It is an exciting time for Miami Marlins fans. They have a brand new ballpark, a new star shortstop in Jose Reyes, and two new solid pitchers in Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. They also have a new name in right field, Giancarlo Stanton, formerly Mike. At the tender age of 22, Stanton was ranked as the 3rd best right fielder in baseball by our own Jack Moore, trailing only Justin Upton and Jose Bautista. Reports are conflicting, but it sounds as if the Marlins are prepared to make a long-term offer to lock up their star slugger. Such a deal would follow in the footsteps of other young outfielders to sign extensions: Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, and the aforementioned Upton. Thus far, these deals have had extremely favourable returns for the franchises, and a Stanton extension would likely be no different.
Thus far in his career, Stanton has been worth 7.3 WAR in only 997 plate appearances, mainly on the strength of a .525 slugging percentage. Numerous scouts rank his power tool as an 80, and at his age, there is still room for improvement. The projection systems recognize this, as his projected wOBA’s for next season range from .372 to .395, with an increase in ISO in all systems except Marcel.
Unfortunately, Stanton also comes with his warts – namely his ability to completely miss the baseball. Last season, only Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs had worse K%’s than Stanton’s 27.6%. In 2010, his 31.1% mark was bested only by Reynolds. While a high strikeout rate often comes as a side effect of prodigious power, it does mean that these sluggers have a difficult time maintaining high OBP’s, and are extremely susceptible to swings in BABIP. On the bright side, Stanton did increase his walk rate by 3% in his sophomore season in conjunction with the decrease in strikeouts, and there is still plenty of time for a player of his age to improve.
To illustrate just how unique of a talent Stanton is, let’s take a look at some comparable players through age 22, both positively and negatively.
In baseball history, there are 32 players who have posted a .300 OBP, .450 SLG and .200 ISO in at least 750 plate appearances through their age 22 season. This is well below Stanton’s line of .344/.525/.264, but it is nevertheless and impressive group of players. Obviously these stats are not neutralized, and Alex Rodriguez’s SLG of .543 is not nearly as impressive as Mel Ott’s .555 when you compare them to their peers. To combat this issue, I took the league average in each stat over the years each player played, and ranked them by how much they produced above league average. For example, Joe DiMaggio’s ISO mark of .289 is 239% above league average, and ranks him first in our group. Overall, Stanton ranks 19th in OBP, 14th in SLG and 11th in ISO above league average.
Since these players are not all equal in their production, the next step is to group them into bins to see just where Stanton fits in. To group them, I added up their rank in each category for a total point value. For example, Ted Williams ranks 1st in SLG and OBP and 2nd in ISO, so his point total is 4. It certainly isn’t the most scientific formula, but it gives us a rough idea.
You may recognize some of these names if you have ever made the trip to Cooperstown. Not much else to be said.
Stanton arrives at the bottom of group 2 with Hall of Famers Robinson, Mantle, Bench, future Hall of Famer Pujols, and then four guys who didn’t amount to a whole lot. This isn’t to say that Stanton is going to be a boom or a bust, but none of these players posted a WAR total between 39 and 80. Half of them had Hall of Fame careers, while the other four were essentially done at 30. However, there were some mitigating circumstances. Conigliaro suffered a devastating eye injury that cost him his age 23 season, and he was never the same player. Trosky had problems with headaches which forced an early retirement. Horner was hampered by injuries and collusion. Blefary was the only one who really washed out due to a lack of skill, as he retired at 28.
Overall, these 9 players posted 508.9 WAR over a combined 55,792 plate appearances, good for 5.5 WAR/600 PA. Another factor to take into account is position, and Stanton actually compares pretty favourably, as only Bench and Mantle spent much time at premium defensive positions. This list certainly illustrates the devastating affects that injuries can have on a once promising career, but any time a player can be put on the same list as Mantle and Pujols, it bodes well for the future.
The top of group 3 is pretty fungible with the bottom of group 2, and you could easily argue that Aaron, Powell or Medwick could find themselves in group 2. However, we do generally see a decline in the power numbers in this group. Nonetheless, it is a very impressive group containing a couple Hall of Famers, and all of these guys were productive through their 20’s, which is the age at which we really want to be evaluating Stanton.
