Giancarlo Stanton is having a strange season so far. He has more strikeouts (69) than he has hits plus walks (67), which is bad. He also has a 115 wRC+, which is good. Of Yankees position players, Stanton is tied for the third highest fWAR with 1.3, which is good. Of Yankees position players not named Jace Peterson he has the worst WPA (-0.14), which is bad. There was quite a bit of overreaction in regards to Stanton’s lackluster month of April, but now it’s almost June and Stanton has accumulated nearly 200 at bats. So is he having a good season or a bad one?
It’s fair to say that while Stanton’s 115 wRC+ is above average, it’s also a far cry from his career mark of 143. However, hitting is only one-third of being a position player. What he’s lacked in the batter’s box he’s made up for in defense and baserunning.
Stanton is in the top 25% of outfielders on statcast’s outs above average leaderboard. He has also beat out quite a few infield hits so far. Both of those can be attributed to his improved sprint speed, which is up to 28.1 ft/sec. Firmly above the major league average of 27.0, and his highest since 2015 (when statcast started tracking the data).
A lot of people will point to strikeouts when discussing Stanton’s struggles in 2018. He’s currently 8th among qualified hitters with a 31.4% strikeout rate, the highest of his career, but not by much. While it is a big jump from his MVP campaign last season, it’s closer to his career rate of 27.9% than you might have thought.
I was more interested in his BB% though. As Aaron Judge proved in 2017, you can succeed while striking out at a high rate as long as you draw your fair share of walks. Believe it or not his walks are down too, his 8.6 BB% is tied with his rookie year (2010) for the worst of his career.
So strikeouts are up, walks are down. If your first thought after reading that was “it’s because he swings at too many bad pitches” good work. Stanton is swinging at 34% of pitches out of the zone, up 6% from last season. This has lead to a 63.8% contact rate, the worst among qualified hitters in 2018.
Now I know what you’re thinking: This is such an easy fix, Stanton just needs to be less aggressive. I’m going to have to disagree. My reasoning has something to do with this.
Yes, you read that correctly. Giancarlo Stanton has seen 64 pitches right down the middle and has gotten a hit on exactly one of them. It was a double off of Eric Skoglund in Kansas City.
Let’s compare it to the same heatmap except from last season.
You’ll notice a lot more red in the middle of the zone. So what’s the difference between 2017 and 2018? Well in 2017 Stanton swung at 75% of pitches right down the middle, so far in 2018 he’s only swung at 65%.
That’s why I think Stanton needs to be more aggressive. There is a 0% chance that he will continue to hit pitches down the middle this poorly for the rest of the season, even before you take his batted ball profile into account which is quite promising.
So if after 50 games you’re still worrying about Giancarlo Stanton, don’t. He still has an elite average exit velocity (9th), barrel% (10th), and hard hit% (12th). Besides that, even if this string of bad luck continues, he will still provide value with his glove and on the bases.