The Yankees had a number of questions to answer entering 2022. It was hard to predict just what the Yankees would get out of starting pitchers like Luis Severino and Nestor Cortes. They had apparent holes at shortstop, catcher, and center field, and a number of veterans, such as DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres, coming off down 2021 campaigns.
Not among the many worries heading into the year were regarding Giancarlo Stanton’s at the plate. That’s not to say that Stanton didn’t keep many of us up at night for some reasons, namely his ability to stay on the field and his chances of aging gracefully through a long-term contract. But when healthy, his prowess at the plate has never been a problem, or even really close to in questions. That is, up until this year.
It’s the end of September, and the former NL MVP will all but surely finish with the worst hitting campaign of his career, and as a twist, it will come in his first All-Star season in the Bronx. Some of that has to do with the fact that Stanton was actually playing fairly well, or at least near to his standards through most of the first half, but since coming back from injury, he hasn’t been the same.
Stanton is currently slashing .212/.299/.457. All marks would comfortably rank last in his illustrious career. Sure, part of the lows is due to the marked regression in offense leaguewide, but career lows aren’t ideal no matter how you splice it.
A few days ago, our own Sam Chapman wrote about Stanton’s struggles, and the root of them being his inability to do any sort of damage against fastballs. He’s seeing a big decline in production versus heaters, down from what was already a very mediocre first-half showing against the pitch type.
It’s visible through this graphic of his wOBA over his last 200 plate appearances, that Stanton’s production has taken quite the nose dive
Pitchers and opposing teams scout and prepare with more due diligence and attention to detail than probably a lot of the average fan realizes, and Stanton is in line to see the highest percentage of fastballs he’s seen in a Yankee uniform, currently at 34.3. At the moment, opponents see his inability to square up heat, particularly since coming off the injured list, and have attacked the weakness.
There is plenty to be down about with Stanton’s production at the plate. Looking at this roster, with Aaron Judge obviously playing out of his mind, and Anthony Rizzo providing exactly what the Yankees wanted at the plate, and the likes of Torres coming around, the Yankee lineup feels like it’s another great hitter away from looking terrifying, as it did in the first half. Stanton is the one the Yankees need to step up to really lengthen the lineup, and he doesn’t look up to the task at the moment .
But unlike some struggling hitters, such as Josh Donaldson, who seems to finally be declining in his late career, and DJ LeMahieu who clearly not has not been 100% in some time, Stanton’s shown reason for optimism in his underlying numbers.
First and foremost, you want to look at some basic things when evaluating a hitter, and his capacity to bounce back and elevate his production. Nuts and bolts things, like walk rate, strikeout rate, contact quality.
For Giancarlo Stanton in 2022, he is walking at a 11.1 percent rate, and striking out 29.1 percent of the time. Both numbers are well in line with his career marks of 11.6 and 28.1 respectively. So far, fine.
When it comes to hitting the ball hard, Stanton is pretty much always going to do that to a certain extent; the man is simply a unicorn in a baseball field, and when he makes the contact, the ball flies. That hasn’t really changed, even as he’s struggled. Stanton’s hard contact rate, which measures the number of balls he’s hit at or above 95 mph, currently sits at 31.4, not that far off from what he put up in 2021, and better than in other recent seasons. By Baseball Savant, he remains in the top two percent of the league.
The biggest difference between the Stanton of now and of the recent past is his performance on balls in play. Stanton’s current career low in BABIP came in 2017 with a .288 mark. He is in line to completely shatter mark with a .228 number this season.
It’s simplistic to just look at a low BABIP and curse the baseball gods, but there’s also no reason to think Stanton will fare this poorly when putting the ball in play forever. Stanton has never had a track record of consistently underperforming his underlying metrics, and his career BABIP mark is well above .300. While he’s certainly not a burner on the base paths, he scalds the ball, and sprays the field well, meaning it shouldn’t be easy for an opposing defense to shift effectively and suppress Stanton on balls in play with a well-positioned defense.
If Stanton keeps taking walks as he has and generating hard contact, he should bounce back at least a bit, to become one of the Yankees’ more trusted bats in the middle of the order. They need more than just Judge, and Stanton should be the one to give them more. If he can, they’ll look that much scarier come playoff time.