In group 4 we see another decrease in slugging percentage, and an inability to get on base. These players, like Jones, Blalock, and Francoeur were generally the ones to decline early, which isn’t the best sign for Stanton as his on-base skills are definitely weaker than his power.
Even if we lower our bench mark to well below what Stanton has accomplished thus far in his young career, it is difficult to categorize more than three or four of our thirty-two players as failures. Barring serious injury or an inability to lay off the cheeseburgers (although Jones has had a renaissance with the Yankees), almost without fail these players put together solid careers. Our Hall of Fame rate (assuming induction for Bonds, Rodriguez, and Pujols) is also a stellar 40%.
On the flip side, we have the strikeout kings. At first glance, Stanton’s 29% strikeout rate is pretty alarming, as it is the highest rate of any player with at least 750 plate appearances by his age. But again, era plays a big factor. Baseball has broken the record for league average K% each of the last three seasons, making Stanton look better in comparison. Starting at the top, here is the list of players who have struck out the most through age 22, along with their K% above league average.
Pat Seerey – 267%
Sammy Sosa – 176%
Darryl Strawberry – 175%
Mickey Mantle – 165%
Jose Canseco – 165%
Rick Monday – 158%
Lloyd Moseby – 158%
B.J. Upton – 156%
Giancarlo Stanton – 156%
Travis Fryman – 154%
Adam Dunn – 149%
Sixto Lezcano – 146%
Darrell Porter – 146%
Justin Upton – 146%
Juan Gonzalez – 143%
Greg Luzinski – 140%
Junior Felix – 139%
As we can see, adjusting for era actually drops Stanton down to eighth on the list for a tie with B.J. Upton, and other than Seerey, a fill-in during WWII who was done at age 25, the list of players above him is actually pretty impressive, totaling 364.7 WAR in 51,426 PA, or 4.25 WAR per 600 PA. While this group isn’t quite as strong as the previous one Stanton was associated with, it shows that early strikeout rates are by no means a death sentence. The fact that a player is even able to total this many plate appearance at such a young age points at the minimum, a solid MLB career.
So what would a Stanton extension look like? As Matt Swartz has demonstrated, the three numbers that get hitters paid in arbitration are plate appearances, home runs, and RBI. While it’s difficult to project PA, home runs and RBI are statistics that Stanton should have no problem accumulating, especially with Reyes hitting in front of him. Similar hitters to Stanton have been well rewarded through the arbitration process.
Michael Jong of Fish Stripes has written several posts about a potential extension for Stanton, and has collected some data on what that kind of contract might need to look like in order to get a deal done. As Jong notes, Prince Fielder made $33.5 million in his three arbitration seasons with this same skillset, while Ryan Howard achieved Super Two status and was able to receive $64 million during his four arbitration eligible seasons. Howard represents something close to the upper limit of potential earnings, since he had a monstrous MVP campaign and hit 105 home runs in the two years before he became Super Two eligible, but it’s possible that Stanton could also qualify as a Super Two, and he may be able to leverage Howard’s paydays in negotiations.
The Marlins will likely counter by pointing out the recent long term deals signed by other young outfielders – Ryan Braun took 8/45 after his rookie season, while Jay Bruce, Justin Upton, and Andrew McCutchen all signed for 6/51 when they had two years of service time under their belts. Stanton is further from free agency than the the latter trio, so he should theoretically receive a smaller extension, but his particular skillset and possibile Super Two status will likely allow him to surpass their contracts if he does decide to sign long term.
Jong estimates a six year, $74 million extension would be fair for both sides, putting him close to the neighborhood of what Carlos Gonzalez got from the Rockies. That deal would buy out two free agent seasons and give Stanton significant raises through his arbitration years, but also give the Marlins cost certainty and avoid the potential for Howard-like payouts if Stanton did reach Super Two status and was able to argue for historically large payouts in arbitration.
A deal like this seems to make sense for both sides. If the Marlins still have their wallets open after a winter of aggressive spending, perhaps an extension for Stanton should be next on the agenda.