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April 5, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Donnybrook - Mike Stanton

by Michael Jong and Michael Street

BP readers, it's time to leave the benches and bullpens and join the Donnybrook! Leave your comments below about which side you're on, or suggest another Donnybrook question for two BP writers to tussle over. Today's question, in this "Michael and Michael Have Issues" edition of Donnybrook, is "Just how valuable will Mike Stanton be for fantasy teams in 2011?"

Michael JongHere is a fun fact about Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton: last season, he hit a home run in 22.9 percent of his fly balls. Had Stanton gathered just four more plate appearances, he would have ranked third on the list of players with the highest HR per fly ball rate with at least 400 PA since 2008—the only two players who averaged more round-trippers per fly ball were Ryan Howard (26.1 percent) and Jim Thome (26.4 percent). Given that Stanton's power has been rated by many scouts as a true 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, this sort of number and ranking fits in perfectly alongside the best power hitters in baseball.

Now here is another fun fact: that home run per fly ball percentage includes popups/infield flies, and Stanton hit a large number of them last season. According to MLB Gameday data, Stanton hit a popup on 29.7 percent of his total fly balls and 11.3 percent of his batted balls as a whole. This should not surprise anyone, as he was just 20 years of age and still adjusting to major league pitching. If those numbers regress or he develops a better eye for the plate and turns even a modest number of popups into flyballs, expect even more homers to leave the yard.

It could be said that Stanton already began adjusting as the season went along. His strikeout rate dropped with each passing month—it sat around the 28 percent mark in August and September—perhaps showing signs of more solid contact as the year progressed. If that strikeout rate follows that trend, then his only fantasy problem (batting average) should be better in 2011 and accompany a lot of power.

Michael StreetMike Stanton is the latest “can’t-miss” prospect to whet the appetites of analysts and fantasy owners, but I’d argue for moderation of expectations. Justin Upton, Matt Wieters, and Alex Gordon come to mind as recent, highly touted prospects burdened—if not crushed—by such weighty expectations. So mere practicality should temper the lofty predictions for Stanton, but there are other concerns, too.

The first caution flag flies at his 31.1 percent strikeout rate and 8.5 percent walk rate, expected declines from respective minor-league rates of 26.7 percent and 11.8 percent. He’ll get more selective as he plays more, and he improved somewhat as the months progressed in 2010, but 28.5 percent whiffs and 7.6 percent walks over his final 119 plate appearances doesn’t represent amazing growth.

Like many young players, Stanton hammered heaters (87.9 percent contact rate) while showing problems against changeups (26 percent whiff rate) and curves, which he fouled off nearly 21 percent of, and missed 12.5 percent of them entirely. The kid’s clearly still learning in his fourth year of pro ball, and let’s not forget that he skipped Triple-A, so more development could be in the future.

Certainly, his power has been impressive—even at fairly neutral Landshark—but he didn’t get the benefit of hitter-friendly parks on the road, either. Hittracker.com ranks six of Stanton’s 22 homers as “just enough,” a low 27.2 percent that ranks him near Adam Dunn and Joey Votto—impressive company, indeed. That’s not the only place he’s in elite territory: his 22.9 percent HR/FB rate fits right behind Votto and ahead of Dunn, good enough for third in baseball in 2010. He could sustain such elite levels, just as he could keep up his .330 BABIP, but that’s more “coulds” than I like to see in a second-year (and first full-season) forecast.

Stanton’s going to be good someday, and that someday could be soon—or it could be 2012, 2013, or “never.” Upton’s progress has been halting, Wieters has yet to arrive offensively, and the clock’s about run out on Gordon. From a fantasy perspective, you’re better off chasing solid commodities with established performance records.

Yes, Stanton deserved to be drafted relatively early in keeper leagues, but moderated expectations served better in redraft leagues, where he was likely to be overvalued due to all the hype, and struggles (particularly in batting average) are likely. Getting value in fantasy sometimes means being a contrarian and not chasing the lead horse—in this instance, holding back on Stanton seems extremely wise.

