The 2018 season felt like a peculiar one for the Yankees. For starters, the team won 100 games and another do-or-die playoff game. Yet the majority of the atmosphere surrounding the team felt negative, at least from a fan perspective.
The Yanks also labored through an extended period of mediocrity, staying alive in the division race until late in the summer thanks to a torrid 16-1 stretch early in the season. Then there was the injury to Aaron Judge, and the ensuing nightmare of nearly a month of Shane Robinson patrolling the outfield. There was the sudden downfall of Sonny Gray, and the nagging injuries to a slumping Gary Sanchez. There were plenty of topics to dissect.
There was also the case of the team’s biggest offseason splash, in the form of the reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. The former home run leader figured to launch the Yankees to record heights in the home run and exit velocity categories, and for the most part, he did. After all, despite what many considered to be a sub-par season, Stanton still mashed a team-high 38 home runs to help the Bombers reach the highest single season dinger total in baseball history.
Still, there were frustrations. Think of the excessive booing from fans as Stanton stumbled out of the gate in 2018, slugging just .425 while posting a strikeout rate of 33.6% through the first month of the season. His strikeout struggles persisted through much of the season, as Stanton seemed to be chasing too many pitches out of the zone. But was he simply pressing in his new role on a much bigger stage than Miami?
The first place to look is obvious: Stanton’s strikeout percentage rose from 23.6% in 2017 to 29.9%t in 2018, per Statcast. That total placed Stanton in the bottom one percent of the league. He clearly struck out a lot, but why? Stanton is known for his tape measure home runs to all fields, but he was hardly an all-or-nothing hitter with the Marlins. Looking at his 2018 campaign, Stanton seemed to struggle with breaking balls and offspeed pitches out of the zone, which was a step back given his trajectory in years prior. Here’s his swing and miss percentage against such pitches:
The majority of offspeed and breaking balls are designed to induce chases down in the zone, where Stanton was particularly susceptible last season. Consider his strikeout percentages in certain parts of the zone in 2017, and then in 2018.
Stanton improved on avoiding strikeouts up in the zone, but down at the shoe-tops, he clearly struggled to lay off those put-away pitches. After trending in the right direction for two-straight seasons against breaking balls, Stanton slipped in 2018. On the flip side, his hard contact percentage and average exit velocity against the same types of pitches all increased from 2017 to 2018.
So, was Stanton simply pressing at the plate, hoping to make an immediate and powerful impact on his new team? It’s possible. A few weeks back, Stanton’s agent Joel Wolfe told the media that they should expect to see a new version of Stanton in 2019, and that Stanton is more comfortable in his new home with a full season of experience under his belt.
“He now knows what to expect in New York,” Wolfe said at the Winter Meetings. “It is no longer a figment of his imagination. That is now his team. For the first half of last season, I know that home games felt like road games. It is such a heady experience to be a Yankee.”
Stanton showed in spurts how valuable he can be in pinstripes. His 154 wRC+ in August while Judge recovered from a broken wrist was huge for the Yanks. He had a similarly torrid month in June as well. His strikeout rate fell in the second half of the season, hopefully signifying a move in the right direction. Maybe his agent is right. Perhaps Stanton was just a bit too eager in the box in 2018, and with a full offseason in his new surroundings, will thrive in 2019.