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Dissecting Giancarlo Stanton’s start

The Yankees’ major offseason acquisition has been an enigma in April

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

We’ve come a long way from the sleepless night of December 11, 2017. The entire PSA staff, and majority of Yankee fans in general, spent it glued to Twitter, waiting for the imminent trade of Giancarlo Stanton to be made official. Of course it was, and we were treated to an offseason and spring training full of questions, fantasies and predictions for what the reigning National League MVP would do when unleashed in the Bronx.

Three weeks in, it’s safe to say nobody saw this start coming.

In his first 15 games with New York, Stanton has posted “just” a .745 OPS, and a few truly ugly games including a pair of five-strikeout outings. He’s experienced the highest highs of playing for the Yankees - his two home run debut against Toronto - and the lowest lows - the subject of boos from the Bronx faithful in multiple home games. The real question is, can we take anything substantial from his start to 2018?

The answer? Maybe.

Like any other player, Stanton’s stat line is skewed by sample size. The man’s recorded just 71 plate appearances in 2018, while adjusting to a new league, position, ballpark, yadda yadda insert other caveats here. It sounds like I’m glossing over sample size here, and I sort of am. Early in the season, Giancarlo’s posted the highest strikeout rate of his career at 38%, and the only time that number has been above 30% was his rookie season in 2010. Last year he hovered around 23%, and his career line tends to coalesce around 27%. Barring a Space Jam-esque loss of ability, you can expect that mark to normalize over the remainder of the season.

For what it’s worth, Stanton seems to always struggle with contact to start a season. In all but one year of his career, he’s posted a higher strikeout rate in March and April than his season overall.

His career shows us that we can expect about a 1.2% drop in K% over the rest of 2018, but personally I’d take the over on that. This start to the season is such a drastic outlier that I’m really not prepared to put any stock into it.

Perhaps fittingly, the same trend exists for Stanton’s walk rate. It’s almost always lower in the beginning of the season, and sure enough, his BB% is lower than any season save his rookie year. It’s entirely possible Stanton takes some time to reacquaint himself with the strike zone, and once that happens we’ll see a spike in production for the rest of the season.

What’s really notable, to me, about Stanton’s start in 2018 is that for all his troubles, he’s still an above average hitter. He boasts a 109 wRC+ through the first three weeks, and while that is certainly not what the Yankees were hoping for when they acquired him, it shows the depth of talent Giancarlo has. Think of it like a normal distribution curve:

Imagine Stanton is the orange distribution, and the blue is...just about everyone else. They follow the same general formula, and even overlap at points. Giancarlo’s baseline, or expected output, is so much higher than almost everyone else’s. That overlap represents the absolute floor for Giancarlo and the absolute ceiling for most other players.

It’s been a bad start to Stanton’s time in the Bronx, as he’s combined a historic strikeout pace with underwhelming ability to get on base at all. Maybe you think he’s deserved the boos he’s received, and that the Yankees should be reconsidering that night back in December. The truth is, Stanton’s still been better than most MLB players, and there’s more than enough evidence to support that he’ll regress toward his career norms. And just like that distribution chart shows, Stanton’s norm is a dream for any other hitter, and a nightmare for pitchers in the AL East.