It was becoming a tired narrative already: Giancarlo Stanton just hadn’t been the same in New York as he was in Miami. He hadn’t stayed healthy, his power numbers were down a little bit, and he’d had nary a signature moment in the postseason, when the Yankees needed him most. A $325 million bust, right?
It may have taken some time to get to this point, but Giancarlo Stanton is finally back as the most feared hitter in the Yankees’ lineup. Furthermore, there’s evidence to suggest that a key adjustment has fueled this success, and may be a sign that the best has yet to come of Stanton in pinstripes.
I wrote back in August about what was behind Stanton’s great start to the season. He was hitting the ball harder than just about anyone, of course, but the key takeaway was that his plate discipline had improved drastically (even if it was just a two-week sample size):
Basically, pitchers can’t win with Stanton right now. If they throw him strikes, he’ll pound them, but if they try to get him to chase, he’s not biting as much as he used to. Remember that fear that pitchers had facing Stanton back in 2017? It’s back in full effect in 2020.
Shortly after writing this, Stanton got injured again. Such is life. However, Stanton came back in a little over a month and is now fully healthy for the 2020 playoffs. He hasn’t played an inning in the field in over a year, and couldn’t be more fresh as the Yankees’ exclusive DH in the postseason.
Having Stanton at peak physical health is a huge reason for why he’s dominating right now, but that observation from way back in August has also held over two months later. Stanton’s plate discipline has improved significantly for the Yankees this year, and that has continued into the postseason against some of the American League’s nastiest pitchers. With a more refined batter’s eye, Stanton has gotten himself into better counts, and is positively pulverizing whatever he gets his bat on:
Stanton always hits the ball hard, even when he’s struggling. So far, he has hit six balls with an exit velocity over 100 mph in his five playoff games, and he has an incredible six home runs over that span. He has homered in every playoff game, and is pounding baseballs like they owe him money.
But, just as was the case in August, it’s Stanton’s plate discipline that’s been the key here. The MLB average chase rate is 28.2 percent, and Stanton’s chase rate with the Yankees is 28.7 percent – essentially MLB average. The average MLB hitter swings on 46.6 percent of pitches, while Stanton swung at about 42 percent of pitches his first two years as a Yankee. That says that he was somewhat selective as a swinger, but not a particularly disciplined one. That has changed now.
The first step of Stanton’s newfound plate discipline involved actively swinging less. This season, he only swung at 36.1 percent of pitches thrown to him, and just 14.9 percent of first pitches. This matters because it turns out, Stanton doesn’t get many strikes thrown his way – opponents only threw 40.7 percent of their pitches to him this year inside the zone. Why bail out the opposition by chasing when you can get ahead in the count?
To that point, Stanton’s chase rate also improved drastically. It fell from 28.7 percent the last two years to just 22.4 percent this year, and that has continued into the playoffs. Stanton has seen 100 pitches this postseason, and only 41 of them have been strikes. He’s only swung 31 percent of the time, and is chasing just 20.3 percent of the time. This newfound plate discipline has helped him get ahead in the count, and when that happens, and pitchers have to throw him strikes, he can tee off.
Many hitters today have raw power, but few can combine that with the innate batter’s eye necessary to get the juicy pitches to hit in the good counts. Stanton has proven capable of that this year. He’s finally at full health at the most important time of the year, and he’s not just swinging wildly at the plate. He has a plan, and is sticking to it.
Stanton has become the ultimate three true outcomes player – of his 23 playoff plate appearances, 16 of them have ended in a home run, walk or strikeout. As long as he’s producing (which he is – so far he has been responsible for 14 of the Yankees’ 18 runs in the ALDS), this approach is golden. If it can carry over for a full season into 2021, pitchers around MLB would have to duck and cover.
It took awhile for him to get back on top of the mountain, but now that Giancarlo Stanton is there again, no one can stop him now.