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Giancarlo Stanton and the power of perception

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The Yankees’ slugger has either been a valuable contributor or an overpaid disappointment – depending on who you ask.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

There may be no Yankee more divisive than Giancarlo Stanton on the active roster. Depending on who you ask, the $325 million man has either held up his share of the load, or he’s been a massive disappointment. If you expected another MVP-caliber season from the reigning NL MVP, then Stanton has probably let you down.

However, if you look at Stantons’ counting stats as a whole, it’s hard to be disappointed. He leads the club in home runs, RBI and runs scored, and is second in hits, doubles and extra-base hits. That is a valuable offensive player! During the summer months, when the Yankees were ravaged by injuries, Stanton was the driving force in the lineup. He was at his finest when the Yankees needed him most. By traditional stats, Stanton has been a monster for the Yankees this year.

Stanton’s season has been book-ended by two terrible months in April and September. For that, Stanton has faced plenty of criticism. No matter how much of a Stanton supporter you are, you cannot just remove these two months; they comprise almost a third of Stanton’s total at-bats. Stanton’s poor April, punctuated by a couple of 5-strikeout games, definitely hurt his fan perception. First impressions mean a lot, and Stanton’s bad one has stuck with some fans all season.

Those first and last months, combined with his high strikeout rate and sub-par production in high-leverage situations, have hurt his value in the eyes of a few sabermetric stats. Stanton’s wRC+ is the 5th-best on the Yankees, which doesn’t jive with his status as the club leader in many conventional offensive categories. His overall WAR has him pinned as the 6th-best player on the Yankees.

Compared to the league as a whole, Stanton has still been an All-Star-caliber player. Stanton’s WAR exceeds that of Bryce Harper, Joey Votto, Jean Segura, and Nelson Cruz, and his wRC+ is better than Cody Bellinger, George Springer, and Charlie Blackmon. Almost all of those players were All-Stars. Despite that, Stanton has been panned as mediocre at times because he is the second- or third-best offensive producer on his team.

Stanton shouldn’t be penalized because he is on a great roster. It’s true that Stanton hasn’t been “the guy” for the Yankees all the time this year, but he still compares favorably to most of his peers league-wide. If he was the number one option on a low-budget team, he might be viewed as more productive than he is now, rather than as just another cog in the vaunted Yankees’ attack.

Thus, the jury is still hung regarding Stanton in New York among fans, but judgment day is coming fast. Every Yankee is judged on how they do in October, and Stanton will be heading into his first ever postseason action in a little more than a week. Even with his late-season slide, it’s hard to think that Stanton won’t be a beast in October. The Yankees’ lineup is finally fully loaded, which should give Stanton the opportunities he needs. Few players can change a game with one swing the way that Stanton can, and I’d expect him to be among the Yankees’ most productive playoff performers.

An interesting comparison to Stanton in New York is Alex Rodriguez. Both were reigning MVP winners when acquired by the Yankees, the highest-paid players in baseball at the time. Both were considered “excess” when acquired (the Yankees didn’t need Rodriguez or Stanton, based on the presence of Derek Jeter and Aaron Judge, but they sure were nice adds), and each had productive, albeit slightly underwhelming first seasons in New York. They also both occasionally struggled in the clutch.

Rodriguez won two MVP’s in New York, but didn’t get his full due of respect until he put the team on his back during the 2009 playoffs. Stanton too will be judged by how he performs in October. Really, the Yankees didn’t get Stanton for the regular season; they were likely to make the playoffs with or without him. They got Stanton to make their lineup even more fearsome in the postseason against the best of the best. There are different ways to evaluate Stanton’s 2018 so far, but we can all agree that the acquisition of Stanton’s will be a huge success if he helps the Yankees win playoff games, and a failure if he doesn’t.

All in all, Stanton has done his job as a Yankee. He hasn’t been spectacular, but he also hasn’t been a bust. Yankees fans should hold off on making a final verdict on Stanton until they see if he can help push them over the top. How well he performs under the bright lights should determine how Yankees fans will view their most expensive player.