Quick quiz: Who had the higher home run to fly ball ratio in 2011 between Mike Stanton and Jose Bautista? Why yes, that would be Mike Stanton, who led the majors in that category among all qualified batters. In fact, Stanton's home run to fly ball ratio was higher than Bautista's in 2010 too. The problem (if you want to call it that) is Bautista hits a lot more fly balls than Mike Stanton. Among all power hitters in the game in 2011, only Prince Fielder and Michael Morse had lower fly ball rates than Stanton. All of that plus a brand new ballpark makes projecting Mike Stanton in 2012 very difficult.
Let's start with the new ballpark. The Marlins' new stadium has larger dimensions than Sun Life Stadium. The left field line is ten feet further. Left center is thirteen feet further and dead center is eight feet further. But as most of us know, when Mike Stanton hits a homer, dimensions don't matter. Mike Stanton does not hit cheap homers. What we don't know is how balls in the air will react in the new stadium when the roof is closed. So again, projections are a bit difficult.
Stanton's plate discipline is confusing as well. He certainly walked more in 2011 than he did in 2012. His walk rate rose to 11.6 percent from 8.6 percent the previous season (his first). But Stanton swung at more pitches out of the strike zone in 2011, 33.6 percent compared to 32.1 percent the year before. Not surprisingly, that increase also meant Stanton swung and missed at a higher rate in 2011 than he did in 2010 (15.2 percent compared to 12.8 percent). Stanton's 166 strikeouts in 2011 are a bit alarming.
Perhaps part of his problem in 2011 was that he spent the early part of the season batting sixth in the line up. When you only have weakness batting behind you for 58 games, you're not going to get pitched the same when you are further up in the line up. His strikeouts decreased somewhat when he moved up to third and fourth in the line up, but his average slumped. He hasn't yet learned to succeed in high leverage situations and times when runners are in scoring position. His numbers in both were poor. He will need to improve in those areas to justify staying that in those prime positions in the line up.
A return to form for Hanley Ramirez and the addition of Jose Reyes should help as pitchers would have much more to think about than just Stanton. Logan Morrison also had a disappointing season and if he comes back with a better season, than much more protection is afforded Stanton. Stanton is a lot like Bautista in that both players have a similar lack in line drive percentage. Both players are well below league average in hitting ropes. But again, Bautista is much more adept at hitting the ball in the air. Stanton could dramatically increase his home run total if he could improve his fly ball rate. It's hard, however, to increase a batting average stuck in the .250 to .262 range when you only hit 16 percent of your balls in play on a line.
As can be expected by now from Bill James projections, the projections are bullish for Stanton in 2012. James has Stanton hitting 39 homers and raising his average by twelve points. Fans projections are equally bullish. This Fan hates to be a wet blanket, but Stanton has to hit more balls in the air to hit more homers and he has to hit less ground balls and more line drives to raise his batting average (if his BABIP remains static).
Mike Stanton will only be 22 in 2012 and will continually have to adjust as pitchers adjust to him. He didn't have a whole lot of growing time in the minors as you can well imagine. He is getting his training at the major league level. How will Mike Stanton do in 2012 and in his new ballpark? We are all excited to find out because the guy is intriguing as heck.