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Comparing Giancarlo Stanton’s torrid start to his MVP campaign

How does Stanton’s torrid pace compare with the start to his 2017 MVP season?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that Giancarlo Stanton is off to an incredible start, regardless of which measurement standards you prefer. He’s currently in the top ten in the American League in home runs, total bases, and home runs per at-bat, while leading the Yankees in OPS+, doubles, home runs, batting average, and runs batted in.

If you prefer statistics that aren’t based on outcomes, Stanton’s been even better, as he ranks above the 85th percentile across MLB in xwOBA, xSLG, and barrel percentage. Oh, and his average exit velocity, maximum exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage all come in at a ho-hum 100th percentile across the game. Furthermore, if you’d prefer to put analytics aside, and look at baseball as purely a spectator sport, Stanton has been as much of a “must-see TV, don’t go to the fridge when he’s up,”-type player as anybody this season.

Although 132 plate appearances is still a relatively small sample size, it’s far from insignificant. For me, it’s enough to wonder how his 2021 thus far compares to the start he got off to in his MVP-winning season with the Marlins in 2017.

If you feel as I do, that the past three and a half years have been the longest in our baseball lives, (with apologies to readers born prior to World War II) let’s have a quick review. In the 2017 season, Stanton led all of MLB in home runs and runs batted in while leading the National League in both SLG and OPS+, on his way to edging out Joey Votto for the NL MVP.

So where does his current 2021 performance compare to where he was at this point in the 2017 season? Let’s take a look…

After 34 games

2017 148 131 5 11 26 .345 .557
2021 132 120 5 9 24 .356 .558

The performances are virtually identical. It should be noted for additional context that those numbers are after 34 team games. In 2017, Stanton had played in every one of his team’s games, starting 33 of the 34. Due to the Yankees' justifiable proclivity of giving him occasional days off this season, he’s appeared in “only” 30 of the team’s 34 games so far in 2021.

Should Stanton continue at his current rates throughout the 2021 season, here’s how the two seasons would compare:

2021 Prorated vs 2017

2017 692 597 32 59 132 .376 .631 169
2021 629 572 24 43 114 .356 .558 159

Should Stanton continue his torrid pace this season, he’ll fall short of the “Hall of Fame-level player having a career year” plateau he had in the 2017 season. Nonetheless, those 2021 projections are a level of production that every member of Yankee land would sign on for 100 times out of 100.

Obviously, a better question is “will he?” continue at his current pace. There are far too many variables involved to be able to venture anything more than a guess at the answer to that question. There are, however, some interesting sidebars upon which we can keep an eye as the season progresses.

Statistically, over the course of his career, Stanton has been better in the second half of seasons than in their first halves. In terms of OPS+, April has been his worst month while July and August are when he’s heated up along with the weather. This is the main reason that although the two seasons above look similar after 34 games, the 2021 projection falls short of 2017’s production because Stanton’s July and August in 2017 were otherworldly.

Additionally, he’s been hitting the ball more on the ground and more to the opposite field so far in 2021 than he did throughout 2017:

Batted ball percentages

Season Pull Straight Oppo GB%
Season Pull Straight Oppo GB%
2017 39% 41% 20% 44.6
2021 32% 43% 25% 52.9

Small sample size may be a factor of course, but if those variances have been concerted efforts to adjust, that may play a part in his end-of-season numbers as well.

We can’t conclude without saying that there’s an enormous elephant in the room that answers to the name “Injury Bug” that will likely be the predominant factor in how the 2021 season turns out for Stanton. His performance at the plate was never the problem the last two years — it was simply avoiding the injured list. As noted, though, even if Stanton remains healthy and on the field for the duration of 2021, he’s still going to play less than he did in 2017 due to the aforementioned planned days off.

It will be fascinating to watch play out regardless of which direction Stanton’s season goes. It’s safe to say that as long as he continues to hit the ball harder than any human being has ever hit a baseball — as he has been — the production will end up in a place the Yankees will love.