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Bits: Stanton off the home run schneid

4/29/2013

Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton worried many a fantasy owner the first three weeks of this season; he entered last Wednesday hitting .176 with one lonely RBI in 14 games. But good things come to those who wait: Stanton launched his first home run Saturday, then smacked a couple more on Sunday. That's right, three home runs in one weekend, plus four runs scored and five RBIs. Well, there goes your chance to buy low, but then again, what was everyone so worried about, anyway?

I've acknowledged all along that the Marlins do not possess what a reasonable person would call a good offensive squad, despite Stanton's presence, but they didn't last season either. Only the Houston Astros scored fewer runs in 2012. I refuse to buy into the lack of talent surrounding Stanton as a justifiable explanation for struggles so deep that they reduce his value to the point one would ever consider dropping him (which you can't in ESPN standard leagues) or trading him for 14th-round talent. Last season, Stanton mashed 37 home runs in a mere 123 games, hitting .290 and slugging .608, best in the major leagues among qualified hitters. He didn't have Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols protecting him in the lineup then, either.

In actuality, the 2012 Marlins had Stanton, Jose Reyes and, for a few months each, Hanley Ramirez and Justin Ruggiano, and little else. Please don't use the likes of Logan Morrison as an example of lineup protection that the current Marlins didn't possess. Morrison produced a .707 OPS. Stanton is the team's No. 3 hitter; the cleanup hitters are actually hitting .264, second on the club to the team's No. 6 hitters (.291). No Marlins are really hitting for power, but still, don't overrate lineup protection. It doesn't explain Stanton's 2012 because, frankly, it doesn't exist.

Yes, Stanton is seeing a fewer percentage of strikes than any other hitter in the game except for San Francisco Giants hacking third baseman Pablo Sandoval, but in looking at the leaderboard for Zone% on Fangraphs, some of these hitters are actually off to very good starts, like Lance Berkman, Nate Schierholtz and that Bryce Harper fellow. Not to mention, it's still April, so this information falls in the "small sample size" category anyway. But we want sluggers to draw more walks and swing at the right pitches, and Stanton will adjust.

I suppose the case can be made that Stanton should never have been a second-round choice in ESPN average live drafts to begin with, but I won't make it. I can't say I was targeting him, but I predicted only two hitters would reach 40 home runs, and he was one of them (Jose Bautista the other). Today, I'd predict each can still do so, along with Harper, who will. Regardless, selling low on Stanton never made sense to me, nor does using his weekend performance to sell high, because he's capable of hitting all season. He did, after all, have a shoulder injury that cost him time a few weeks ago, and I feel compelled to point out that Stanton hit only .247 with one measly home run last April, then exploded for a .343 batting average with 12 blasts and 30 RBIs in May. He's going to be fine.

When sluggers like Stanton don't perform, people look for reasons why. Stanton didn't seem really pleased this winter with the direction the organization was taking, and it's possible that's affecting him or his focus, too. After all, for a really good right fielder to have five errors in three weeks seems awfully odd. Can't blame that on Placido Polanco and Greg Dobbs batting cleanup.

Box score bits (NL): Cincinnati Reds lefty Tony Cingrani continues to dominate, striking out 11 Washington Nationals on Sunday while allowing two hits and nary a run in six innings. Through three outings, Cingrani, who is owned in 83 percent of ESPN standard leagues, boasts a 2.25 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 28 strikeouts. If he keeps this up, he will not be sent back to the minors when Johnny Cueto returns, no matter what Mike Leake does. ... Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz made his season debut Sunday after serving his 25-game drug suspension, and he got one hit (a double) in four at-bats from the No. 5 lineup slot. As noted Friday, Ruiz is among my top-10 catchers for the rest of the season. ... St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Jason Motte was seemingly headed for Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago. But over the weekend, he threw multiple times, without issue. Perhaps Motte, owned in 35 percent of ESPN leagues, is worth keeping around after all, just in case. ... You don't want Pittsburgh Pirates Russell Martin (two home runs Sunday, one Saturday) or soft-tossing lefty Jeff Locke (13 scoreless innings combined at Philadelphia and St. Louis last week) in a 10-team league. Trust me.

Box score bits (AL): Boston Red Sox right-hander John Lackey and his recovered strained biceps came off the disabled list Sunday and tossed six nice innings, striking out four batters while beating the Astros. Yeah, it was the Astros, but still, Lackey has AL-only viability. ... Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes made a triumphant return from the DL on Sunday, swatting a game-tying ninth-inning home run. Cespedes is a terrific buy-low option, while you can. ... Toronto Blue Jays right-hander R.A. Dickey threw well Sunday; he lost to the New York Yankees 3-2, but he allowed only four hits in seven innings. Dickey is scheduled to have an MRI on his ailing neck/back, making him a risky play this week. ... Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth had four hits, four runs and his eighth stolen base Sunday. Yeah, you bet I'd add him until this stops, and I'm starting to question if that's going to be soon. ... OK, I admit it, Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma looks terrific, and I see no negatives. He fanned eight Angels on Sunday, walking none.