When the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton in 2018, they got the National League’s reigning MVP — a player who had crushed 150 homers across his previous four seasons and posted three seasons with an OPS of .950 or better. Though underwhelming in direct comparison, Stanton’s first season in pinstripes was good enough to consider his acquisition a success. In 2018, he played in 158 games, including 72 in the field, while hitting well enough to earn a 130 OPS+ — well above league average, but a notch below his career mark until then of 147. Stanton’s 2018 was a good start to his Yankee tenure, especially if he could get a bit more comfortable as he adjusted to his new digs.
Succumbing to myriad injuries to his biceps, shoulder, and knee, Stanton played in just 18 games in 2019, the fewest of any season of his career. Finally, with a 1.384 OPS in the first week of the 2020 season, set off by a first-inning Opening Day homer off of Max Scherzer, it seemed as though he’d he might just have his first great season with the Yankees. However, an injury to his hamstring in August limited him to 23 games, hampering his overall impact on the club’s campaign.
This season, a tepid April turned into a scalding start to May coinciding with a move into the lineup’s two-hole, seeing Stanton raise his average from .154 to .314 during a two-week hot streak where he triple-slashed .500/.520/.896. However, since the Yankees seemingly can’t have nice things, G’s come crashing down to earth and now sports a mediocre — at least by his standards — .462 slugging and .812 OPS, the worst marks of his career.
So what the heck happened to the guy that just a couple of seasons ago was perhaps the game’s most feared hitter?
On Sunday Night Baseball’s broadcast of the Yankees’ rubber match against the Red Sox, another former Yankee slugger in his own right, Alex Rodriguez, correctly identified two connected yet distinct sources of Stanton’s current struggles. One, Stanton’s foot is often down late — as has been the case with a handful of other Yankee hitters this season — and two, his weight transfer, instead of moving through the zone towards the right side of the field (as A-Rod recommended), comes around the ball and across his body towards left field.
The first issue, that of being late to the ball, is as essential to successful hitting approach as any other mechanical issue. If a batter’s front foot is down late, like Gary Sánchez and Gleyber Torres’ have been all season until very recently, he gives himself less time to read and react to the incoming pitch, as well as progress through the appropriate mechanical checkpoints of the swing. Instead, the batter will either be late and miss the ball or shortcut the proper bat path, leading to an inefficient energy transfer.
The only pitches late-footed hitters have consistent success against are hung, breaking balls — i.e. those that are thrown slow enough to counteract the batter’s own tardiness and are easily reachable within the zone, like his best hit ball this week. This is exactly why, as Tom noted a couple of weeks ago, Stanton can look Ruthian one day and Mendozian the next.
Fixing his timing should be relatively easy, but that alone won’t get Stanton out of his rut. The secondary mechanical issue, that of Stanton’s bat path (even when he’s completely on time) has presumably undermined his attempts to get back on track. With the Yankees, Giancarlo Stanton has always utilized a downward chop across the zone. While most hitters would scarcely put the ball in play with this approach, Stanton has been able to be one of the better hitters in baseball this way simply because of his unique physical abilities.
Of anyone with at least 25 homers over the past four seasons, Stanton has unsurprisingly hit his harder than anyone else, at an average of 109.6 mph. However, he has done so with the fourth-lowest average launch angle of any of those players. Of the 81 other players with at least as many homers as Stanton has had in the past four seasons (60), only nine have an average launch angle as low or lower than Stanton’s (10 degrees), a group that includes line drive kings like Christian Yelich and Juan Soto as well as speedsters like Fernando Tatis Jr., José Altuve, and Trea “Burners” Turner. For Stanton’s super-slugging profile, his relatively low launch angle on his bombs is surprising, at least in comparison to his true outcome-stud peers like Aaron Judge (13.2-degree career average launch angle), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (15.1), or Joey Gallo (22.2).
Stanton hits the ball so hard — harder than anyone in the history of ball tracking data — that he has often gotten away with this suboptimal batted ball distribution. The downward chop that limits Stanton’s ability to elevate the baseball actually stems from a compensation he made for another mechanical flaw he experienced early on in his days with the Marlins.
