What in the world is wrong with Giancarlo Stanton? After an anemic first few weeks of the season, it seemed as though he had figured it out when he went on an absolute tear in May, including a 10-game stretch where he singlehandedly carried the offensive load when the team was ravaged by a COVID-19 outbreak. In the first half of the season, Stanton slashed .270/.364/.484 with 15 home runs and 42 RBI.
Since the All-Star break, however, Stanton has simply looked lost at the plate. In 60 plate appearances since the break, Stanton has posted an abysmal .176/.300/.275 line with just one home run and four runs driven in while striking out 22 times. Giancarlo Stanton’s Statcast data can provide a few clues as to what has changed for Stanton this season. Because Stanton was injured for the majority of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, I will be looking specifically at datasets from 2015-2018 and 2021.
Let’s start with Stanton’s plate discipline. While it is great to see that his Chase Percentage is the lowest it has been since his 2017 MVP campaign, his in-zone numbers leave a lot to be desired. 2019 and 2020 notwithstanding, Stanton’s Zone Swing Percentage and Zone Contact Percentage are the lowest they have been since 2015, dropping nearly three points from his career average.
To make matters worse, Stanton’s First Pitch Swing Percentage is also the lowest it has been since 2015 while his Whiff Percentage is the highest it has been since that same year. Additionally, his Meatball Swing Percentage — a metric that sounds made up but is actually used to determine the amount of swings generated on middle-middle pitches — is over seven points lower than his career average.
In short, Statcast’s plate discipline breakdown shows us that Stanton is taking too many pitches in the zone while not making enough contact when he does swing at pitches in the zone. These statistical drop-offs paint a picture of a hitter who is being far less aggressive at the plate and, as a result, is missing mistakes and not making solid contact on the pitches he has historically pummeled.
To anyone who has joyfully watched Giancarlo Stanton straight up murder baseballs throughout his career, you will be pleased to know that his 57.4 percent Hard Hit Percentage in 2021 is actually the highest rate of his career. His Barrel Percentage is a different story, though. Defined as the perfect combination of launch angle and exit velocity, Stanton’s Barrel Percentage is the lowest it has been since Statcast started tracking this sort of thing in 2015.
As a result of his steep drop-off in barrels, Stanton is hitting groundballs in just over 50 percent of his at-bats, a rate we have never seen from him before, while his flyball percentage has dropped to a career-low rate and his line drive percentage has dropped nearly two percentage points from his career average.
Stanton’s spray chart has also taken a hit. For a guy who gets shifted as much as Stanton does (he has been shifted only 15.2 percent of the time this season, but his career average prior to this year was roughly 34 percent), he is actually pulling the ball at a career-low rate while shooting the ball to the opposite field at a clip that is over six percentage points higher than his career numbers.
Though he is hitting the ball harder than he ever has, his career-low Barrel Percentage, when combined with his struggles with hitting pitches in the zone and his inability to get the ball in the air, suggests that his opposite field hitting has less to do with beating the shift/imitating DJ LeMahieu and more to do with a poor approach and lack of timing at the plate.
What does this Statcast data mean for Stanton’s actual performance? Through 83 games, Stanton’s wOBA is concerningly low, sitting at .349 — a mark that is exactly 30 points below his career average — while his wRC+ sits at a nearly-career-worst 122. Though these numbers actually rank second on the team amongst full-time players, they are actually just slightly above league average, according to FanGraphs’ evaluation system.
As seen in the graph above, however, Stanton’s season has been far streakier than the overall numbers suggest. After a rough start over the first three-plus weeks in April where he amassed a brutal .280 wOBA (.308 xwOBA) and 76 wRC+, Stanton started trending in the right direction and went on to post a .366 wOBA (.372 xwOBA) and 134 wRC+ — all of which hover right around FanGraphs’ “Great” indicator — in the first half. In the 14 games since the break, though, Stanton has only managed to amass a .267 wOBA and 68 wRC+. As a result, his numbers — both traditional and advanced — have plummeted and we have had to watch a lot of these types of swings over the last couple weeks:
Even though Stanton is in the midst of a down season and a particularly terrible stretch, he is still playing above-average baseball on the whole. The simple truth is, however, Stanton putting up an above-average season is simply not enough. The data shows that Giancarlo Stanton puts up his best numbers when he is aggressive and attacking everything in the zone. We have yet to see that approach from Stanton this season, and it is hurting both him and the team.
As the additions of Gallo and Rizzo at the trade deadline showed, the Yankees are all in on this team. If they want to make a serious run at the postseason, though, they need Giancarlo Stanton to get right again, and that means getting aggressive at the plate, hunting mistakes, and getting the ball off the ground. Hitting a few more bombs wouldn’t hurt either.