In discussing the seeming return of the Miami Marlins' elite outfield, there has been a lot of discussion on the team's outfield talents. Christian Yelich's talent is not under question, as he is breaking out in a big way. Surprisingly, however, Giancarlo Stanton's production and play is being questioned despite the fact that he is having another strong season at the plate. We've had a couple of interesting comments recently about Stanton as it relates to his value to the team, especially in light of his 13-year, $325 million contract (or what is more realistically his six-year, $100 million deal which he has five seasons left on).
In this article, I'd like to address one of those interesting questions: how does Stanton stack up against Marlins greats? Fish Stripes reader Al-Kendall made this point in a recent article:
Bonds, DiMaggio, Musial, Ruth, and Williams were great hitters. Even when compared by OPS to Cabrera and Sheffield, Stanton is not quite in their class yet!
This is a great statement to discuss because it can be proven with the numbers, so it is right up our alley in discussing stuff on Fish Stripes. Stanton's numbers certainly do not compare to the absolute greats in baseball history, but that was never what was argued. The true useful question is whether Stanton is one of the game's best hitters. And since Al-Kendall brought up Gary Sheffield and Miguel Cabrera, two other Marlins hitting greats, that can be a discussion too.
A funny thing happened along the way to evaluating the Marlins side of the question: I realized that Stanton just passed Cabrera on the all-time Marlins plate appearance list. He now ranks eighth all-time in plate appearances in a Marlins uniform. That makes it the perfect time to compare the careers of the last two great Marlins homegrown products side-by-side.
|Player, Marlins||PA||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA||wRC+||Avg WAR|
There is an important caveats to this comparison. Stanton has taken essentially one full season and change more to catch up to Cabrera's plate appearances because he has spent more time injured. That means that Stanton was a full year older than Cabrera during part of the time when he was collecting these plate appearances, and a full year of age development at this stage in their careers is critical. Stanton had an unfair advantage for part of this comparison's time period.
However, the comparison remains an interesting one. Even with all of Stanton's warts, he was a better player overall than Cabrera in the same amount of time as a Marlin. As a hitter, the comparison is close, but leaning towards Stanton's side. The batting lines look very similar, but Cabrera has a better wOBA. However, it should be noted that during Cabrera's time as a Marlin, he hit in a higher run-scoring environment than Stanton. The average team from 2003 to 2007 scored 4.72 runs per game and had an average wOBA of .329. From 2010 to to 2015, the average baseball team scored 4.25 runs per game and had an average wOBA of .315. Runs were far scarcer in Stanton's era than Cabrera's, making his line more valuable despite it looking very similar.
That of course only considers their offensive contributions. Defensively, there is no question that Stanton was the better player. He may not look like a graceful defender in right field, and he does not always take the sharpest routes, but he has deceptive range in the outfield, has fielded balls at an above-average rate overall, and has added contributions defensively with his strong arm. Scouting-wise, he at least owns one Gold Glove finalist status in right field before, though he has yet to win one award.
Cabrera, on the other hand, was a disaster at every position he played. His corner outfield work was always questionable, but his time spent at third base was awful, and there was plenty of evidence with the eye test that Cabrera had failed defensively. The advanced defensive statistics supported those claims as well, making it very likely that Cabrera was one of the worst defenders in baseball, particularly in 2006 and 2007. The problems with his weight management persisted while he was in Miami and were said to be getting in the way of his athleticism. The situation got bad enough that within 20 games of being traded to Detroit, he was shifted to first base for the first time in his career, confirming defensive concerns. When he returned to third base full time in 2012 and 2013, they were similarly unsuccessful years.
Cabrera was also a bad baserunner to boot, estimated to have cost Florida one win during his time on the team. So why, with all of this decent evidence to the contrary, do people still believe Cabrera was a better player? Part of that is that Stanton's warts are more offensive-based than Cabrera's. Cabrera owned a .313 batting average while in Miami and nearly won a batting title in 2006. Stanton, on the other hand, strikes out at a huge rate for a regular player and especially for a regular player with offensive success. No matter how progressive we want to believe we are, strikeouts are still aesthetically unpleasing and negatively taint the performance of a player. Meanwhile, Cabrera's warts were based on his defense and pudginess, which were less notable when he was hitting as well as he did.
The other things that have contributed to this perception difference is that Cabrera became an all-time great player after leaving Miami. He became a two-time MVP, a Triple Crown winner, and one of the best hitters of this generation when he went to Detroit. Miami's trade return failed, making Cabrera's future success even more egregious. Stanton has yet to have the opportunity to reach this level of greatness, but it should be noted that Cabrera won his MVP award at age 29 and picked up a runner-up spot at age 27, while Stanton has already achieved a runner-up in the voting at age 24.
The final thing that probably contributes to this is time. Stanton is playing before our very eyes, subject to our immediate judgment. If he falters, Marlins fans are immediately consuming that failure and reflecting on it. Cabrera's time in Miami has long since passed, and with that time comes more romanticism of his tenure on the team. It does also help the romanticizing process when you consider that Cabrera was one of the guys who helped contribute to that 2003 World Series-winning team.
A lot of things are in consideration when you talk about the Cabrera versus Stanton debate. Ultimately, Stanton has been the better player in the same amount of chances, but those chances have taken more time because of his issues with injury. Injury is a real issue, but Stanton's value has been so great everywhere else that he surpasses Cabrera among the list of Marlins great hitters.
As for some of the other issues involving Stanton's game, we'll discuss more of them in future articles starting Monday.