The Yankees season ended in miserable fashion. They were historically embarrassed in game three of the ALDS, and saw their ninth-inning comeback in game four against the Red Sox fall just short. It was excruciating, watching manager Aaron Boone make the same mistake in consecutive games, and to see the Yankees’ offense drop the ball time and again in key spots.
Boone has been a lightning rod of sorts for criticism. He has deservedly taken fire for leaving in his starters too long when the season was on the line (though he probably shouldn’t lose his job over it). That Boone has been made the primary scapegoat has taken the heat off of some of the players that were likely to receive criticism in the event of a Yankee loss.
Giancarlo Stanton, of course, always figured to be a big part of the conversation if both he and the Yankees came up short. Somewhat fortunately for him, Boone has attracted most of the ire from the Bronx faithful. Stanton had a rough five-game stint in his first postseason, and not only that, it did seem like he was pressing to some extent.
Stanton’s at-bat in the final inning of the Yankees season, versus Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel with two on and none out, was emblematic of Stanton’s first playoff experience. Stanton chased wildly, expanding the zone multiple times for Kimbrel. The at-bat ended with both men on base stationed where they were when the at-bat started.
Stanton’s first swing in that at-bat was hideous, on a slider in the dirt. It’s listed as pitch number two in this graphic from MLB Gameday:
Stanton struck out two pitches later on another slider far below the zone:
That last pitch was better than the first one, but it was still an unhittable pitch for Stanton. He swung anyway. For the most part, that’s how his postseason went. He hit .238/.273/.381, though that slash line isn’t really important in a minuscule sample of 22 plate appearances.
What I’m interested was Stanton’s tendency to expand the zone in the playoffs, just as he did in striking out against Kimbrel. Using Baseball Savant, I was able to pull all the pitches Stanton saw in the playoffs. I honed in on pitches that were classified as out of the strike zone. Stanton swung at 48% of those pitches.
That’s a staggering figure, even in a sample this small. The average chase rate on pitches out of the zone in the playoffs overall is 29% so far. The league average during the regular season was about 30%.
This is such a tiny sample that even a huge chase rate like that can’t be definitively chalked up to anything other variance. Even so, it’s fair to at least speculate that Stanton was trying to do a little too much. Stanton had a good season that would have qualified as excellent for 90 percent of players, but was mildly disappointing by his standards. He very well may have felt the pressure to erase the memory of a middling season by swinging hard and fast in October.
Instead, he played right into the hands of opposing pitchers, and came up empty. In game one of the ALDS, Stanton struck out in all four of his at-bats. All four strikeouts were of the swinging variety. Three of them came on pitches out of the zone. Again, it’s impossible to conclude for sure that Stanton was pressing, but if he was pressing, chasing wildly out of the zone would be what it would look like.
This is not to say that Stanton can’t handle the pressure of New York, or October. Stanton came up big in numerous clutch situations throughout the year, such as his dramatic walk-off home run against the Mariners. He smashed a majestic bomb to punctuate the Wild Card Game victory over the Athletics. It’s obstinate to say that Stanton’s not clutch.
It just seems likely that he felt the pressure a bit the past week, and tried to do a little too much. There’s no shame in that, and had the Yankees’ postseason campaign continued longer, things would have had a chance to even out. Odds are, Stanton would have gotten more opportunities to settle in, and would have produced another big moment or two.
Instead, both the Yankees and Stanton failed to capitalize, and their season is over. It was a sudden and unfortunate end, one that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for both player and team. Stanton may have been pressing in his first ever October, and that’s O.K. With any luck, he’ll have many more chances to put the Yankees over the top in the playoffs.