Giancarlo Stanton leads the NL in at-bats per home run at 12.3 after ranking second in that category a year ago. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Despite a new moniker, a state-of-the-art ballpark and a batch of pricey free agents, the 2012 Marlins are basically dead in the water. With losing records in four months out of five, they're now 58-71, headed for their third straight sub-.500 finish, and after trading Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers before the July 31 deadline, they face questions about what to do with several other high-salaried players.
One player about whom the Marlins don't have any questions about, at least with regards to whether they should keep him short-term, is Giancarlo Stanton, who won't even be eligible for arbitration until after the 2013 season, or for free agency until after the 2016 season. Slowed by problems with both knees at various times — he missed time this spring due to inflammation in his left knee, then underwent surgery to remove loose bodies in his right knee over the All-Star break — the 22-year-old rightfielder has had an up-and-down season, but he's currently red-hot. During the Marlins just-completed 11-game road trip through Colorado, Arizona and Los Angeles, he clubbed eight homers, a span that included two separate stretches where he homered in three straight games, the second of which is still active as the Marlins return home. At Coors Field, he bashed a monster 494-foot shot that according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker stands both as the longest homer of the season and the longest of his big league career. Thanks to tape-measure shots like that, his plate appearances have become must-see TV.
Despite a slow .247/.286/.342 start in April that featured just one home run, Stanton is now hitting .287/.358/.601 with 29 homers overall. His home run total ranks second in the league behind Ryan Braun's 34, while his slugging percentage ranking first, ahead of Braun's .590. His 7.3 percent rate of home runs per plate appearance is the majors' highest, just edging out Adam Dunn's 7.0 percent. But even beyond this year's leaderboard, Stanton is setting himself up as a player for the ages.
Stanton already ranks 11th in terms of home runs through his age-22 season, with 33 games to go on the Marlins schedule. He's in elite company:
Ken Griffey Jr.
*Hall of Famer
Ten of the top 20 players on that list are in the Hall of Fame already, with Griffey and Pujols virtual locks to get there, Rodriguez likely to do so if the furor over his performance-enhancing drug admission ever subsides, Jones with a reasonable case and Cabrera certainly laying the foundation for a run at Cooperstown. The only players from among the top 14 who didn't put themselves in position for a Hall of Fame bid are Conigliaro, who suffered vision problems in the wake of a devastating beaning, and Horner, who battled injuries and conditioning issues during his 10-year career. All told, the other 19 players on the list have averaged 352 homers beyond their age 22 seasons, with Rodriguez, Jones, Cabrera and Pujols still counting.
Given his established home run pace, Stanton could add another eight homers this year, which would push him to sixth on the list behind Robinson, and ahead of both Williams and Mantle. What's perhaps even more impressive is that at 6.1 percent, his home run rate (homers per plate appearance) is the highest of the group except for Horner's 6.6 percent. In other words, his bat is even more potent than virtually all of the other sluggers surrounding him on that leaderboard. Oh, and he's also miles ahead of where Barry Bonds (41 homers), Hank Aaron (66), Babe Ruth (nine), Willie Mays (24), Jim Thome (10), and Sammy Sosa (29) — the other men besides Rodriguez and Griffey in the 600 home run club — were at the same age, suggesting that if he stays healthy, he could find himself in that stratosphere.
Not that Stanton's game doesn't have its holes. He has struck out in 28.2 percent of his plate appearances over the course of his career, and 26.2 percent this year — numbers that depress his batting average, since he has never topped .330 in terms of batting average on balls in play. His unintentional walk rate is just 8.8 percent for his career, and 7.8 percent this year, both low numbers for a masher of his caliber. Of the 46 players who have reached the 20-homer plateau this year, his unintentional walk rate ranks 23rd, while his strikeout-to-unintentional walk ratio of 3.35 ranks 36th. On the other hand, he's something beyond the stereotypical slugger in that he has consistently added defensive value thanks to his arm and his range; according to various fielding metrics he's been worth six to 10 runs per year in the field.