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Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton mashing home runs at career-record pace

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Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton has done one thing astonishingly well this season: he is hitting home runs on a pace he has not seen since 2012.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, did you check out the latest bomb by Giancarlo Stanton from last night's rubber-game victory over the Chicago Cubs?

That was Stanton's 17th home run of the year for the Miami Marlins, putting him one behind Bryce Harper and Nelson Cruz for the Major League lead. Despite a weird month of May in which he hit seven home runs but hit only .185/.258/.474 (.306 wOBA), the slugger is forcing himself back into the race of the top players in the National League, slowly but surely. Right now, Stanton's .231/.325/.533 (.361 wOBA) line does not look too impressive, but it is far more likely to head upwards rather than down.

This is especially true if Stanton continues to smash baseballs out of stadiums and into camera wells:

Interestingly enough, Stanton has been doing this at some sort of crazy pace. May struggles aside, the ball continues to fly out of the park at a career record pace for the $325 million man. Stanton has hit a home run every 13.6 plate appearances so far this year. This is a similar pace as the current crop of leaders in the home run department. The difference between those guys and Stanton is that the latter has done this before! In 2012, Stanton launched 37 home runs despite missing a month and change at the midseason mark with knee inflammation and recovery from arthroscopic cleanup of his right knee. That season, Stanton went deep 37 times in just 501 appearances, a rate of a homer every 13.5 chances.

None of the other players at the top of the home run list thus far have matched this kind of nonsense number.

Player 2015 HR Career-best PA/HR Year
Bryce Harper 18 19.9 2013
Nelson Cruz 18 16.9 2013
Giancarlo Stanton 17 13.5 2012
Joc Pederson 17 16.8 2014*
Todd Frazier 16 22.8 2014
Mark Teixeira 16 16.4 2004

*Done in Triple-A

These guys are all having monstrous years in terms of power so far, but none have actually come close to matching their current paces. Stanton is the only power maven who actually did this before. In fact, Stanton's average mark of plate appearances per home run since 2012 bests each other player's career best.

The 2012 season, as you might recall, was Stanton's coming-out party, as he hit .290/.361/.608 (.405 wOBA) that year and put himself on the superstar map. Now, three years later, he may be trying to find the next leap by repeating that performance in terms of power and perhaps sprinkling some of what he has gained in plate approach since then.

However, Stanton will not break out unless he stops slumping on balls in play. He is hitting a career-worst .259 on balls in play so far this year, which is the sole explanation for his (relatively) ugly batting line. However, there is simply no reason to suspect that this should continue. Part of the decline in hitting performance has to do with the increase in strikeout rate back up to 31 percent, where it was when has a rookie in 2010. However, a vast majority of it has to do with poor luck. Stanton is hitting the ball harder than ever, posting a 50 percent hard-hit ball rate this season while maintaining a static soft-hit ball rate. Essentially, he has traded the balls that came from the medium well-hit category and launched them in liner or moonblast form.

The burden of the loss of batting average has fallen on each category of balls in play, but nowhere has the change in production been worse than on line drives. Stanton is hitting .680 with a .699 wOBA on balls categorized as line drives in 2015. That sounds great until you realize he was hitting .786 with an .856 wOBA on such balls for his career. It is unlikely, given what we know about how hard he has been smacking the ball, that his true talent line drive rate of hits has fallen this year or that he is somehow making softer contact on those swings. It is much more likely that, at least in May, they just happened to find a few more gloves.

Stanton is hitting a lot of fly balls compared to last year, which is helping to add to his home run totals. Fly balls often otherwise turn into outs, but the home run production has done wonders to offset the losses of popups and easy flies. Overall, Stanton has hit a homer on 27.9 percent of fly balls, second only to the 2012 season.

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs said recently that Stanton is the Aroldis Chapman of the batter's box, as he can hit balls that should not be flying at such speeds coming off of mortal men. The early part of Stanton's 2015 performance certainly seems to be reflecting that. Once those hard-hit line drives start finding gaps and going for doubles or base hits rather than ramming into gloves for outs, the Fish and their fans may be in for another record-setting treat from their favorite superstar.