Young hitters with elite level power don't come around often, which explains the intrigue in guys like Michael Stanton and Cody Johnson. Both hitters can absolutely crush the ball, and both hitters have been known to accumulate a substantial amount of strikeouts. In 468 at-bats at A ball last year, Johnson hit 26 home runs and struck out a whopping 177 times. Stanton also had 468 at-bats at A ball in 2008, clearing the fences 39 times while striking out 153 times. So, the question begging to be asked is which slugger is better, and which one has the brightest future ahead of them?
To make things simple, let's just throw up each hitters stats from A ball last year.
Without too much analysis, I think it's obvious that Stanton is already quite a bit better than Johnson. Sure, they both hit the ball really hard, but Johnson's strikeout to walk ratio is really bad (1 being really good, 2 being average, 3 bad, and anything over 4 is really bad), and just by looking at the numbers it seems that he just swings the bat as hard as he can and hopes to make contact. Stanton, on the other hand at least displayed reasonable plate discipline, and put up much more substantial power numbers (his IsoP was the highest for any 18 year old at A ball that I can find on record). Toss in the age difference, and I think the comparison isn't even close.
If we end the smackdown right now, Stanton walks away with a sound victory. But if we dig a bit deeper, it gets even better. Here are each players monthly stats for 2008.
Johnson had a pretty good August, but other than that, his strikeout to walk ratio was generally very bad, and his power and average weren't all that impressive either. Stanton started the year looking a bit lost, but by June he had found his stride and really started to crush the ball. By July, his plate discipline had dramatically improved, and over his last 200 plate appearances he posted a strikeout to walk ratio of 1.56, and an IsoP of .365.
Normally, I don't like to consider a player's month-by-month performance line, as hot streaks and luck can significantly effect stats, but in Stanton's case, the improvement from April to August was so dramatic and followed such a smooth linear pattern, that I couldn't disregard the month to month changes. After a bit of research, I was very interested to find this excerpt from an article on mlb.com.
"Before the All-Star break, (Stanton) hit .281 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs. An aggressive hitter, he struck out 86 times in 249 at-bats.
After the break, his numbers improved to .306 with 24 home runs and 50 RBIs in 219 at-bats. With a better command of the strike zone, his strikeouts reduced. He fanned just 67 times and drew 42 walks in the second half.
'He wants to be good on defense -- he just wants everything,' (Marlins' vice president of player development and scouting Jim) Fleming said. 'When we identify something for him, he works at it. One of the things we identified in the second half was, let's see if he can cut down on his strikeouts.'
I've heard of a lot of teams asking a lot of sluggers to work on their plate discipline, but I can't think of an instance where such dramatic improvement was achieved as quickly as what Micheal Stanton did in 2008. To give you an idea of just how drastic the change was (especially for an 18 year old), here are some A ball stats posted by various power hitters from the last decade or so matched up against the pre-All-Star Stanton and the post-All-Star Stanton, as well as Cody Johnson.
Depending on which Mike Stanton is the real Mike Stanton, we could be looking at either the next Russell Branyan/Wily Mo Pena, or the next Alex Rodriguez/Andruw Jones with substantially greater power. But which one is it? We'll probably learn a lot about Michael Stanton over the next 6 months, particularly how real his development at the plate was from July to August last year.