The question of whether or not Giancarlo Stanton should play the outfield has been asked and answered. Given the complexities of the Yankees’ roster, manager Aaron Boone has much more flexibility writing out the lineup card when Stanton is in the outfield, and the lineup is significantly deeper when the DH spot is open. Additionally, no one would argue that the not quite full-time DH role with strict “load management” was working out well by anyone’s standards. Quite simply, the Yankees are a better team when Stanton is in the outfield.
Moreover, whether Stanton playing the field makes him a better hitter has also been asked and answered. Stanton has been red hot since stretching out his legs in the outfield grass in between at-bats instead of sitting on the bench. Although to be fair, August has been Stanton’s best month by far throughout the course of his career (.382 OBP, .608 SLG, 74 HR in 979 career August PA) so he likely would’ve started vaporizing baseballs on August 1st, regardless.
Since it seems clear Stanton should be spending time in the outfield, and looks like he will be at least on a semi-regular basis, the question that becomes most important is “How good of an outfielder is he?” The answer to that question will guide Aaron Boone in deciding how often Stanton should play the outfield, which outfield position should he play, and whether or not he’ll need to be replaced in later innings for defensive purposes.
Let’s start by looking at some numbers, with two caveats: First, defensive metrics are imperfect – we all know that, but let’s not throw out the “good” in search of “perfect” - imperfect doesn’t mean useless. Secondly, we have a much larger data sample from Stanton’s days with the Marlins to go on than with the Yankees, but he has played in 100 games as a Yankee outfielder, which isn’t insignificant.
Here are his Outs Above Average figures, according to Statcast:
*Note: He did not play any games in the outfield in 2020, and only played as a right fielder for the Marlins from 2016 – 2017.
|Season||Total OAA||As RF||As LF|
|Season||Total OAA||As RF||As LF|
Going by OAA, he was essentially a pretty good outfielder in 2016 and has been more or less league average since. There are a few other things worth noting with regards to his Statcast numbers: Stanton has a career plus 1% added to his expected catch percentage. This indicates that he may not end up on highlight reels too often, but making catches he wasn’t expected to hasn’t been uncommon.
Secondly (and perhaps more importantly), historically Stanton’s been better at coming in on fly balls than going back on them. This might be crucial when deciding when to put him in the lineup as an outfielder and whether or not to put him in left or right field, depending on the stadium you’re in. Hypothetically, if you were playing in a stadium with a very short porch in right field, he’d be less likely to misplay a ball because there isn’t very far for an outfielder to retreat. Conversely, if you’re playing in a stadium with a right-field wall that’s more than a 7-iron away, you might not be putting the player in the best position to succeed…
Not that this play was an easy one (it was ruled a double) but Stanton didn’t make the catch because he made the mistake of turning towards center field instead of the foul line on a ball more or less directly overhead. (A ball that’s pulled will hook – if it’s an opposite-field shot, it will slice. Either way, the spin will take it in the direction of the foul line.) I mention this not as a criticism of Stanton, but more as something that can be remedied with time and coaching.
Obviously, we don’t need to worry about his throwing ability. The smart folks over at FanGraphs have his arm rated above average over the course of his career, and as noted on a recent YES broadcast, Statcast lists him as a “red light” if you’re a runner thinking of taking an extra base on Giancarlo.
At his worst, Stanton has been an average outfielder overall, and a little better than average at other times. Now that we’re clear on what he’s been, the better question is “What can we expect ongoing?”
More consistent reps certainly aren’t going to hurt his ability to read batted balls off the bat and run efficient routes. It also must be noted that despite being an 11-year veteran, he’s only 31 years old – he’s still a relatively young, incredibly athletic person, theoretically still in his prime.
If you’re concerned about his overall running speed, or lack thereof, I wouldn’t be overly troubled. Although he currently ranks in the 12th percentile in MLB in sprint speed, as recently as 2018 he was ranked in the 69th percentile. I wouldn’t completely disregard this season’s metrics, but I think it’s safe to say he’s less likely to “bust it” in many situations this season with long-term health in mind. That certainly seems more plausible than a fast 28-year-old turning glacially slow by age-31.
Speaking of health, we can’t wrap this discussion up without injury concerns, as his have been extensive and well-documented. A usage strategy that tries to minimize injury should never be completely disregarded, of course. At the same time, as someone with a background in injury prevention, I could easily make a case that moving around the outfield in between at-bats might keep Stanton more loose and healthy than whatever he was doing in the dugout and clubhouse in between DH at-bats – a strategy that wasn’t doing a very good job of preventing injuries, I might add.
All of that is to say, given the fact that the team can be so much better when is in the lineup as an outfielder, Stanton has to be in the lineup as an outfielder more often than not. His defense is certainly not going to cost the Yankees many runs, and he may even save a few here or there. If Aaron Boone picks his spots right and puts Stanton in the outfield when playing in stadiums with small outfields (right field at Yankee Stadium, left field in Fenway, either in Camden Yards, as a few examples) he might be a better than average outfielder given his ability to come in on balls and his arm strength.
To me, the alternative of using him mostly as a DH and only as a part-time outfielder only hurts the team. Having a nice car is no fun if you let it sit in the driveway out of fear of putting miles on it.