Before he started rocking his uniquely closed-off stance to match his across-body swing, Stanton possessed a much more conventional, open stance. For example, take a look at his very first career big-league homer:
Stanton gets plenty of explosion and rotation to send this baseball into the stratosphere. Just look at how easily he’s able to fully rotate his hips and shoulders before even squaring up the baseball:
This incredible clearance helped Stanton generate massive power back through the middle of the field on contact out in front of his body, but it also limited his ability to cover the whole plate, leaving the outer third unprotected.
In Stanton’s rookie season, he struck out 31.1 percent of the time, back when the league strikeout rate was just 18.5 percent compared to 2021’s all-time high of 23.77 percent. As a major league newbie, Stanton was playing an entirely different kind of baseball from basically everyone except Adam Dunn (who also struck out more than 30 per of the time in 2010).
To ameliorate some of the swing and miss in his game, Stanton had closed off his stance by the end of his run with the Florida Fish. Even though the greatest point of leverage in his swing was out in front of him with the barrel traveling across his body, he’d realigned his body to align his swing a bit more with the plane of the pitch.
The same ridiculous hip drive is still there with a contact point in front of his chest, but he’s physically angled more towards the plate, giving him better plate coverage.
This season, Stanton’s lost his timing and then his balance, leading to a preponderance of poor swings.
Still, occasionally he’s been able to launch balls on the basis of his herculean strength alone, but even then his swing is in pretty poor shape. Take this homer against the Angels in late June for instance:
On the Marlins, Stanton was all the way into the end of his follow-through before lifting his head and rising out of his stance to admire his moonshot. In this swing, it seems as though his foot flies open by force rather than by choice as the momentum of his hip turn carries him up and out of his stance instead of comfortably holding the turn without flying open. Perhaps Stanton’s hips are less mobile than they used to be, or more likely, as A-Rod suggested, he needs to start thinking about generating energy towards the second baseman.
Still, this of course is a home run swing — it’s not exactly “bad.” However, the mechanical deficiency on display here — the leakage of energy towards the left side of the field — opens the door to less consistent, weaker contact like this:
This 96.0 mph flyout would have been a homer at 105 mph or better had he not pulled off the ball at the last second, spoiling what would have otherwise been a fine swing. Also, this energy leakage has driven Stanton to drill more of his batted balls into the ground than ever. This year, Stanton has posted a 49.4 ground ball rate, way up from his career average in the low 40s.
Combining Stanton’s shaky mechanics with inconsistent timing has been a recipe for disaster, especially when he’s swinging at pitches as if he were crushing everything. In this particularly painful at-bat, Stanton found himself in a 3-0 count with two runners on-base; the perfect opportunity to take some pressure off of Gerrit Cole. A walk would load the bases and extend the inning, whereas anything more would radically augment the Yankees’ chances of winning.
Before Ryne Stanek even received his sign, everyone in the ballpark must have known what pitch was coming based on the count and situation. In order to get back into the count and avoid walking Stanton, Stanek had to throw a fastball. Still, dumbfoundingly, Stanton is so late to the pitch he knows is coming, it looks like he guessed off-speed. Stanton’s late-planted front foot gives him little time to read and react, and feel like he’s seeing the pitch. Instead, the mistake forces his front side to fly open in an attempt to catch up to the baseball, but still ends up on top of it and jammed. With an opportunity to deliver a back-breaking RBI or two, Stanton grounded into a double play, neutering the Yankees’ chance at a late-inning rally.
Stanton’s frequent tardiness and wavering mechanical foundation have made his offensive heroics come far too irregularly for a third-of-a-billion-dollar player. If he’s to get back on track, he needs to get his foot down as early as possible every time to give himself a chance of delivering competitive swings in each and every at-bat. Secondarily, he ought to start thinking about how to reorient the energy of his swing back through the box instead of trying so hard to pull the ball. If he doesn’t, the two inconsistencies will continue to frustratingly feed into each other, even if he stumbles into 25-plus homers on the basis of his gargantuan talent alone.