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The enigma of Giancarlo Stanton

The Yankees’ slugger is prone to massive highs and crushing lows.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

No series of games better describes the Giancarlo Stanton experience for the Yankees than those of the past two weeks. The hulking slugger returned from a muscle injury, went 2-24, got booed by his own fans, and then flipped a switch and went on an absolute tear at Minnesota, blasting three home runs in two games and looking generally unstoppable.

Stanton is certainly one of a kind. It’s incredible how a player capable of such power displays like this:

Can also look so out-of-place on a three-pitch strikeout later in the same game:

As a whole this season, Stanton is hitting .265 with 12 home runs in 44 games, good for an OPS of .849 and a 136 OPS+. That’s a well-above-average offensive player, and it is almost identical to Stanton’s career figures as a Yankee over four seasons: a .266 average, a 39-home run pace, an .858 OPS and 133 OPS+. Although this season for Stanton has been marked by its torrid hot streaks and brutal cold snaps, it has all normalized into Stanton’s usual, strong numbers.

Of course, this isn’t quite what the Yankees were looking for. They acquired Stanton and his $325 million contract after his 2017 NL MVP season, a campaign that saw him hit more home runs (59) than any non-steroid player since Roger Maris. It was only natural to think he could at least approach those numbers in New York, surrounded by more talent and playing in a more hitter-friendly stadium. Four years later though, it looks like Stanton’s 2017 season was the outlier, not the start of a Ruthian career peak.

In fact, Stanton’s averages in his other seven seasons with Miami are almost identical to the numbers he’s put up in New York – a .266 average, a 41-home run pace, an .896 OPS and 142 OPS+. Production-wise, Stanton is performing in his early 30s much like he did in his mid-20s; as a great hitter, but not a generational one. When you isolate and remove the outlier season, Stanton’s career is much like his tenure in New York – All-Star level offensive production characterized by peaks and valleys and incessant durability concerns.

I don’t mean this as a knock on Stanton in the slightest. It does put the term of his contract into stark relief. Stanton is signed for six more seasons, and his highest-paid years will come from ages 33-35. Given that Stanton hasn’t played the field since 2019 and his sprint speed has dropped from the 70th percentile to the 11th percentile in the last four years, the Yankees will likely only get any value of Stanton offensively from here on out. In terms of pure production over the life of the deal, it’s not a great sign that Stanton’s become so one-dimensional, so quickly, with so much time left to go.

With that in mind, it’s not unfair to look at Stanton as a powerful, and still productive sunk cost. He has a no-movement clause, and the money has to be paid his way. The Yankees are “stuck” paying a lot of money to a sometimes-great player, and they should should take it upon themselves to maximize Stanton’s production as much as they can while they have him. Making him exclusively a DH is one such step, as in theory, he should be able to remain healthier that way. The other way they can accomplish this is a big-picture thing, and speaks to the Yankees’ roster construction.

Since the Yankees have acquired Stanton, they’ve largely performed as he has. This season, he has an 1.159 OPS in Yankees wins, and a .548 OPS in losses. That might not just be a coincidence – it shows how important Stanton is to the Yankees’ overall offensive production. If he’s not hitting home runs for whatever reason, the Yankees probably aren’t going to score enough runs to win ballgames.

Knowing that, it would make sense if the Yankees diversified their lineup a little bit more next year to provide other ways to score. Instead of a lineup full of all-or-nothing sluggers, perhaps the Yankees can replace two of those guys (Luke Voit and Gary Sánchez?) with some better contact hitters. That way, the team can better withstand those inevitable Stanton slumps, while enjoying his mammoth offensive tears even more.

Giancarlo Stanton isn’t necessarily going to live up to his contract with the Yankees, and he’s probably never going to reach the heights of his MVP season again. But, that doesn’t mean he’s a bad player, or that the Yankees should get rid of him (which they probably cannot, anyway). Instead, they need to find a way to handle Stanton’s valleys better, so they can greater enjoy the peaks.