In the trio of Miami Marlins outfielders, Christian Yelich may be close to All-Star status and Marcell Ozuna may have some streaky upside still available to him, but only one man can be considered king. The Marlins' $325 million man, in his second season of a 13-year contract, will have to remain healthy for the Fish to contend for any playoff spot. Can Giancarlo Stanton hold up for a full season without frustratingly getting hurt, and what kind of wreckage would that full year bring upon National League pitching?
Outfield Depth Chart
LF Christian Yelich
CF Marcell Ozuna
RF Giancarlo Stanton
OF Ichiro Suzuki
Corner OF Derek Dietrich
Minor League Depth: Cole Gillesphie
The Marlins cannot go anywhere without the wins provided by Giancarlo Stanton. In 2014, he played nearly the entire season, missing the final three weeks of the year after an errant fastball cracked his face in Milwaukee. Prior to that moment, he was arguably the front-runner for the National League MVP award, as he was among the three league leaders in position player Wins Above Replacement (WAR) and had the biggest power profile to stake the claim. Stanton had hit 37 home runs, was on his way to his first 40-dinger season, and was hitting an overall blistering .288/.395/.555 (.403 wOBA) mark. Last year, he was hitting more homers, having smacked 27 in just over 300 plate appearances, albeit at the expense of his walk rate. Teams threw more in the strike zone and toned down their intentional walks around Stanton, and in turn Stanton started swinging at those pitches and blasted a fair number of them out of the park. Out of all players with at least 100 batted balls recorded in 2015, no player hit them harder than Stanton, especially in the air.
At the same time, Stanton's lack of contact last year was concerning, as it led to the highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate he has posted since his rookie year in 2010. That is all well and good when you destroy all of the baseball you hit, but it seems impossible to predict a 32 percent home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB) even for a player with prodigious power like Stanton. From 2003 (the first season BIS batted ball data is available on FanGraphs) to 2009 (the last season before a decrease in the run environment), only one player owned a HR/FB rate greater than 30 percent, and that was Ryan Howard. Stanton is on the same plane in terms of raw power as Howard in his prime was, but it is still tough to project that kind of strength to continue.
Source: Robert Meyer, USA TODAY Sports
Stanton's defense has maintained a high level of play since he came back from his myriad of injuries in 2013. Stanton was a Gold Glove candidate in 2014 and the numeric returns on his 2015 defense were even better before his hand injury. That hand should have no effect on his range, and his arm has always been a huge positive, so expecting similarly good defense next year should be reasonable.
Of course, the ultimate problem with Stanton lies in his injury history. Last year's hamate bone fracture was supposed to last him six weeks, but complications in his return led to him eventually being shut down for the year. It was the longest stint he had ever spent on the DL, and it once again cast an injury-prone shadow on his game. How many games can the Marlins even expect out of him?
The Marlins have to first figure out just how much Stanton will be playing. FanGraphs' Depth Charts labeled him for 630 plate appearances, which is just about what he did in 2014. The Fans guessed 606 plate appearances, which is about his level from 2011. However, Stanton has now had three seasons in which he hit 311, 501, and 502 plate appearances thanks to injury. Knowing that last season's injury is not recurrent (the procedure to fix it is to remove the fractured hamate bone) and that his lower extremities have been seemingly injury-free for the last two years does add some expected time back to Stanton. However, given that he averaged only 487 plate appearances per season over the last three years, bumping him up to 600 chances seems high. My personal estimate knowing something about his injuries puts him at 550 plate appearances.
If that were the case, his power game should still hold up well. Stanton should easily reach 30 home runs once again and could even get an off chance at breaking his own career mark. If he hit at the pace he was doing last season, he would even have a remote shot at 40 homers in just that small time frame; Stanton did once hit 37 homers with just 500 shots under his belt. The projections systems expect some semblance of return of his walks, mostly on the back of his learned patience and the fact that teams may want to go back to avoiding Stanton after the tear he went on last season.
The overall average line of .270/.366/.561 seems very reasonable. It best his career marks and at the same time does not overestimate him for his most recent monster run. At this level, Stanton should rack up something like a .391 wOBA, and such a season would be worth 33.5 runs above average in 550 plate appearances.
Stanton's surprisingly strong defensive play, keyed by his stellar arm, had been disputed in the past. His injury-plagued 2013 season put a bad mark on his defense, but the last two years have been spent healthy in the lower extremities and his range appears to be at full strength. Over three defensive systems, Stanton has averaged six runs above average per 1000 innings, and with some regression, you could expect about five runs above average in that same time frame. In 125 games, it would translate to 5.5 runs above average.
This adds up overall to a 5.1-win season for Stanton in 2016. Once again, Stanton's health plays a significant enough role to limit his superstardom, as 5.5 wins would be among the best projected lines in baseball; Steamer projects only 12 players to even reach five wins on the year. Still, it is a disappointing number for a player who could do better if he could stay on a full year, as that extra fraction or one win might be the difference between a Wild Card spot and another trip home in October for Miami. Once again, the health of Giancarlo Stanton remains the one of the biggest questions of the season.