Without Aaron Judge in his customary two-spot in the order, and with no Gary Sanchez at catcher, the Yankees as a team have seen a drop in the depth of their lineup, and certainly a loss of any fear factor an opposing pitcher would have had. It’s not gone completely, but any time you take close to 100 home runs out of a lineup, it’s pretty well impossible to replace.
If you haven’t been paying attention, Giancarlo Stanton has been doing his best to replace that production all by himself. The reigning MVP is in the middle of one of the best stretches of his career, which is really saying something, and after a pedestrian first month in the AL East, has seen his production steadily increase, both in overall offensive output and his crucial underlying stats:
A whole lot of Stanton’s improvement is regression to the mean. He’s been one of the best hitters in baseball for close to a decade now; his move to the Bronx wasn’t going to change that. Still, there has been a nifty mechanical reversion that has helped the massive man get back to his otherworldly pace, and if it keeps up, it’s not unrealistic to imagine him hitting this way for the remainder of the season.
First, compare Stanton’s “set” position; that is, the stance as the pitcher begins his delivery. What batters do before this doesn’t really matter. What does matter is how they position themselves as they begin to track the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. To start, here’s Stanton in Miami, in the throes of his MVP season:
Couple things to notice here. Stanton’s elbow is almost perfectly aligned with his left, front foot, and his back leg is slightly bent but nothing exaggerated. All in all, it’s a pretty upright, almost stiff position. Now compare that with earlier in the year, during his subpar April:
Both of Stanton’s legs are bent more than they were in Miami, giving him a much more crouched, lower-to-the-ground stance. It’s not as exaggerated a position as someone like Albert Pujols, but it’s a significant change from what he’s used to. When you’ve hit one way for your entire major league career, shifts like that can be expected to throw you off.
Now, look at him over the weekend against the Blue Jays:
Stanton’s hitting position is much more like it was with the Marlins, especially with his back leg less bent. This change carries over to the swings, too:
With Miami, and lately with the Yankees, Stanton’s “high” stance has allowed him to get his front foot down faster. He’s never been a guy with a high leg kick, and has instead deferred to more of a toe tap. Whichever a player uses doesn’t really matter; the player uses it as a timing mechanism to set themselves and prepare to swing. Since Stanton’s foot gets down earlier, he’s set earlier and can better track the ball.
Better tracking not only helps Stanton hit dingers, it cuts down on his guessing at the plate. Stanton drew a lot of criticism in the early going for selling out early, and appearing to decide to swing before the pitch was even delivered. That mechanical hitch may have been the cause of that, since he was rushing himself and thus unable to make better contact with pitches at the fringe of the zone. This heatmap shows exactly that, contact% from Opening Day until May 31:
Contrast with the same heatmap since June 1:
Stanton’s stance correction means he’s in a better position to see every pitch, and reach out for balls up or away. He’s strong enough to put real wood on pitches like that, and we’ve all seen him hit pitches into right field for doubles and home runs. More than that, though, he’s also able to spoil and battle at the plate, cutting down his strikeouts.
It takes a lot for a major-league hitter to admit they’re doing something wrong. These are people who have reached the absolute pinnacle of physical achievement by doing the same two or three things over and over since they were 12. Clearly, Stanton - or the much-maligned Yankee hitting coaches - saw that something was up with his hitting position. The correction’s been made, and if Stanton is back to a consistent set position, good luck to the rest of MLB.