Stanton’s Strikeouts Next Season

Mike Stanton is a man-child. His 22nd birthday is next week. He’s already hit 56 home runs in fewer than 1,000 plate appearances. He’s got a jaw built to make ladies faint, quads as wide as his shoulders, gorgeous chest hair and enough power to push a poor team to relevance.

But like Superman before him, Stanton has his kryptonite. Since he debuted in 2010, he has the third-worst strikeout rate in the league (minimum 700 plate appearances).

Will these strikeouts be a speed bump on the way the superstardom — or will they be a fatal flaw that will dog him his entire career? Let’s take a look at some comparable, expansion-era players.

Take all rookie seasons with more than 300 plate appearances and find rookie-eligible players who put in a similar amount of time in their first real seasons since 1969. Sort for strikeouts and take all seasons with more than 25% strikeouts. Then subtract all the players with isolated power numbers less than .200. Now you have your list of high-power, low-contact rookies.

What you get is 31 rookie seasons that look similar to Stanton’s rookie year. On average, these players struck out 28.2% of the time and had a .234 ISO in their first full years, so that fits right in with Stanton’s 31.1% strikeout rate and .248 ISO. These players averaged 22 home runs. Stanton hit 22, as well. So we have our sample.

How did this group do in their sophomore seasons? As a whole, they bettered their strikeout rate to 26.28%. That’s about a 7% relative improvement. Stanton’s change — from 31.1% to 27.6% — was more like an 11% improvement. That should make us feel good about his inclusion in this group; he improved as they did, just a little more.

The third year is the one that’s most interesting to us, since that would be Stanton’s 2012 season. The group improved once again — to 24.39%, or another 7% relative to their rookie year. There’s a slight erosion of the sample at this point — we only have third-year numbers for 25 players because some (Stanton, Pedro Alvarez, Josh Fields, J.P. Arencibia and Tyler Colvin) haven’t made it there yet. We lost one (Victor Diaz) to the end of a career. But this goes along with research that suggests players (or at least elite hitters) strike out less often as they age, so it makes sense.

If Stanton were to fall back to the group and improve 7%, he would show a strikeout rate of 25.4% next year. If he continued to outpace the group, he might get the number down to 24.2%. Both of those numbers are better, but not great: the first would have been tenth-worst among qualified batters last year, the second 14th-worst.

Here come the warm caveats: For one, our sample’s career strikeout rate was higher than their third-year rate (25.5%). Strikeout rate might be something that improves for a while and then starts to go the other way once the player hits his peak.

Another caveat comes from Stanton’s high swinging-strike rate. We only have these numbers since 2002, but 20 of our players have registered swinging strike numbers — and they averaged 12.6% in that category. Stanton’s career 14.2% is worse than average there. We don’t want to degrade our sample too much, but among players with a 14% swinging strike rate or worse (five players), the improvement was much less impressive. That group only improved 4.2% the first year and 2% the next year. They also averaged a 28.62% strikeout rate for their careers. Swinging-strike rate is highly correlated with a batter’s strikeout rate, but Josh Hamilton shows us that there always are outliers.

Strikeout Rate by Age for Comparable Players to Mike Stanton.

Ryan Howard might be our best comp for the young Marlin. Howard has a 14.9% swinging strike rate for his career and debuted with a 28.7% strikeout rate, with 10.5% improvement from his rookie to second years. All those numbers look remarkably like Stanton’s — and the two share elite power. Since this conversation began in the comments of a RotoGraphs piece, it’s worth mentioning that Howard’s career batting average (.275) might provide Stanton fans with a roadmap. But Howard’s .313/.425/.659 peak season might also be within Stanton’s range.

Before the Marlins mess themselves with anticipation — a Ryan Howard with decent outfield defense is an exciting proposition — there’s also the case of Jonny Gomes. Gomes improved his 27.8% strikeout rate almost 10% in his sophomore year. He had a 12.6% swinging strike rate and a .253 ISO. It’s not exactly the same (he actually strikes out less often than Stanton), but Gomes does have similarities, and his career might exist as a potential path.

In all likelihood, the celebrated Stanton is more Howard than Gomes, and either way he’s likely to improve over the course of his career — the question is how much. Looking through the prism of strikeouts and swinging strikes helps us narrow our focus. Projecting future output gets baseball fans through the cold, dark offseason. Too bad we’ll have to wait until next year to see which path Super Stanton takes.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

23 Responses to “Stanton’s Strikeouts Next Season”

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  1. Eminor3rd says:

    Nice article, Eno. Some good stuff on FG today.

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  2. gregstears says:

    Where Stanton differs from every player listed here is his age. It’s just hard to tell with Stanton because there is nobody to compare him to. I’d say his age makes him more likely to surpass the other players on this list. He’ll start next season at 22 years old. Howard debuted at 25. Stanton is on a different developmental scale than anyone we can compare him to. Not that K’s won’t be an issue, but he’s got far more time to improve before his prime than the other guys mentioned.

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    • alex101 says:

      Great point. Stanton is more likely to continue improving beyond his first two years than Howard for the simple reason that Howard was already in the age range normally associated with a player’s prime when he debuted in the majors. Stanton’s rookie season occured when he was 20; Howard’s when he was 25.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      All I can say is ‘yup.’ You can see it graphically — Stanton’s all alone over there on the left.

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    • reillocity says:

      Ditto. Or is it Tritto or Quaitto? You’ve almost got to look at the minor league progression of K% with a player that young.

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  3. GiantHusker says:

    What did the comps average in other stats besides K’s in their 3rd (and later) years?

