Will Giancarlo Stanton Deliver a Cooperstown Speech?

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Statcast released bat tracking data to the general public this week, and having looked at the numbers in full, it’s hard not to have Giancarlo Stanton on the brain. It’s also hard not to have some mixed feelings about the gargantuan slugger. His power is awe-inspiring, whether it results in line drives that the cameras have trouble keeping up with, casual bombs that touch the clouds, or (and this is my personal favorite) the 121-mph quarantine-era blast that went along with one of the loudest expletives uttered on television in baseball history:

But amidst all that festive sphere-crushing, there’s also a note of sadness. Stanton’s 59 home runs in 2017, his age-27 season, brought his career total to what was then the fourth-most home runs through that age (Mike Trout has since surpassed it). It felt a bit like a warning shot across the bows of Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Babe Ruth, all of whom had fewer home runs at that point in their careers. And as much as seeing him trade in Marlins teal for pinstripes annoyed me as an Orioles fan, there was something narratively satisfying about Stanton heading to the House that Followed the House That Ruth Built, to succeed where Griffey and A-Rod hadn’t and claim a home run crown of his own. Since then, however, Stanton has only hit 144 homers and, thanks to myriad injuries, has only appeared in 140 games in a season once. With 411 homers and a 35th birthday that falls a couple of weeks after this year’s World Series, the question has now become whether he’ll even get to 500 homers, not 714, 755, or 762.

It was no surprise to see Stanton rank so highly in the new bat tracking data. After all, his peak exit velocities have been well chronicled, and of the players with 25 homers in the Statcast era, he takes the cake for having the highest average exit velocity on his long balls. Stanton has been healthy this year and is on-pace for the most homers he’s hit since that 2017 season, but the reality is that he’s a far more limited player than he once was. Nobody would ever confuse Stanton for Joey Votto or Juan Soto, but he used to draw more walks and hit for a better average. And while it’s hard to remember now, he also had some real defensive value when he was young; the Giancarlo Stanton of 10 years ago could have faked center field a bit if the Marlins had had the need (though with Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich on the roster, they didn’t).

Just to give you an idea of what could have been, I re-ran Stanton’s 2018-2023 projections at every point in his career through 2017. I’m only going to use the current model, not the ones contemporaneous to those years, since my goal here isn’t to validate ZiPS but to get an apples-to-apples comparison of how the type of player Stanton was projected to be has changed. For seasons after 2017, Stanton’s actual performance is mixed into the projection, so the eerie accuracy you’ll see after 2023 is due to ZiPS knowing what actually happened rather than any magical omniscience on the computer’s part. I’ve also included Stanton’s projected final career WAR, home runs, and hits after each season. The projection for the 2020 COVID season is truncated:

2018-2023 ZiPS Projection – Giancarlo Stanton
After BA OBP SLG AB H 2B HR RBI BB OPS+ Car WAR Car HR Car H WAR
2010 .249 .334 .545 2580 643 139 204 562 317 134 62.2 615 2134 17.4
2011 .248 .343 .549 2643 656 141 214 571 357 138 68.1 616 2127 20.0
2012 .268 .355 .618 2759 738 154 267 689 347 158 91.6 668 2388 29.3
2013 .247 .349 .551 2493 617 136 205 563 369 140 69.8 599 2056 21.2
2014 .269 .387 .616 2721 733 147 264 704 500 168 100.5 643 2426 34.5
2015 .274 .379 .655 2273 624 118 249 661 373 175 90.6 654 2174 31.1
2016 .265 .369 .606 2413 640 122 233 643 379 160 78.9 655 2279 27.7
2017 .287 .383 .651 2874 824 162 295 774 430 175 98.0 719 2668 38.4
2018 .252 .337 .525 2918 736 160 210 561 351 131 62.1 617 2259 20.5
2019 .252 .338 .513 2285 575 128 156 410 287 130 53.3 531 1973 14.3
2020 .257 .344 .504 2040 524 109 131 352 259 131 48.2 479 1798 11.4
2021 .262 .344 .493 2160 565 105 131 379 262 128 45.4 507 1800 10.6
2022 .256 .341 .493 2119 542 89 145 382 267 130 47.5 502 1823 10.9
2023 .243 .328 .485 2031 494 83 135 359 251 121 42.8 485 1758 8.4

