Giancarlo Stanton had a bad start to his Yankee tenure. A shocking statement, I know. He underwhelmed a very expectant fan base by turning out an average March and April. That disappointing start to the season had Stanton catching all kinds of flak, and a lot of the criticism centered around his very closed stance.
Stanton has always hit with an exaggerated, old-school stance. Yankee fans got a look at how effective it can be in the very first game of the regular season:
Obviously, when a hitter comes to the Yankees, the right field short porch must be enticing. Many hitters have changed their approach completely to try and drive the ball to right field, and a lot of folks figured that’s exactly what Stanton was doing too. There are two problems with that theory, though.
First, the closed-off stance isn’t new. Here’s a shot of Stanton last season in Miami, in the midst of his MVP season:
Check that against the gif above, or Stanton’s stance on the night of his “signature” walkoff home run against the Mariners:
Stanton’s front elbow is pretty consistently out away from his body, and his left foot is just a couple inches off the batter’s box line. Both jersey numbers are clearly visible from the center field camera. This is his stance and it’s been that way for a while.
The other hole in the “playing to the short porch” idea is that, largely, Stanton’s production doesn’t really come from going the other way, and especially not over the past two seasons:
Disregarding July since Stanton only has 18 PAs in the month at the time of writing, there’s really nothing that indicates he relies on hitting the ball to right field all that much. During his video-game July and August last year, his Oppo% stayed flat. So far in 2018, 13 of his home runs have been hit to the left side of the field, a 65% rate. Last season, 57% of his 59 home runs were to left and left-center. Giancarlo’s actually MORE pull-happy now.
So why stay so closed off? More than anything, it helps Stanton get to balls away, the same kind of pitches that tend to give power hitters fits. His heatmap, especially when compared to his contemporaries, shows what a great solution his stance really is:
Note that this heatmap shows contact%. Now compare Stanton to his best and most natural comp, teammate Aaron Judge:
On the outer third, Stanton makes contact on 68.8% of swings, and Judge just 58.4%. Stanton’s got such great bat speed and control that he doesn’t get cheated on the inner third either. He boasts a 80.9% contact rate on those pitches, three percentage points better than Judge’s.
Stanton’s stance is a carefully designed, deliberate approach. It’s an integral part of the way he plays baseball, and whenever he goes cold he’s going to be called out for it. As he has gotten better and better each month, though, he’s proving once again that we should trust professionals to know what they’re doing.