As contenders go, the Yankees do not find themselves in an enviable position. As if Boston deciding not to lose ever again wasn’t enough, the Yankees now have to make up the distance between them and the Red Sox with Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge absent for much of the remaining season. Even after taking into account that Sanchez hasn’t replicated his past success this season, those are still huge losses.
Luckily for the Yankees, they employ yet another middle-of-the-order threat in Giancarlo Stanton. While Stanton stumbled out of the gate this season, he has since recovered and is now looking like his usual, terrifying self. Here’s what his monthly wRC+ figures look like - 100 in March/April, 124 in May, 153 in June, and 137 in July. That’s one meh month, one good month, then two months of star-level production.
Can Stanton keep his current pace up? There’s good news in the the data, which suggests that he should continue to hit, providing the Yankees with some much needed firepower while Judge and Sanchez are on the mend. One trend in particular is especially encouraging. Namely, Stanton is cutting down on his whiffs while increasing his contact rate.
Now, this may seem like an obvious point. Of course it’s encouraging that Stanton is swinging and missing less while making more contact; who wouldn’t want to do that? For high-strikeout, high-power sluggers like Stanton, though, every little bit of improvement in those areas means so much.
It’s not like Stanton can’t thrive with a high strikeout rate. He owns a career 27.9 K%, but that’s coupled with a 143 wRC+. The reason why Stanton can thrive even while striking out so much, however, is because he does so much damage on contact. This means that the difference between a great Stanton season and a mediocre Stanton season comes down to how often he can make contact, and in turn, how much he can avoid whiffs.
Consider Stanton’s 2016 and 2017 seasons. The 2016 campaign was a pedestrian year by Stanton’s standards, as he finished with only a 116 wRC+ in an injury-shortened season. That year, his swinging strike rate was 15.2%, while his strikeout rate was 29.8%. His contact rate stood at 66.7%, more than ten points below the league average mark of 78.2%.
Stanton bounced back in a huge way in 2017, hitting 59 homers with a 156 wRC+. One of the factors driving his comeback was his lowered strikeout rate of 23.6%, which was backed up by a much-improved swinging strike rate to 12.5%. His contact rate also rose to 70.4%, only seven points below league average (77.5%). For Stanton, a little more contact goes a long way.
Unfortunately, Stanton’s 2018 numbers look more like his 2016 than his 2017. His strikeout rate and swinging strike rate stand at 30.3% and 15.2%, respectively. Meanwhile, his contact rate is a lowly 66.6%.
However, the trajectory of his season suggests that Stanton is making improvements on all three fronts. Consider the following graphs. This first one details Stanton’s 15-game rolling average swinging strike rate:
This graph does the same for his strikeout rate:
And finally, this graph chronicles his contact rate:
All of these graphs, while fluctuating from high to low, demonstrate gradual but steady improvements regarding their respective metrics. These improvements are underpinning Stanton’s return to form since his dismal April, suggesting that his recent performance is indeed sustainable.
Sure, Stanton will still have bad days, and bad stretches even. No amount of improvement will drive Stanton’s strikeout rate down to league average, which means that he’ll still be prone to the occasional golden sombrero. But few batters in baseball make better contact than Stanton, and as the data shows, he’s been quietly whiffing less and making more contact over the course of the year. Something tells me the coming weeks should be fun to watch.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com.