Despite losing pitching phenom Jose Fernandez to season-ending elbow surgery, the Miami Marlins are still hanging around the fringes of the National League Wild Card hunt. At 64-65, they are just four games behind the San Francisco Giants for the second Wild Card berth. While their .465 rest-of-season projected winning percentage doesn’t inspire much hope, this season has been much more successful than most baseball analysts predicted.
A big reason for why the Marlins are still in the hunt is the performance of Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins 24 year-old slugger is having a career year. He’s currently leading NL position players in fWAR with 5.5, and his 32 home runs trail only Jose Abreu and Nelson Cruz, both of whom play in favorable hitters parks. Overall, Stanton is hitting .299/.405/.562 for a 163 wRC+.
Those marks are a big improvement on last season, which was a disappointment by Stanton’s lofty standards. He played in just 116 games, and hit .249/.365/.480 for a 135 wRC+ that was his lowest mark since his debut season in 2010. He totaled only 2.3 fWAR in 2013 after tallying 5.6 fWAR in 123 games in 2012.
Stanton is a unique player. As his career 28 percent strikeout rate suggests, there’s a lot of swing and miss in his game, and this season is no different. He’s striking out in 26.1 percent of his plate appearances. However, Stanton is also drawing walks at a career-high 14.8 percent rate. In addition, his .263 isolated slugging percentage is the 5th best mark in baseball. When Stanton does make contact, he punishes the baseball. Besides his numerous tape-measure home runs, he owns a .369 in-play batting average.
Furthermore, Stanton has improved his outfield defense relative to 2013. Defensive metrics don’t love Stanton, but he is earning significantly better grades than last season, where he was a liability in right field thanks to a hamstring injury that limited his mobility.
All in all, Stanton is one of the game’s most feared hitters. He’s a special talent, and is just 24 years of age with two years of team control remaining. If the Marlins do decide to place him on the market this offseason, he should command a massive return. Potential suitors need not apply unless they have a wealth of prospect talent and the resources to sign Stanton to a long-term deal.
It’s rare that the MVP award goes to a player on a team that doesn’t reach the playoffs, but Stanton could make a serious push even if the Marlins aren’t around in October. Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw are having fantastic seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and even with a recent injury, reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen is third in the NL in fWAR.
Don’t count out Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez, who are carrying the Milwaukee Brewers atop the NL Central. But, Stanton is a dark horse MVP candidate. If the Marlins do snag a Wild Card spot, all bets are off.