The Case for Acquiring Stanton

There’s no player more polarizing this offseason than Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins’ new ownership group has indicated that they’d like to reduce the club’s payroll by as much as $50 million before the start of the 2018 campaign. With 10 years and $295 million remaining on his contract, Stanton is the logical place to begin with any such cuts.

The prospect of a Stanton trade isn’t particularly straightforward, though. There appears to be little consensus on the relative value of his production to the costs required to employ him. Is he overpriced and injury prone — should he be treated as a salary dump? Or is he the rare available peak-aged star who should be coveted?

What follows is a series of points in support of the latter case.

He’s not necessarily injury prone.
Much has been made of Stanton’s inability to put up 600-plus plate appearances — probably too much. It’s true that he’s only crossed that threshold four times over eight years in the bigs (yes, we can count the 636 he put up over two levels in his rookie season), but that’s not as damning as it may seem. And that’s not just because one of those four injury-shortened seasons came from a broken jaw on a hit by pitch — that is, by means of a one-time event, not a chronic problem.

Some of Stanton’s injuries probably do merit concern, especially those to his lower body. He’s had right knee surgery and missed time with right quad and hamstring injuries. He’d also endured left groin issues. But it’s easy to overstate how “sticky” these things are, even while acknowledging that there is some probability of recurrence.

Rob Arthur looked into this over at Baseball Prospectus and found an equation that predicted injury fairly well. Follow that equation, and Stanton should be predicted to miss… seven games next year. Even if the slugger hit the 10-day DL to rest his tree trunks, his new team would probably take the production in the other 150 or so games.

He’s young.
Some analysis of the player has centered on the fact that he’s 28 and, therefore, past his peak. That’s true! The most recent analysis of peak value suggests that it occurs closer to 26. The number 28 is bigger than 26. Case closed!

Well, not quite.

The issue regarding Stanton isn’t his age relative to all ballplayers, because all ballplayers aren’t available to clubs. Most younger ones are controlled by their clubs. If you compare Stanton to that collection of players who are readily available — that is, free agents — he’s suddenly young! He’ll be 29 next year. Meanwhile, among players who were above average last year and are free agents now, the average age is 31 years old. Only one of them — Eric Hosmer — is younger, and it’s clear which one you’d pick.

But Hosmer only costs money, and Stanton will cost money and prospects, so we’ll have to keep going.

He’s good.
Giancarlo Stanton is good, nor is he merely a one-trick pony. The combination of his prodigious power and patient approach has made him 43% better than the league at the plate the last three years. But he was also average in the outfield last year (and 19th out of 208 outfielders per Statcast’s Outs Above Average in 2016) and scratch or better on the basepaths in two out of the last three years.

Let’s say he’d provide average corner-outfield defense (-5 defensive value per year or better) plus scratch baserunning (-1 to +1 in baserunning runs), and a stick that’s 30%-plus better than the league. You want to know how many players managed that feat over the last three years? Only three: Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Stanton himself.

He might not age terribly.
If you focus mostly on the strikeout rate (which was significantly higher before this past season), consider him a lumbering slugger whose future lies at first, and stare too hard at those leg injuries, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Stanton would fall off a cliff soon.

If you’ve been reading so far, though, you know I don’t see most of those things. Nevertheless, let’s focus on how his work at the plate may age. We can’t age exit velocity and launch angles yet; the data’s too new. But there is some available work on how plate discipline ages.

The quick takeaways are that contact outside the zone tanks as a player approaches 30, while zone contact remains steady throughout a player’s career. Swing rate generally goes down, which benefits players, as they can’t touch those pitches outside the zone any more. Call it the Josh Hamilton and Pablo Sandoval Memorial Rule if you like, but this combines to create an environment in which you don’t really want to sign a free swinger to a long-term contract.

Stanton, however, is not a free swinger.

Sure, his zone contact rate isn’t great. But he doesn’t reach a lot, and his production isn’t dependent on contact outside the zone. Take those three numbers in tandem, and you realize that he’ll continue to swing less and doesn’t currently rely on that last number.

