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December 12, 2012

Skewed Left

Giancarlo Stanton and Being Alone in the Lineup

by Zachary Levine

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The heavyweight of the 818 is pissed. So said Giancarlo Stanton’s Twitter feed after most of his remaining brothers from what was still a pretty bash-less offense were taken away from him in the Marlins-Blue Jays swap.

Lonely in the offense last year despite the presence of Jose Reyes and John Buck plus partial seasons of Omar Infante and Hanley Ramirez, Stanton became even lonelier after the trade. His extreme power in a poor lineup and a difficult home run ballpark for normal human beings will give him an outside shot at the highest percentage of a team’s home runs hit by one player in the expansion era.

No, there’s no reason he should replicate Babe Ruth’s swatting 29 of the 1919 Red Sox’s 33 home runs. But the expansion era mark for non-strike years currently belongs to Mike Schmidt’s 1980 season, in which he hit 48 of the World Series champion Phillies’ 117 home runs. No player since the turn of the millennium has hit more than a third of his team’s home runs, while Albert Belle’s 1991 output of 35.4 percent of the Indians’ home runs was tops in the ‘90s. So breaking Schmidt’s mark is a long shot for Stanton despite the rather barren offense around him.

Even with the now-departed Ramirez’s 14 home runs, Buck’s 12, Reyes’ 11 and Infante’s eight, and more notably, even with his sitting out 39 games of an injury-disturbed season, Stanton still hit the highest percentage of his team’s home runs of any team leader in 2012.

Player

HR

Team

HR

Percentage

Giancarlo Stanton

37

Marlins

137

27.0%

Miguel Cabrera

44

Tigers

163

27.0%

Josh Willingham

35

Twins

131

26.7%

Chase Headley

31

Padres

121

25.6%

Alfonso Soriano

32

Cubs

137

23.4%

Give him a full healthy season and a roster devoid of pop, and he will likely lead this chart this time next year by an enormous margin rather than the 1/100 of 1 percent by which he topped Cabrera.

So the question becomes when you have one major home run threat in your lineup, where you put said threat. It’s actually a question that new Marlins skipper Mike Redmond answered in his press conference at the winter meetings.

“I see him hitting fourth,” Redmond said, adding that Logan Morrison would likely bat fifth.

“We're definitely going to need somebody to hit behind (Stanton) but more importantly, we're going to have to try to get guys on base in front of him and give him those opportunities to drive runners in.”

And he’s right about that last part, but where are three guys on the rest of this roster who can get on base enough to keep Stanton down at fourth in the lineup with ~18 fewer plate appearances per year than batting him third?

Juan Pierre almost surely will take one of the top-of-the-order spots because he’s Juan Pierre. With Redmond hinting at Rob Brantly and Adeiny Hechevarria hitting down in the order, that leaves two more top-of-the-order spots for Justin Ruggiano, Donovan Solano, and however they upgrade third base over the current situation of maybe Todd Zeile.

This will be the key to salvaging anything from this offense, but don’t be stunned if Stanton moves up should it become a wasteland.

The statistical liturgy of The Book argued well that a team’s best hitter should bat second or fourth rather than third, basically to avoid the two-out, nobody-on situations that come with a no. 3 hitter where singles, doubles, and walks are often wasted. However, if there is one type of “best hitter” who should be a decent fit at no. 3, it would be Stanton, especially in easier home run environments on the road.

Two outs, nobody on is a time for a home run when an inside-the-park hit isn’t all that helpful and an out isn’t all that harmful—easily the least negative of any of the run/out situations, so if there were ever a hitter who could be given those 18 extra plate appearances, it might be the slugger. Stanton finished one plate appearance short of qualifying for rate stats titles last year, but if he had made the list, his on-base percentage would have been in the bottom two percent among modern-era players who slugged at least .600 that season.

Batting Stanton fourth is a nod to our image of a “cleanup” hitter as it was envisioned in our schoolyard days and as it works out on many differently constructed teams.

But last year, he hit 12 home runs from that batting order position. Of the 12, 11 were solo shots and one came with a man on first base.

It might only get lonelier.

***

Deleted scenes from the home run distribution research:

  • The nine highest percentages of a team’s home run total in a single season belong to just three players:
    Mike Schmidt: 1981 (strike year), 1980, 1974 and 1979 Phillies
    Jimmy Wynn: 1967 and 1968 Astros
    Dave Kingman: 1978 Cubs and 1981 and 1982 Mets
     
  • Nate Colbert (1972 Padres) and Jack Clark (1987 Cardinals) were next. Naturally, the top 17 spots are all National Leaguers, and Belle’s 1991 season mentioned above is tops for teams with a DH.
     
  • Even with his record-setting year, Barry Bonds had enough help to stay off the top of this list. Here are the four players this century who have hit at least 30 percent of their team’s home runs in a season.
    Matt Kemp, 2011 Dodgers: 39/117=33.3%
    Sammy Sosa, 2001 Cubs: 64/194=33.0%
    Barry Bonds, 2001 Giants: 73/235=31.1%
    Richie Sexson, 2005 Mariners: 39/130=30.0%
     
  • The 2001 Orioles were the only team in the modern era (1901-present) with no player even hitting 1/9th of his team’s home runs. Jay Gibbons and Chris Richard led the team with 15 apiece, and the team hit 136, with Jeff Conine and Cal Ripken Jr. each hitting 14, Tony Batista 12, and David Segui 10.

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

Related Content:  Batting Order,  Giancarlo Stanton,  Lineup,  Marlins,  Home Runs

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