Michael Jong is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Michael's other articles. You can contact Michael by clicking here

8 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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theguarantee

Not exactly sure how you could lump Justin Upton into a category with Alex Gordon and Matt Wieters. LOL. Come on man, he wasn't all hype - he had 26/20 .300/.366/.532 two years ago at what, 21? Last year he had some nagging injuries and regardless certainly disappointed, but PECOTA seems to like him to bounceback (certainly pretty conservative projections). And he already hit a 3-run laser beam HR off Ubaldo Jimenez.

But I know this is supposed to be about Mike Stanton. Considering that his ADP was, I believe, over 100 - something tells me he was about the last guy with true 30-HR power available. I wouldn't really worry too much about his walk rates, Robinson Cano comes to mind. PECOTA projects him for 34 HR's right? That's pretty ridiculous, I'm actually surprised he wasn't going higher in drafts. The way I manage my fantasy teams I'd always rather take a guy PECOTA projects over 30 HR's than the guy it projects to hit .300. If he even comes near his 80% projections he could be the key to many winning their leagues. And while I grant that there are a lot of question marks around just how good he'll be this year, you can't help but get the sense that a bad average and 30 HR's is his basement...which isn't exactly a wasted pick at that point in the draft.

Apr 05, 2011 09:05 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

The comparison with J-Up was more to show that you shouldn't always believe the hype, not that their skills are similar. As I say in the article, none of these guys are out for the count, but all of them have not lived up to expectations (in some cases, rather unreasonable ones, as when Wieters was compared to Johnny Bench).

And, like Stanton, they should all be good. Stanton has been drafted at a wide range of spots, as high as 45, and as low as being undrafted. While the latter is certainly foolish, the former's rather optimistic--he's being picked 28th overall among OFs, which could end up being cheap, but is more likely too soon.

I wouldn't call picking Stanton a "wasted pick" at any point in the draft, but picking him too high could end up being a significant overdraft.

Excellent points, however, and thanks for joining the Donnybrook!

Apr 05, 2011 10:04 AM
 
gpurcell

In my NL-only 12 team league I took Stanton with pick 43. Bruce and Hart were both still on the board but I'd had a great first three rounds (Tulo/Zimmerman/Phillips) and figured I'd take a risk on his power figuring their averages would protect me.

Apr 05, 2011 21:30 PM
rating: 0
 
jasemilw4

Why do so many critics downplay Staton? You're right, striking out 28.5% over his final 119 ABs doesn't represent "amazing growth". It does represent substantial growth for a 20-year old, who played just about the minimum in the minors. Being 6'5" and a true power hitter contributes to his K-rate as well.

What is amazing is how many analysts on ESPN, CBS, or even BP talk about Stanton as being overrated. At some point the guy becomes underrated. And surprisingly, I feel we're approaching that point with Mike Stanton.

Fantasy owners would be wise to make a pitch for him now.

Apr 05, 2011 11:42 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Note that I'm not suggesting he's "overrated," just that he's more of a gamble in 2011 than the lead-pipe cinch that people are making him out to be.

Yes, he's expected to be good, and may one day even be great, but it's easy to get all frothy on Opening-Day hype, when most players take some time to grow into expectations, particularly ones that (as you point out) are 20 years old and have only spent the minimum time in the minors.

"Overrated" to me carries the connotation that Stanton's skills and talent are being overestimated or misrepresented, which I'm definitely not suggesting. More correctly, I'd say he's overvalued, meaning redraft league owners are paying for talent that may not arrive this season.

Thanks for the counterpoint and for joining the Donnybrook!

Apr 06, 2011 10:05 AM
 
evo34

Where are the 10-year projections?

Apr 06, 2011 02:51 AM
rating: 0
 
psugator01

it's no longer called Landshark

Apr 06, 2011 09:41 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Street
BP staff

Yes, you're right, but Landshark is so much more fun to say than "Dolphin Stadium," (or "Sun Life Stadium," which, technically speaking, isn't where the Marlins played last year) isn't it? In this age of shifting naming rights, I think we oughta all just call stadiums by their team name and be done with it.

Thanks for the correction!

Apr 06, 2011 09:59 AM
 
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