Is Giancarlo Stanton actually underrated now?
A few years ago, Stanton was one of the highly hyped rising stars of Major League Baseball, with three excellent years of hitting from 2011-2013 capped by finishing second in MVP voting in the National League in 2014. Stanton was poised to become a household name — at least, as much as anyone ever becomes a household name in the star-starved (and happy about it) MLB.
After that season, however, two things changed: he signed a huge contract with the Miami Marlins worth $325 million, and he started getting hurt even more often.
Stanton has never been a picture of health. In his seven previous seasons in the league, he has broken 140 games played only twice and has averaged only 118 games played per season. It’s minor injuries — nicks and bumps and the like — that usually nag at Stanton and keep him out of the lineup for short periods of time, but a particularly gruesome beaning in 2015 robbed him of more than half his season, ending his year in late June.
When Stanton returned to the field in 2016, it was hard to avoid noticing that his .815 OPS, while not bad per se, was well below where he had been hitting the previous four seasons.
Fairly or not, that would have been more forgivable to fans and writers if he were not in the second year of one of the biggest contracts in MLB history. This is something that’s going to loom over him for the rest of his career, and it had a lot of people tut-tutting and hand wringing about how bad the deal was if this was who Stanton was moving forward. And to be sure, even though $9 million wasn’t a horrible salary for an outfielder putting up a 119 OPS+ (essentially a Jay Bruce level of production), people were right to be leery of a huge injury followed by a shaky comeback the year after so early in a megadeal.
Most of those questions have been emphatically laid to rest in 2017. Stanton leads MLB with 41 home runs in mid-August, giving him an outside shot at 60 homers with 47 games remaining. His 41 homers in 115 games (Stanton has missed only two) puts him on track for somewhere between 56 and 58. The 60 milestone won’t be a problem if his hot bat gets even a little bit hotter.
The most important thing is Stanton is once again leading all of baseball with a .621 slugging percentage going into the last leg of the season. One of the biggest problems with his performance last year was his slugging dipping from a career average of .547 going into 2016 down to .489. Part of this was because he hit fewer home runs and doubles than he was accustomed to, but another big part was simply fewer hits in general.
The Marlins slugger is showing what he can do now that he’s finally healthy again, and if he manages to play 157-160 games this year as he’s on track to do, he’ll put himself in excellent position to be in the MVP discussion with the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Corey Seager and Arizona Diamondbacks’ Paul Goldschmidt.
Stanton won’t ever get his rising star legacy back — he’ll be 28 next year, so he’s aging rapidly through his peak years and into veteran territory — and there will always be a section of the baseball community that won’t be able to see past the size and scope of his contract. But Stanton is finally back, and with the Marlins being sold and the dinger machine possibly removed from the outfield stands, that’s a piece of good news both Miami and Major League Baseball could use.
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