What (if Anything) is Wrong with Stanton?

Photo Credit: Alex Trautwig | MLB Photos | Getty Images

by: Rodney Clark Jr. @rodneylclarkjr

All statistical analysis was done with the help of Baseball Reference & Fangraphs, using data up to games finished on June 1st, 2018.

Imagine you have been saving up your money for years on end, in the hopes of purchasing that dream car you have always wanted.  You have visualized it in your dreams parked outside your home, taking multiple selfies with just you and that car knowing that it would be a great addition to your life.

You get the car home and you are the talk of the town with the neighbors being jealous wanting to be in your shoes.  Life can only go up from here.  Except that the now your dream car is not running the same way as it did on the showroom floor.  The overrunning thought in your mind: ‘What is going on here?’ 

I got a feeling that is exactly how Brian Cashman feels about the $218 million spent on the dream piece to the New York Yankees lineup of reigning National League MVP, Giancarlo Stanton.  It was projected that Stanton was going to absolutely smash at Yankee Stadium.  One sportswriter noted that the addition of Stanton in the Yankee lineup could translate to 62 home runs, in large part due to Yankee Stadium being the second-most favorable ballpark to right-handed home run hitters.
The infamous short porch in right field would give Stanton more home run opportunities on balls hit the other way, something he lacked while in Marlins Park.  

However, through roughly 1/3 of the 2018 season, Stanton is near or at career lows in every hitting statistical category.  Because of the perceived unmet expectations, I’ve seen posts from Yankee fans on various message boards wanting to trade Stanton for better pitching options. But is the underperformance a slump, or something to be concerned about?

Stanton has established himself as one of baseball’s most powerful and dangerous hitters.  His 59 home runs and .631 SLG% in 2017 were key contributors to him winning the NL’s MVP award.  So needless to say, he is a slugger, and will not be contending for any batting titles with a career batting average of .267.  Being a right-handed batter, Stanton is your typical pull hitter to the left of center field. The Yankees were certainly hoping for that to continue and to allow the short right field mentioned earlier to vacuum up even more home runs. Analyzing Stanton’s home run production thus far shows that he has actually hit more of his 2018 home runs the opposite way (right of center).

Graph via FanGraphs

Understanding that this analysis is off of a very small sample size of 1/3rd of one season, but Stanton’s spray chart seems to be fairly balanced now in comparison to last year.  

This tells me that more pitches are getting deeper into the strike zone before contact.  One reason for this could be that Stanton is having to be more selective with his swings, as he is not receiving favorable counts.  For 2018, Stanton’s Hitter Counts have been comparable to the MLB’s average.  The Yankees did not obtain an MVP-caliber player to be just average!

Chart information via Baseball Reference

Pitchers are challenging Stanton more than before. 

In fact, some of Stanton’s highest SLG% seasons have been those in which his intentional ball rates were the highest as well.  2014 in particular with a rate of 7.7% (Stanton finished second in the MVP vote that year). Why the change?  Two words…Aaron Judge.  

With Judge typically being in front of Stanton in the batting order, opposing pitchers can’t pitch around Judge AND Stanton.  Judge is actually seeing an increase in Hitter Counts than last year, leading to Judge getting on base at a more consistent pace than last year during his epic, post-derby slump.  Opposing pitchers are finding themselves more often pitching to Stanton with Judge already on base.  No disrespect to the likes of Christian Yelich and Martin Prado (who were in the same lineup spot with Stanton in Miami), but these guys don’t command the respect as a 50+ home run hitter like Judge.

Yankee fans have blistered Stanton earlier this year for his multiple strikeout games, and many point to this as the reason for Stanton’s struggle.  While it is true that Stanton’s strikeout rate is at a near career high for 2018, Stanton has always been at risk for higher strikeout volume.  His career rate is 27.8% in comparison to MLB’s average of 20.1%.  Instead, Stanton’s Ground Ball and Line Drive rates are down compared to his career.

Chart information via Baseball Reference and Fangraphs

Based on this data, we can see that Stanton is walking far less, hitting more ground balls, and fewer line drives compared to the norm for his career.  

Also, remember earlier that I mentioned that Stanton was allowing the ball to reach deeper into the strike zone.  Well, Stanton is seeing a lot more cutters and changeups than he is normally accustomed to.  These two pitches were specifically mentioned in a 2012 study on pitch type difference between the AL & NL, with the AL having a tendency to pitch more cutter and changeups on average.  

It would seem to suggest that Stanton is being more hesitant during his approach, and the increase of thrown off-speed pitches could very well be a predominant factor.

If you watched any of the 2017 All-Star festivities, you probably noticed the glaring monstrosity of a “home run feature” in the center field of Marlins Park.  If not, see below (at your own risk):

Imagine being in the batter’s box and you have THAT to look at!  

I think Stanton was aiming for it to eventually break it.  

Jokes aside, I noticed that the “Batter’s Eye” area almost had a two-tone effect to it.  This is the area of the outfield that is used as the backdrop for batters to better recognize pitches. Let’s look at Yankee Stadium and compare.

This looks to present a more even color palette as a backdrop for the batter to read pitches. Compared to the earlier picture at Marlins Park with a bright green wall, then just above it a black area, one would think the view from home plate at Yankee Stadium would offer better opportunities for Stanton to gauge the higher amount of cutters and changeups.  

However, there is the possibility that Stanton was using the ‘line’ between the black and green at Marlins Park to judge his pitches more effectively.

Now for the good news Yankee fans, Stanton may just be getting unlucky.  

The gap between Stanton’s AVG (.248) and BABIP (.313) would suggest that Stanton is due for a regression back to his career batting average, given that his career BABIP is .316.  As noted earlier, Stanton is hitting more ground balls, but even those are showing signs of being unfortunate. While Stanton maybe hitting more groundballs, he is avoiding double plays on said groundballs due to still having a Hard Hit ball rate on par with his career averages.  

What do you think? Do the Yankees have damaged goods on their hands? Is Stanton just getting unlucky? Or is he simply not that good of a fit in New York? Give us your thoughts in the comments!

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