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    • Hank says:

      I was thinking the same thing….For instance, does a high or low walk rate the first couple of years foreshadow a different change in K rate over time as a player develops?

      This would probably be hard to correlated, but could be interesting.

      Or swing %, o-swing%, etc…

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  4. dcs says:

    For me, looking at Stanton’s stats, the key for him to become an elite hitter is not to worry about his K rate, it’s to work on increasing his walk rate. In his case, by lowering his O-Swing %. That’s his key to becoming Jim Thome instead of Ryan Howard.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      Not a good idea for Stanton to aim to be a TTO hitter. Jim Thome was great with a 33% K rate (look at 2001-2003). The difference is that at his peak, Thome hit about 1 HR / 12 AB (iso=0.340). If you are not well below 1 HR / 20 AB, you are not going to be a good three true outcomes hitter.

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  5. Raymond says:

    That graph bears an uncanny resemblance to the new Marlins logo

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  6. Max says:

    So Stanton’s #1 comp on b-ref is Rueben Sierra, who never struck out as much as Stanton does. But his BA was all over the place, long, varied career. Got the injury bug, WAR dragged down by UZR. His #2 comp is Miguel Cabrera, who has always had enormous BABIPs, but cut his K% by quite a bit. 24.3 % to 21.6 % to 18.2 to 16, stabilizing around there, except that absurd year where he was at 12%.
    Cabrera’s a special player, but Stanton could be too. He’s young, he’s athletic, and by all accounts he’s got a head on his shoulders. I think you’re right in the sense that it’s going to be a challenge to get his K% down to even 22%, but I think if anyone could, it might be him.
    I’m also just gonna leave that right here:,2154,4949,1099

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    • Dan says:

      click the link ^^^ this Max fellow created … interesting

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      • test says:

        It’s fun just for the Ruben Sierra WAR career total progression. I suspect that’s the longest post-peak WAR career ever. Max at age 26, played until he was 40, and added no value whatsoever. Amazing.

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  7. Adam G says:

    Interesting article, however like other commentators, I think it is extremely critical to note Stanton’s age.

    At 22 years old, Jonny Gomes put up a 30% strikeout rate and a .789 OPS at AA.
    At 22 years old, Ryan Howard put up a 26% strike out rate an a .827 OPS at A ball.
    At 22 years old, Stanton was playing in the majors with a 28% strikeout rate and a .893 OPS.

    The real problem with projecting Mike Stanton is that over the past 3 decades, there haven’t been many 22 year old players with his skill set.

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  8. YazInLeft8 says:

    Great article, the information on how strikeout rates evolve over time is astonishing.

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  9. Bill says:

    Correction to Adam G’s comment, which serves to amplify his point: Stanton was only 21 this past season.

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    • Adam G says:

      Thanks for the correction. After considering some things, I really think this whole group of comps should be scratched. As much as I understand the parameters of the survey, it is not really useful.

      A comp I like much more is Darryl Strawberry. At 21 years old, Strawberry had a 27% strikeout rate, and walked about 10% of the time. His ISO that year was .255. By comparison, Stanton had a 27%/11%/.275 line this last year. If we wanted more correlation, Stanton and Strawberry had fairly similar (although not identical) stats through the minors. High strikeout rates, tons of power, and enough patience to make it all work.

      Another player with a similar trajectory for his age with a little less power was Jose Canseco. At 21, Canseco struck out 26% of the time, walked about 10%, and had an ISO of .217.

      If you want a graphical comparison, check this out (it might blow your mind…)

      Ultimately, Strawberry and Canseco both got their K% below 7 times and 2 times respectively. For their careers, Canseco posted a 24.5% K-rate, and Strawberry a 21.7% rate.

      Are strikeouts a concern for Stanton? Of course. But Stanton has already demonstrated a skill set and trajectory in line with 2 hitters that are rarely remembered for their strikeouts. Aside from drugs and PEDs, fans remember Strawberry and Canseco as 2 of the most gifted hitters of their era. They both possessed speed that Stanton does not have, but Stanton also has more raw power, and a higher ceiling as a middle-of-the-order hitter.

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      • Adam G says:

        That 5th paragraph should read:

        “Ultimately, Strawberry and Canseco both got their K% below 20% 7 times and 2 times respectively.”

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Strawberry is in the group of comps. So is Canseco. There are 31 guys in there, which is usually better than taking two guys.

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      • Keith says:

        Agree that a larger sample (31) is always going to be better than a group of 2, but in this case the difference in age of the sample members lends itself to leaning more heavily on Strawberry and Canseco.

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  10. daniel heit says:

    I agree with the notion that if stanton can get his K’s to 25% or less it is his walk rate progression that will be the biggest predictor of elite player status. In the 2nd half stanton had 40 walks in 214 AB’s compared to only 30 walks in the first half where he had 30 walks all while lowering his K’s rate. It is often forgotten that baseball is a mental game full of adjustments and Stanton making those mid-season adjustments bodes very well for his continued improvement.

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  11. daniel heit says:

    I meant to say 30 walks in 302 AB’s vs 40 walks in 214 AB’s in the 2nd half. Stanton is a beast, but it should also be noted that the new stadium is certainly less favorable for where he likes to hit his shots. An improved skill set that may have been worth 40+ in the old stadium but only be 35 in the new stadium

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  12. clave says:

    I’m holding on to Stanton decreasing his strikeout rate like a fat kid holds on to hid Halloween candy. Our league is 8×8 and strikeouts against is a category. Stanton is a keeper for me because even though I get slammed in our league for his strikeouts the homers are worth it.

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