Seven years ago, when Mike Stanton hit his 50th career home run, I scratched out some cursory arithmetic that my 14 year-old self proudly passed off as some sort of advanced journalism and predicted that the Marlins slugger would eclipse 500 home runs for his career sometime in his mid-30s.
A lot has happened since then. Stanton started going by his birth name Giancarlo. The Marlins sadly phased out their classic teal. They then changed their name to Miami and moved into a giant, homer-unfriendly park. Stanton broke his face (well, he had his face broken, I should say). He later surged to the most offensively-productive season of any single player in Marlins history before being promptly traded to the New York Yankees in the offseason before 2018.
One thing has stayed the same. Stanton hits dingers.
Tonight, Giancarlo hit the 300th home run of his career, a laser into the right field bleachers at Yankee Stadium.
Young and Strong
Eight years after his Major League debut, Stanton is the fifth-fastest player to 300 career home runs. Impressive, to say the least.
Thursday was Stanton’s 1,119th career game. The four players to hit 300 faster are Ralph Kiner (1,087), Ryan Howard (1,093), Juan Gonzalez (1,096) and Alex Rodriguez (1,117). Interestingly enough, the faster two of those four (Kiner and Howard) never reached 400 career home runs. Gonzalez finished his career with 434 and Rodriguez with a cool 696*.
Stanton is the ninth-youngest player to reach the mark (28 years, 295 days), and seven of the eight younger than him finished their careers with 500 or more.
So seven years after I made my prediction, let’s see how the numbers are shaking out.
Stanton’s 300 homers in 1,119 career games played equate to one dinger every 3.73 games. In his seven full seasons in the big leagues (excluding 2010, when he debuted mid-season, and 2018, which is not over), Stanton has averaged 127 games per season (although the aforementioned freak injuries skew those numbers).
If Stanton keeps up his current home run/game and games/season average for the rest of his career, he will average just over 34 home runs per year. In order to reach 500 for his career, he’ll need to complete just under six more seasons. I think that’s a safe bet.
The ultimate question is: How will his numbers fluctuate with age?
I conducted a quick Baseball Reference search of career home run hitters to get a basic idea for how their homer totals varied with age. I searched for the first five that came to mind as Stanton-esque–Albert Pujols, Willy Mays, Frank Thomas, Frank Howard and Harmon Killebrew–and I discovered something fascinating.
Four of the five, Pujols being the exception, hit or matched their career-high home run totals in a season after their 32nd birthday. Mays, in fact, hit his career-high 52 homers in his age-34 season. But further, each experienced a rather swift decline immediately following that same season.
Mays dropped from 52 homers in 1965 to 37 in ’66. Thomas went from 43 in 2000, before missing much of 2001, to just 28 in a full 2002 season. Howard dropped from 44 to 26 between 1970 and ’71. Killebrew hit 49 in ’69 and then hit 41, 28 and 26 in the succeeding seasons. Even Pujols experienced a similar decline: he resurged with a 40-homer season as a 35 year-old, but has hit just 31, 23 and 19 in the seasons since.
Injuries aside, it appears the low-to-mid 30s hold the peak home run-hitting seasons with an inevitable decline to follow.
Now in his age-28 season, Stanton is averaging just over four games per home run. His season total is at 33, so with 28 games left to play, 40 is a real possibility.
It’s safe to say that he’ll probably never eclipse his 59 home run season of 2017 in which he went fewer than three games per home run. But with hopefully the worst of his injuries in his past, we’ll probably see more 40-ish dinger seasons in his future than 27-ish dinger seasons.
Working in Stanton’s favor is his new home ballpark, Yankee Stadium, which is much smaller than his Miami home.
And given the Yankees’ perennial success, Stanton should also benefit from protection in the lineup. For many years in Miami, Stanton was the lineup’s only threat. He struggled to even decide when to swing since so many opponents pitched around him. In 2013, Stanton hit just 24 home runs in 116 games. The Fish lost 100 games that year.
Finally, Stanton can help himself avoid injury by playing less time in the field. Now with an American League club, he serves as the designated hitter frequently. Although, my dad has a theory and I tend to agree, playing in the field attunes the mind to the game, which better prepares one for at-bats than sitting in the dugout every inning does for a DH.
It hurts to think what could have been in Miami. I think 2017 was just a glimpse into Stanton’s greatness that, up until that point, had been hampered by growing pains, mismanagement, and an underwhelming supporting cast.
2015, for instance, would have been one for the ages had Stanton not broken his hamate bone by literally being too strong for his own good. That year, he was on as good a pace (1 homer ever 2.74 games) as his 2017 season.
And who knows, maybe had Mike Fiers not misplaced a fastball into Stanton’s cheek in 2014, the slugger could have prospered even more with increased comfort at the plate.
Also, Stanton flourished in some great National League venues. He jacked some of his most distant, epic home runs at Coors Field. He tore up some stellar pitching at Nationals Park. And he loved his trips to the deserts in southern California and Arizona where his fly balls cut up the dry air.
It may take time for him to settle into the AL venues, but I greatly look forward to watching him park balls on Lansdowne Street to the tune of booing Sox fans in the years to come.
Barring any more freak injuries, I’m liking the 40 homer per season outlook for the next five years. For Stanton’s eight-plus seasons, he’s proven to be more than productive when he’s healthy. So that puts his 500th home run exactly five years from now. And I’m still determined to catch it.
While I’m at it, I might as well make another prediction. Giancarlo Stanton will be a Hall of Famer.