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The Home Run Derby might actually help Giancarlo Stanton

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Stanton’s having trouble elevating the ball. Swinging for the fences in the Derby might help him regain his mojo.

MLB: New York Yankees at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Giancarlo Stanton has been the recipient of much ire from Yankee fans so far this year, as he has struggled to live up to the lofty expectations placed on him prior to the season. It’s not like he’s been outright bad - Stanton currently owns a .263/.339/.507 line with 19 homers, good for 128 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR - but it is true that he hasn’t been THE Giancarlo Stanton, the one who hit 59 homers the year before.

Speaking of things that Yankee fans like to complain about, the Home Run Derby is fast approaching. Many fans point to Aaron Judge’s post-Derby slump last year as evidence that the event is evil. However, as a general point, the notion that the Derby causes slumps has been pretty soundly disproven.

Since this site is generally not shy about ruffling feathers, our fearless leader Tyler decided to combine the two topics above on Friday, opining that the Yankees should send Giancarlo Stanton to the Home Run Derby. Today, I’m going to take that argument even further. Tyler argued that Stanton should participate because it would be awesome for us fans. I will argue that Stanton should participate in the Derby because it would be good for his swing.

The problem with Stanton this year is that he hasn’t been able to elevate the ball with the consistency that he had in previous years. Behold, a graph:

Giancarlo Stanton wRC+(blue) and groundball rate (red) by season, 2010-2018
FanGraphs.com

Notice how the peaks in groundball rate have generally coincided with valleys in wRC+, and vice versa. This makes intuitive sense, as Stanton can’t get to his prodigious power when he’s killing worms. As this graph demonstrates, Stanton is at his best when he avoids ground balls and puts the ball in the air.

A notable exception to this rule is 2017, when Stanton hit 59 homers while running a ground ball rate of 44.6%, his highest mark to that point since 2011. This was more than likely due to Stanton’s adoption of the closed stance he is now known for. Stanton closed off his stance in an effort to keep his hips and upper body from flying open before pitches came to him. While the adjustment resulted in more ground balls, it also led to a sharp decrease in strikeouts while keeping Stanton’s power intact.

This year, however, the ground balls have started to become problematic. Stanton is running a ground ball rate of 48.7%, by far his highest mark to date. Combine that with his strikeout and walk rates both trending in the wrong direction, and you’ve got yourself a struggling player. Granted, Stanton hits the ball so hard that even when he’s off he can hit for 130 wRC+. If Stanton wishes to shut those boos up, he’d better start whittling down that ground ball rate.

This is where the Home Run Derby comes in. As an event that incentivizes its participants to tailor their swings in order to consistently hit balls in the air with authority, it’s the ideal opportunity for Stanton to get back on track. Should Stanton actually get the call, he should treat the Derby like a practice session rather than a side event, and tinker with his swing so that he can hit the most homers possible. Maybe he could experiment with a neutral or slightly open stance again, given that his closed stance isn’t enabling him to cut down on his strikeouts anyway.

You often see fans advocating for Derby participants to keep their swings from being influenced by the event; however, for Stanton the Derby actually presents an opportunity to re-learn how to elevate the ball. If anything, the Yankees should be begging MLB to let Stanton participate in the Derby. Sure, it would be worth it for the entertainment value alone, but methinks there’s a real chance that it would be beneficial for Stanton’s performance, and thus for the Yankees down the stretch.