Stanton’s Plate Discipline Ranks
Swing Z-Contact O-Swing O-Contact
Stanton Ranks 47 177 76 195
Out of 217 players with more than 400 plate appearances in 2017
Z-Contact = zone contact
O-swing & O-contact = outside of zone swing and contact

His contract isn’t under water.
The question of Stanton’s option is one that his acquiring team will have to figure out. It’s important to value that when talking about the prospect cost in acquiring Stanton. But the primary contractual question — is Stanton worth the $295 million and 10 years left on his contract? — is a little easier to answer.

Giancarlo Stanton’s Contract Estimate — 10 yr / $411.0 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2018 28 5.4 $9.0 M $48.6 M
2019 29 5.4 $9.5 M $51.0 M
2020 30 5.4 $9.9 M $53.6 M
2021 31 4.9 $10.4 M $51.1 M
2022 32 4.4 $10.9 M $48.1 M
2023 33 3.9 $10.9 M $42.7 M
2024 34 3.4 $10.9 M $37.2 M
2025 35 2.9 $10.9 M $31.7 M
2026 36 2.4 $10.9 M $26.3 M
2027 37 1.9 $10.9 M $20.8 M
Totals 40.0 $411.0 M

Assumptions

Value: $9M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-24), 0 WAR/yr (25-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

By the assumptions and methodology used here — which are pretty generic — Stanton looks likely to be worth more than $400 million over the life of his current contract. Even if you push the dollars-per-win lower (to, say, $8 million per win) and say he’ll age poorly, the final tally still comes in around the current contract. And that’s being fairly pessimistic both about him and the current dollars-per-win environment, which Matt Swartz recently pegged as over $9 million per.

By popular demand, a more sober approach where he ages poorly and starts with his projected WAR:

Giancarlo Stanton’s Contract Estimate — 10 yr / $293.6 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2018 28 5.4 $9.0 M $48.6 M
2019 29 5.2 $9.5 M $48.7 M
2020 30 4.9 $9.9 M $48.6 M
2021 31 4.2 $10.4 M $43.2 M
2022 32 3.4 $10.9 M $37.2 M
2023 33 2.7 $10.9 M $29.0 M
2024 34 1.9 $10.9 M $20.8 M
2025 35 1.2 $10.9 M $12.6 M
2026 36 0.4 $10.9 M $4.4 M
2027 37 0.0 $10.9 M $0.5 M
Totals 29.1 $293.6 M

Assumptions

Value: $9M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-24), -0.25 WAR/yr (25-30),-0.75 WAR/yr (31-37),-1 WAR/yr (> 37)

He’s available right now, and that’s rare.
If a club assumes that Stanton resides in a class with Harper and Trout, they should pursue him without hesitation. When Harper hits free agency after next year, he’ll likely command a $400 million contract. And he’ll be the only other player of this class that’s available in the next two years.

But even if you lower the bar for Stanton, you still find few other comparable players available in trade or free agency. Is there a projected six-win player out there? No, unless there are some under-the-table Manny Machado talks percolating. Five-win player? No. Four-win player? Marcell Ozuna (3.8) and Christian Yelich (3.8) count, and are available. They’re cheaper, even. But they may cost more in prospects because they cost less in money, they aren’t under team control as long, and Stanton is projected for a win and a half more. The closer you are to competitiveness, the more that win-plus matters.

If you’re not convinced, you’re not alone. The Dodgers, most prominently, were rumored not to be interested because the player will cost too much in money or prospects or both. Or, they weren’t interested until they were, that is. Either way, grab the popcorn and refresh the news. There’s no bigger star this Hot Stove season.

We hoped you liked reading The Case for Acquiring Stanton by Eno Sarris!

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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mininimi
Member
mininimi

I’m confused why you chose 6.9 as his starting WAR to estimate his contract value. That’s going to be way higher than the projections will have him for next year. That only makes sense if you think he’s a true talent 7 win player going forward, which means you think he’s the clear second best player in the game basically

johansantana17
Member
johansantana17

It says 5.4