You can see how quickly Stanton’s career expectation eroded during his Yankees years. At the time of the trade, ZiPS saw him fighting with Ruth; after last season, it has him dueling with Fred McGriff. There’s nothing wrong with being the Crime Dog, but for a player who had such a great start to his career, and who has as much raw power as Stanton has, it feels rather underwhelming.

Stanton not being completely cooked this season has led to a modest uptick in those career numbers — the average projection now gets him over the 500 homer mark, with 513. But “not being done” and “being good” are two very different things. Stanton is hitting homers and has avoided the injured list, but he’s only gotten back to the limited version of himself we saw in 2021 and 2022; this isn’t some late-career renaissance, at least so far. It’s impossible to completely contain Stanton’s power, but pitchers have gotten better at nibbling just around the strike zone. Stanton now makes contact with pitches out of the zone at a higher rate than he did in his prime, while also making contact with fewer in-zone pitches, and the combination has served to contain the damage to only the occasional 118-mph humiliation.

Will it be enough to make it to Cooperstown? Short of a more impressive resurgence, I can’t see myself voting for Stanton. I just don’t think there’s enough separation between him and Nelson Cruz, though Stanton is aided by not having a PED suspension on his record. While I’m obviously more of a stathead than the average baseball writer, I expect the median Hall voter to be more statistically inclined in eight or nine years than they are now. ZiPS doesn’t project Stanton’s final JAWS score to budge by career-end, leaving him around 40th all-time among right fielders, in the neighborhood of players like Jack Clark, Rocky Colavito, Rusty Staub, and Dave Parker, none of whom came close to induction (though the Cobra hovered around 15% of the vote for 15 years). There’s always the Veterans Committee, but even I don’t like to attempt to project what that motley crew will do in any given year. Plus, the organization of the committee will probably be overhauled half a dozen times in the next 20 years.

Regardless of what the fates have in store, Stanton will have finished with a career that nearly every big leaguer would be proud to have, and those of us still around in 50 years will still be talking about his moon shots, whether or not he ever gives a speech on a hot summer day in upstate New York.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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sadtrombonemember
2 months ago

I’ve been hoping for this article for some time. In 2017 it looks like he has a chance to beat Ruth’s homer record and finish as the greatest non-steroid power hitter in a while. Now it seems like he’ll be lucky to get to half of that projected 98 WAR.

dl80member
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think it shows how difficult it is to be effective into your mid-30s without PEDs (presumably).

manormachine
2 months ago
Reply to  dl80

We say goodbye to our stars too early these days.

Barney Coolio
2 months ago
Reply to  manormachine

I just turned 40. For the past few years I have compiled an “All Older Than Me Team.” I can’t do it anymore. Now there are a few pitchers, many of them injured, and Joey Votto in the minors.

In 2021 or 2022 was the last year I could field a complete team. And then I had Albert Pujols in the OF and Yadier Molina at 3b, yes Molina has appeared at 3b.

I didn’t think it would unravel so quickly. I remember a game in 2007 where the Mets had 4 guys in the 40s in the starting lineup: LF Moises Alou, P Tom Glavine, 3b Jeff Conine, C Sandy Alomar Jr., with Julio Franco on the bench. The Giants of that era had a lot of guys in their 40s: Bonds, Alou, Finley, Omar Vizquel.

Nowadays, teams are handing out extremely lengthy contracts which take players into their 40s, but it is uncertain if the teams intend on keeping those guys on the roster for the duration. SD, my team, has Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts signed through 2033 which will be the year they both turn 41.

rosen380
2 months ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

“I remember a game in 2007 where the Mets had 4 guys in the 40s in the starting lineup: LF Moises Alou, P Tom Glavine, 3b Jeff Conine, C Sandy Alomar Jr., with Julio Franco on the bench.”

