Giancarlo Stanton's Slow Start

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Trade rumors have been swirling around Miami Marlins star Giancarlo Stanton during the past few months. Stanton has started slow this season, causing some to wonder how his trade value might be affected by a poor season.

There will likely be no player more eager to put April behind him than Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton. The 23-year-old outfielder has struggled thus far, posting an anemic .200/.333/.255 line in 66 PA.

Stanton made waves this offseason when he expressed his frustration following the Marlins firesale, which included a trade that sent most of the franchise's other stars to Toronto. The public nature of Stanton's comments, coupled with the fact that he soon will require a substantial increase in salary, have given rise to speculation that his days in Miami are numbered.

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wondered how a mediocre performance by Giancarlo Stanton this season might affect his trade value:

So the question is less about whether Stanton gets traded, and more about what goes in exchange. And I guess where he might go, but for our purposes here I’m thinking less about trade destination and more about trade-return value. Stanton, right now, is one of the very most valuable assets in the league entire, not far below Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. But Stanton isn’t getting traded right now, and he’s still going to have to play some more months. Which leaves me deeply curious about how Stanton’s trade value could change on account of his 2013, if at all.

If Giancarlo Stanton fails to live up the lofty expectations placed upon him, it will certainly negatively affect his trade value -- but it's difficult to know exactly how much. Young players with superstar potential aren't often traded. Sullivan drew a comparison between Stanton and Atlanta Braves OF Justin Upton, who was in a similar situation in Arizona this past offseason. Upton was nearly elite in 2011 (139 wRC+) and only slightly above average in 2012 (108 wRC+). Upton, 25, was also at a similar age at the time he was traded. Despite Upton's relatively lackluster performance in 2012, the Diamondbacks still managed to receive a fair amount of value from Atlanta in return.

General managers who would be considering acquiring Giancarlo Stanton may consider the less than ideal circumstances surrounding him in Miami this season. Jeff Sullivan suggested that a lack of "lineup protection" might be a factor in Stanton's early season struggles.

I don't put much stock into the concept of "lineup protection" and based on his earlier work, I didn't think Sullivan did either. Then again, I can't remember seeing a study on "lineup protection" that examined the effect a lineup as languid as the one the Marlins have fielded thus far on a hitter of Giancarlo Stanton's caliber. I decided to take a closer look to determine if there was any observable evidence to suggest that a lack of "lineup protection" is a cause of Stanton's struggles so far in 2013. Here is a look at Giancarlo Stanton's plate discipline stats (via FanGraphs):

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Zone% F-Strike%
2010 32.1% 62.8% 53.4% 81.4% 43.3% 55.3%
2011 33.6% 68.5% 48.3% 80.9% 38.9% 55.1%
2012 37.1% 66.0% 49.5% 83.0% 41.6% 60.9%
2013 39.6% 51.4% 50.9% 89.5% 33.2% 64.9%
Career 34.5% 65.6% 50.0% 82.0% 40.7% 57.4%

Looking at the table above, a few items should jump out at you. The first is the significant drop in Zone%. Giancarlo Stanton's Zone% (33.2%) ranks last among the 191 qualified hitters this season, meaning he's seeing a fewer number of balls over the plate than, well, anyone else in baseball. You'll also notice that Stanton has experienced a slight increase in O-Swing%, which is meaningful when considered along with the significant increase in the percentage of pitches he has been seeing outside the strike zone.

Stanton has seen an increase of 4.0% in F-Strike%, while his Z-Swing% has dropped off sharply, down to 51.4% from 66.0% in 2012. The combination of all of these factors indicates that Stanton's problem has been that he has been falling behind in the count and failing to take advantage of the strikes that he is seeing.

While it will certainly be interesting to see how this season plays out for Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins, I can't help but feel that this could be an issue of small sample size. It's more than likely that Stanton is just your garden-variety slow starter. He's been unusually poor this season, but if you look at the numbers, he hasn't ever really been good in April. Prior to 2013, Stanton had a career .241/.319/.383 line during the season's first month. Based on the way Stanton has bounced back from slow starts in the past, I expect that he will be able to do the same this season.

All stats courtesy of our friends at FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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