Over the last several seasons, I’ve been asked, “Why are you so hard on a guy who has hit 37 home runs (twice)? And he hasn’t even reached 550 AB yet! You’re too pessimistic.” Actually, usually that last sentence is more along the lines of “You’re a moron.” Among the elite hitters, everyone agrees Mike Trout is a stud. Five years ago, everyone agreed it was Miguel Cabrera. Ten years ago, Albert Pujols was the best option. But there are always a few touted players that polarize fantasy managers, to the point where people either buy high on a guy or avoid him like the plague. In my case, I’m on the “avoid” side of the Giancarlo Stanton argument. I have been for years, and I’ll continue to be. By the end of the article, perhaps I’ll have convinced one reader to pass on Stanton as a franchise bat, despite his 50-HR pace from 2015.
Let’s start with his previous seasons. What’s not to like about the immense power he has displayed since coming up in 2010? I’ll grant you that home runs are a bit harder to find these days, so anyone who can hit 30+ gets a boost in value, and the fact that he has the projection for 40+ is even better. His HR/FB% ranges from elite to superhuman, and his FB% is rather stable. I can’t make an argument against his home run rate. But wait, I’m not admitting defeat! There are many more factors that go into a player’s value, and just because he may hit 40 home runs one day doesn’t mean he’s worthy of being the cornerstone of your fantasy team.
Now let’s hit the obvious and most impactful argument. Stanton’s distinct lack of health started in his first full season. In 2011, he battled through leg and eye injuries to play in 150 games. Then he dealt with knee issues in 2012, eventually submitting to surgery. He strained a hamstring in 2013 and spent 41 days on the DL. In 2014 he was hit in the face and missed nearly a month at the end of the season. Then last season he broke his wrist/hand in June and missed the rest of the year.
I know some of this may be bad luck, such as the 2014 beaning, but when he’s missed (significant) time every season of his career, you have to label him as injury prone, and as such you have to discount his value because he will not make it through 162 games. If he’s not on the field as often as other sluggers, his odds of breaking 40 homers are much lower, despite his epic HR/FB rate. He also won’t pile up as many counting stats, which partly explains his lackluster run and RBI totals compared to other elite bats. In order to provide first round value, players generally have to be healthy all year. He simply can’t do it, and so he doesn’t merit a first round pick or your #1 keeper slot.
The argument against me here is, “But one season he WILL be healthy, and then he’ll hit 50 HR! You’ll see!” But as a franchise player, I want to target someone who has a history of health, because he has to be playing for me every year to warrant the high cost. Do you remember when Troy Tulowitzki was always a first round pick, often in the top half of the round? It took much longer than it should have, but managers are finally backing off of his “one day he’ll be healthy” potential — his ADP for 2016 was 52, and he went as low as 92. Even his highest pick was 16, still outside the first round for most leagues. If you aren’t discounting Stanton like you are now discounting Tulo, then you’re overvaluing him.
I mentioned Stanton’s lower counting numbers in runs and RBIs, and part of that is clearly due to lower AB totals. However, it’s also a product of the team around him. The Marlins haven’t finished higher than third in the division since Stanton has been a full-time player. With a poor lineup around him, he has fewer chances to drive in runs. He also can be pitched around more often, because the lack of depth means teams simply don’t have to face him when the game is on the line. Normally I’m not one to put a lot of value on the team a player is on, but when it’s the Marlins, and they have a long history of putting a horrible product on the field, one has to wonder how much better the lineup will get around Stanton.
As for the metrics, my go-to approach for evaluating players, are there any red flags? There’s nothing major, but aside from power, Stanton doesn’t have the safest or most reliable skill set. His batting average has fluctuated from .249 to .290. When he sports a high BABIP, he can put up an above average BA (see 2012, 2014), but the BABIP has to be well above average (over .350). No one can sustain that, and so when he comes back down to earth, you have to deal with the .250-.265 batting average. Hey, a .265 is plenty respectful these days — but it’s certainly not elite. The low contact rate also means he won’t get any better or more consistent, and so his BA boosts are entirely luck and HR dependent. In this case, it’s simply another category where he won’t provide elite value. He has power, sure, but the batting average won’t be special, and neither will his run and RBI totals due to his always limited playing time.
When looking to the future, are his early returns indicative of anything? Well, it’s not like other big names aren’t struggling to start in 2016. Goldschmidt, my choice for the #1 draft slot this year, is ranked 148 for CBS 5×5, one slot behind Stanton’s 147. It’s early, so how much judgment can we really pass? I’ll hold off on the final nail in the coffin, but in spring training Stanton was limited in playing time due to his knee.
For the actual 2016 season, again it’s early, but I note that his LD% is a career low, and his GB% has spiked a bit. He’s also making hard contact at a rate below the league average. When he hits a home run, it’s a no-doubter with a HR/FB% in line with his career, but overall his hard hit rate being down could be problematic. His infield fly ball rate is the second highest of his career, and his soft hit rate is a career high. What’s more, for his entire career his contact rate has been between 66% and 68%. That’s extremely consistent. In 2016 he’s sitting at 62%. Yes, it’s only a month, and he had a low month in 2015 too (63%), but when combined with the other factors here, it doesn’t fill me with optimism that THIS is the year he finally hits 50 HR. He has had hot Aprils in the past, and he’s had colder Aprils. In May he’s always been solid, so if he doesn’t produce well by next month, it’s a red flag for the season.
Stanton does have value for your fantasy team. His power is legit, and that keeps him in the first two or three rounds of any draft. But at this point, I don’t see any great change in his game or his health to warrant his cost as a first round pick or a #1 keeper. Adam Dunn could hit 40 HR too, but that and RBIs were all he offered. Stanton hits for better average than Dunn, but honestly, the rest of his stats are eerily similar, yet Stanton costs far more than Dunn ever did. At the least, he doesn’t produce a full season of stats that is a cut above the rest, like Trout’s and Harper’s breakouts. Heck, he doesn’t produce a full season, period, because he can’t stay on the field — and after five years of injuries, it’s time to factor that in. Yet many fantasy owners are still clinging to the belief that Stanton will have a season for all time. Maybe he will, once. But as a consistent value, he’s nowhere near the top-10 hitters.
I get that he’s 26 and still in his prime, but he’s also a veteran at this point, with an established track record of performance (and DL time). If you’re a Stanton owner in any format, I would look for a trade partner who still believes with all his might that Stanton will be the elite stud we’d all hoped for. Trade him if you can get a great return, and don’t worry about the small chance he has to put together an MVP season. You’re more likely to reap the rewards from the pieces you get in trade than he is to rank #1 at the end of 2016 and beyond.
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