Looking at the game log, I can only find one with 3 of them–
Alomar, Alou and Glavine on 08/23/2007. Conine PH’ed, after Glavine was out of the game and Julio Franco was probably on the DL or something (didn’t play at all in August).

Two days later it was Alomar, Conine and El Duque, also 3x at 40+.

FunFella13member
2 months ago
Reply to  rosen380

Thanks for wasting that time for a gotcha

Pepper Martin
2 months ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

I used to have Nelson Cruz; now the only theoretically “active” player older than me is Rich Hill.

david k
2 months ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

You all can just cut it out. Now there are probably several MLB MANAGERS who are younger than me!

david k
2 months ago
Reply to  david k

Ok, now I am REALLY depressed because I just looked at the actual list. I remember when I looked at all the MLB managers and thought they were all a bunch of old guys, many of which who played and I was too young to see them during their playing career. Now, there are only EIGHT MLB managers who are older than me, and any of them who actually had MLB playing careers of any note, I remember seeing ALL of them play.

Anon
2 months ago
Reply to  david k

There is a blog called Cardboard Gods and he wrote a phenomenal post about the very same thing – how you looked at all the players as a kid and they all seemed so much older than you, some of the older guys seemed legitimately old. Then, one day you wake up and realize that guy that you still think of as older than you is now several years younger than you.

I look at Phil Niekro at the end of his career and I cannot believe I am now 10 years older than he was then.

Don’t know if we can post links here but it’s pretty easy to google. Cardboard Gods, Tom Hilgendorf, just looked it up and the blog post is from 3/18/08.

I haven’t read the blog in years but he started it as a way to cope with some depression that he was dealing with and pulled out his box of baseball cards from his youth and started writing about them. Most of the cards are from the 70’s, some from the 80’s. Some posts are good, some aren’t, but it was an interesting read as a baseball fan of roughly the same age as the writer.

Last edited 2 months ago by Anon
dl80member
2 months ago
Reply to  Anon

Phil Niekro at 48 looked about 85. I would guess it’s the smoking and medical care that wasn’t as good?

And lots of hair dye today.

MikeDmember
2 months ago
Reply to  dl80

Yeah, Neikro let his hair go gray and had a knuckleballers body. Hell of a pitcher though, but he did seem older than he actually was.

Mean Mr. Mustard
2 months ago
Reply to  Anon

I may be misremembering, but I think fangraphs occasionally ran excerpts of that blog for a time.

synco
2 months ago
Reply to  Anon

I love Cardboard Gods. Haven’t looked it for a few years – thanks for the reminder!

MikeDmember
2 months ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

Unless Satchel Paige revives himself and comes out of retirement, I don’t think there’s anyway a player can be older than me. In fairness, I’m not that old, but even Julio Franco getting one more AB won’t save me!

Anon
2 months ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

I’m pretty sure the last active player older than myself was Jamie Moyer. . . .

Barney Coolio
2 months ago
Reply to  Anon

You got lucky as he lingered into his late 40s.

PC1970
2 months ago
Reply to  Anon

Might be Mariano Rivera. He was my last one.

MikeDmember
2 months ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

I suspect teams handing out contracts to players expecting them to play at 40 are not expecting them to play at 40. They’re simply stretching out the payments and lowering the AAV. Building a payroll roster means there will be a mix of low-cost young players, higher-cost older players, and some dead money from players cut. Teams absolutely factor that into their planning. It’s some fans who don’t seem to understand this concept.

Lanidrac
2 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

What homer record does Ruth still hold that Stanton might have had a chance at beating?

sadtrombonemember
2 months ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

Whoops! That table shows that after his big 59 homer season ZiPS projected he would have topped Ruth’s career total but that wouldn’t be a record. I misspoke.