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 Jong: Here 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 Street: Mike 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.