Imagine how good it would feel to hit a home run every fourth fly ball in the major leagues. Well the Miami Marlins’ right fielder, Mike Stanton, knows that feeling. Stanton posted the highest HR/FB rate among qualified hitters in the major leagues in 2011 at 24.8%. In Stanton’s first full major league season, 2011, he hit 34 home runs and posted a wOBA of .378 with an ISO power rating of .275 (3rd in the majors). The 22 year-old projects to continue posting incredible power numbers. In 2010, Stanton combined for 43 home runs between AA and the majors posting an ISO of .248 at the major league level, and his HR/FB rate was also ridiculous at 22.9%. Over the course of his short major league career (250 games), Stanton hits a fly ball almost 40% of the time, while almost 25% of those fly balls have resulted in a round-tripper, if these numbers persist Stanton’s home runs will continue to rack up to possibly legendary power hitting highs. But does Stanton have an Achilles’ heel? Yes of course, like most great power hitters Stanton strikes out a ton.
Stanton may be hitting almost 1 home run per every four fly balls hit in his career, but he has struck out more than once per every four at-bats during his career (29% K rate). In 2011, Stanton was 3rd in the majors in ISO power, yet was also third worst in the majors in K% (27.6%). Stanton’s K% and BB% did improve by around 3% each from 2010 to 2011, and as Stanton is young those numbers could continue to improve. However, I wouldn’t expect much improvement from the powerful righty, who never posted a K% below 21% in his professional career. Many have compared Stanton to his N.L. East powerful counterpart, Ryan Howard, because of their comparable height/weight and the raw power/awful strikeout numbers Howard has posted throughout his career. Yet I don’t completely agree with this comparison for a few reasons.
Howard’s first full major league season came as a 26 year-old, making him a much less raw player at the start of career. His late debut has lead to an already apparent decline in Howard’s power numbers. While Howard’s strikeout numbers have remained steady over his career (averaged a K% of 27.8 before he was 30, and a K% of 26% since he’s turned 30), his power numbers have significantly declined (averaged an ISO of .312 before he was 30, and an ISO of .232 since he has turned 30). Stanton has so much more youth than Howard, we may not see a decline in his power numbers for another decade.
Howard isn’t old (will be 33 for the whole 2012 season), but he hasn’t hit 300 homeruns yet in his career (286), thus he cannot be considered an all-time great power hitter. When Howard was 22 he had 0 career major league home runs; Stanton has already hit 56 home runs in his major league career. Stanton will be an all-time great power hitter. In his first 100 major league games as a 20 year old, Stanton hit 22 home runs. Last season, while playing in 50 more games he hit 12 more home runs than the season before. Most project Stanton to improve on these incredible numbers next season and as Stanton develops into his prime. Bill James projects Stanton to hit 39 home runs next season, with an ISO of .295 and a K% of 26.4%. Let’s say that somehow Stanton does not improve and is consistent over the next decade, averaging 34 home runs over those 10 seasons, (this of course, is an underprojection for the young slugger) he’ll have 396 career home runs going into the 2022 season, in which he would be a 32 year-old (younger than Howard is currently), with a legitimate opportunity at finishing his career as a 500 home run hitter and with baseball's current decline in power hitting, a clear-cut Hall of Fame power hitter.