Marlins counting on Stanton's strength in 2017

Marlins counting on Stanton's strength in 2017

MIAMI -- There's a big reason why the Marlins are in the market for pitchers, not hitters.

Foremost, the organization believes its position players are a strength. So rather than switch around pieces in the lineup, Miami is hopeful that its core player will bounce back in 2017.

Giancarlo Stanton remains the most significant player on the Marlins' roster. He's a three-time All-Star and he won the National League home run title in 2014, but he's struggled to stay on the field, missing substantial time in '16 after suffering a Grade 3 left groin strain in August.

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If the Marlins are to contend, they'll be counting on Stanton as a mainstay in the lineup.

"With Big G, it's a matter of a couple of things," manager Don Mattingly said recently at the Winter Meetings. "Keeping him on the field. His durability. He's had weird types of injuries."

The groin strain happened in mid-August, and missing three weeks played a part in limiting Stanton to just 119 games. In 2015, he played in only 74 games, missing the entire second half due to a broken left hamate bone.

Stanton's best season was 2014, when he paced the NL with 37 homers and drove in 105 runs. But on Sept. 11 of that year, he was struck in the face by a pitch at Milwaukee, and his season was over after 145 games.

Scoring runs was an issue for the Marlins in 2016. Despite being fourth in the Majors in team batting average (.263), they ranked 27th in runs scored (655).

A more consistent Stanton should improve run production. He never found consistency in 2016, putting up a slash line of .240/.326/.489, but he still belted 27 homers and drove in 74 runs.

"I think there is a better hitter in there with a more consistent approach," Mattingly said. "I think he should be closer to a .270, .280 [hitter] with less strikeouts and just a tougher out on a daily basis."

Without question, the Marlins are a more dangerous team when Stanton is playing regularly. Listed at 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, the slugger is among the strongest players in the game. He has delivered the longest home run (504 feet) and the highest exit velocity (123.9 mph) tracked by Statcast™. With so much brute strength, simply putting the ball increases his chances of reaching base successfully.

Statcast: Stanton's record homer

Stanton struggled with strikeouts in 2016, fanning 140 times in 413 at-bats. For the most part, the Marlins can live with the strikeouts. Even in '14, his best season, Stanton whiffed a personal-high 170 times. He also had a slash line of .288/.395/.555.

In 2014, Stanton's Fangraphs' WAR, or fWAR, was a career-best 6.3, compared to his personal low of 1.7 in '16. The Marlins are hopeful Stanton will bounce back, and a couple of analytical projections indicate that is possible.

Depth Charts and Steamers -- two models on Fangraphs -- each foresee durability and production from the Miami outfielder. Depth Charts projects Stanton to appear in 150 games with a WAR of 4.6, along with belting 42 home runs while driving in 109. Steamer has the slugger playing in 146 games, with a WAR of 4.5, plus 41 homers and 108 RBIs.

If Stanton can stay healthy and show improvement on a couple of pitches that gave him trouble last year, he should have a big year. The four-seam fastball, the pitch he sees most frequently, was a challenge for the right fielder. According to Statcast™, Stanton batted .228 -- 26-for-114 -- off the pitch. That's a big drop from 2014, when his average against four-seam fastballs was .316.

Sliders have always given Stanton trouble. He hit .236 off them in 2016, compared to .184 in '14. The big difference in the two seasons is Stanton countered his low average against sliders despite his success against four-seam fastballs.

With some adjustments and if he can stay on the field, Stanton could help carry the Marlins' offense as the pitching sorts itself out.

Joe Frisaro has covered the Marlins for MLB.com since 2002. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.