370/.634 (168 wRC+), good for a seven-win campaign. Two others, Adam Dunn in 2004 and Jim Thome in 2001, hit five wins in a season. The highest wRC+ of this list is a virtual tie between Davis and Thome.
Stanton would be harder pressed to reach these highs, as Davis's season was a major power aberration. However, Davis and Stanton shared similar skillsets in the seasons we are discussing. Both struck out a lot, but as a result of their power, both saw a lot of pitches out of the zone and posted double-digit percentage walk rates. Both posted high BABIPs, and Stanton has the track record to back that up. Finally, both threw up huge power numbers that year. All of this leads to a very similar trajectory by the end of the season.
As of right now, if you add Stanton's current numbers to his ZiPS-projected rest-of-season values, he should add up to a 50-homer year in which he strikes out less than 190 times but also puts up a career-high 151 wRC+. If you take the two WAR figures together, it adds up to a 6.5-win season. Even if he does not hit the 30 percent strikeout rate, that will still go down as one of the best extreme high-strikeout years in baseball history.