Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AL EastAmerican LeagueAnalysisMLBNew York Yankees

Giancarlo Stanton is Evolving

Giancarlo Stanton incites wars between Yankee fans. Many consider him the bomb bashing demon who made Marlins Stadium look like a little league park back in 2017. Lots of old school fans may as well equate Stanton to Chris Davis – a big buffoon who is clueless in the box as he swings through straight fastballs. Giancarlo Stanton is not Chris Davis. No. Please stop.

Stanton has a reputation in the media of coming up short in big spots. Sure, maybe that’s true. In his 1st year with the Yankees, Stanton led the team with 10 strikeouts with the tying or go -ahead runner on base past the 7th inning. The glaring issue with these strikeouts is that 8 of the 10 are on pitches outside of the zone. More specifically, 7 of the 10 are on pitches classified by Statcast as down and outside the zone. These sorts of big misses

stick with fans. That’s reasonable. It sucks to watch the big-name acquisition not only come up empty in big spots but to do it in such a profoundly hideous way at pitches nowhere near the plate. The video above leaves a bad taste in every fan’s mouth. It’s a cringeworthy swing. The image of Stanton doing this

does not leave the mind easily. Combine these whiffs in big spots

with the awkward closed off stance, WFAN has the ammo for a field day.

Stanton has changed his approach a bit in the past year or so. First, let’s acknowledge how scared pitchers are of him. In his last full season (2018), he owned the 4th lowest zone%. In 2020, he had the 4th lowest behind only Bryce Harper, Anthony Santander and Eddie Rosario. Santander and Rosario boast a chase rate well above league average, meaning pitchers are willing to toss balls out of the zone knowing Rosario will swing at them. Stanton’s chase rate, however, is at a meager 22.4%. That was in the 79th percentile last season. Pitchers don’t like pitching to him. The recipe for success seems simple for Stanton. If pitchers rarely throw you strikes, just swing less! Of course it’s not always that simple, but Stanton has been swinging less and less recently.

2019+2020: 37.7% swing rate (3rd %ile)

2018: 44.9% swing rate (33rd %ile)

Granted he hasn’t played much in the past two seasons – which is another (pretty valid) point of contention among Stanton haters – but he is clearly changing his approach at the plate. He has always had the potential to put up mid-teen walk rates, but now he seems to be tapping into it, reaching 16% walk rates in 2019 and 2020. Being contact oriented is not a death knell for hitters. Doing a lot of your damage on balls in play is great, but the players who can consistently boast high walk rates have a higher floor that isn’t affected much by father time. Bill Petti has done research showing that O-Contact falls off a cliff around age 28 for hitters, meaning if you swing at a lot of pitches out of the zone around that age, the batted balls become whiffs more often as you age. Stanton is trying to fix himself before the collapse comes.

A lot of people don’t like Stanton because of his tendency to swing at garbage. It’s true that he strikes out on a lot of pitches outside of the zone. Again, it isn’t satisfying to see a player reach for a pitch out of the zone. The eye test disapproves. However, Stanton has improved in this area, too. I took every Stanton whiff on curveballs and sliders outside the zone and found how often he swings at them. Let’s call this O-SwingBreaking%

2019+2020: 8.3% O-SwingBreaking% – 60th %ile

2018: 10.5% O-SwingBreaking% – 23rd %ile

Another small sample size, but the improvement is noticeable. In the 2020 playoffs alone, the Rays and Indians pitched Stanton almost exclusively out of the zone with breaking pitches. Here he is laying off a nasty 2572 RPM slider from Pete Fairbanks.

Here is a 2891 RPM slider from Carlos Carrasco that led to a walk.

Taking more pitches doesn’t mean doing less damage. Stanton still hold excellent marks in 3 key quality of contact metrics. When you lower the batted ball minimum, Stanton ranks 1st  in dynamic hard-hit rate , 2nd in barrel rate, and 1st in xwOBAcon over the last two years. It is so hard to pitch to Stanton in the zone, because you risk being publicly embarrassed. Finally, I leave you with a tweet of mine from before last season that is best summarized by the word “variation”.

Stanton is just as good now as he was in Miami. He’s gotten a little bit unlucky with his batted balls and has an even more refined eye at the plate. If he can stay healthy – yes, that’s a huge “if” – Stanton should become a Yankee fan favorite. More this.

Featured image by @MLB_PLAYERS