Ask anyone and they will tell you that Mike Stanton is a future star in this game. The owner of prodigious power, no park in the land can contain the ferocity with which Stanton sends balls into orbit. Because of his almost unparallelled ability to drive the ball into the cheap seats, Stanton’s value in the fantasy game continues to grow. Take a look over at MockDraftCentral and you’ll find that Stanton’s Average Draft Position is inside the top-25 (24.4 actually). Two questions come to my mind when I see that. (1) Can Stanton live up to those expectations? (2) How can Stanton possibly live up to those expectations? I know those are in effect the same question, I’m just trying to make a point — I think it’s going to be pretty darn difficult for Stanton to be as productive in 2012 as people expect him to be based on where he is being drafted. Before I get to that line of thought, he’s a quick run down of Stanton’s skill set.
Stanton has only 875 big league at-bats in his young career so that makes prognostication somewhat more difficult than normal. The guy has one season of 375 at-bats, so the old sample size question can be rightly brought up here as an uncertainty.
Stanton has hit .259 and .262 in his two big league seasons. In those two years he has hit .261, just every so slightly above the big league average of .256. Can he produce a better batting average than that moving forward? On a positive note he did boost his walk rate by three percent while cutting his strikeout rate by 3.5 percent in his second season. However, his BB/K mark was slightly below the league average at 0.42, and he still struck out in more than a quarter of his at-bats (27.6 percent to be precise). That doesn’t sound like a guy who is primed for a batting average increase. Stanton also owns a mere 16.4 percent line drive rate in his career (16.5 and 16.3 percent the last two years). While he should be able to maintain his average given the homers he will hit that don’t count in this measure but lead to hits, it is somewhat concerning that Stanton is pretty far removed from the 19-20 percent big league average.
Stanton is all about the power which he has flashed since day one. However, and yes there actually is a ‘however’ when talking about his power, I have one small concern with Stanton. Much like Ryan Howard, another prodigious power bat, Stanton doesn’t hit as many fly balls as you think. In fact, Stanton’s career fly ball rate of 39.3 percent is only about two percent above the league average. He really doesn’t hit that many balls into the air. As a result, the only way he is going to blast 40+ homers is going to be if he converts a large percentage of those fly balls into home runs. Stanton has done that the last two years with an impressive 24.0 percent HR/F rate, and last year his 24.8 percent HR/F rate was the highest mark in baseball (to compare, the average big league posts a mark of about 10 percent, and even a huge power bat like Albert Pujols had only an 18.3 percent mark last season). Maybe Stanton can lead the league in this category year after year, it’s certainly possible. All I’m saying is that he’s going to have to be near the top of the leader board in HR/F ratio if he wants to hit 40 homers if he doesn’t hit more balls into the air.
Finally, an athletic 6’5”, Stanton has stolen five bases in each of his big league seasons but he’s just not going to run very much – it’s not his game.
So what do we have in Stanton?
(1) We had an hitter who strikes out far too much.
(2) We have a hitter who profiles as a league average contributor in batting average.
(3) We have a hitter with elite power, though one who struggles to hit a lot of fly balls.
(4) We have a player who is unlikely to steal many bases.
Does that sound like a top-25 fantasy player to you?
Let me ask you this – would you be happy if Stanton hit .264 with 40 homers, 106 RBI and 101 runs scored in 2012? You had better say yes because all four of those numbers would be career bests for Stanton. You know who put up those exact numbers in 2007? Try Adam Dunn. Did anyone, EVER, look at Dunn and think he was a top-25 fantasy performer? Anyone? Of course you didn’t. What if Stanton hit .248 with 39 homers, 111 RBI and 90 runs scored in 2012? That would also be considered a career best effort for Stanton so you would have to be please wouldn’t you? Mark Teixeira did that last season and he’s being drafted after Stanton (Tex has a 27.8 ADP). Would you really rather have Stanton over a guy like Teixeira who has hit 30 homers with 100 RBI each of the past eight years given that Tex is also in a great offensive ball yard in a potent offense with the Yankees?
If Stanton improves across the board and has a rather impressive third season, something like either the Dunn or Teixeira campaign’s I mentioned above, he’s still not likely to live up to his top-25 billing. He offers little on the bases to augment his value, and that league average batting mark isn’t going to do him any favors either. I’m not saying to avoid Stanton or that he will fail. I’m merely pointing out that the hope of a huge power season might be causing people to draft Stanton at a point where he can’t possibly live up to expectations.
Don’t forget to pick up a copy of the 2012 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide.
By Ray Flowers