Giancarlo Stanton is always a question mark when it comes to injuries, but the Yankees know that at this point. After spending most of the 2019 and 2020 campaigns on the injured list, he has enjoyed better health in the last two seasons and put the numbers you have come to expect from one of the game’s true power stars.
Stanton has hit 66 home runs in the last two campaigns, yet he was much better in 2021 than 2022. In the former, he slashed .273/.354/.516 with a 137 wRC+, but in the latter, he was at .211/.297/.462 with a 115 wRC+.
Now, there were a couple of red flags last year that could help explain the steep decline in batting average from .273 to .211. For example, his strikeout rate increased from 27.1 percent to 30.3 percent, and the number of plate appearances wasn’t insignificant in both years (579 in 2021 and 452 in 2022). However, there are reasons to believe Stanton could have a bounceback season in 2023. A 3.2 percent increase in strikeout rate alone doesn’t explain a .062 drop in batting average. In fact, the .211 mark is flukier than the .273 one.
For starters, Stanton kept hitting the seams out of the baseball. He ranked in the 99th percentile in average exit velocity with 95 mph and in the 100th percentile in max exit velocity. Only Oneil Cruz hit a ball harder than him last year.
In one inning:— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) September 21, 2022
- Aaron Judge 60th home run
- Giancarlo Stanton walk-off grand slam
Over half of Stanton’s batted balls went over 95 mph. Hitting the ball hard is a nice foundation for a high BABIP, or batting average in balls in play. Randomness and luck (and other factors we will explain shortly) got in the way in 2022, though, and kept Stanton’s BABIP much lower than usual despite his encouraging batted ball profile.
The slugger’s career BABIP is .314, but it was just .227 in 2022. That is bound to change and creep closer to his career average provided he trades some grounders for liners. Stanton’s line drive rate was a meager 14.8 percent last year, down from 18.5 percent in 2021 and 18.1 in his career. Since he is not fast and is taking better care of his lower body, most groundballs that find gloves will be outs, bringing down his BABIP.
The other thing that doesn’t help his BABIP, of course, is home runs. Yes! Since they aren’t balls in play, they don’t count in the calculation. Many of his fly balls are home runs: in fact, his 30.4 HR/FB was one of the best marks of his career and speaks of his power ceiling for 2023.
Stanton is talented enough to bring that line drive rate up a bit, thus giving his BABIP a better chance of bouncing back and helping his average. His strikeout rate probably won’t decrease much at this point, though, which is why he probably won’t hit .300 or even .280. He can still be a major force at the plate with a .260 average, though.
Another stat that shows how unlucky Stanton was in 2022 is his expected wOBA, or xwOBA. His wOBA was .327, a disappointing mark for a hitter of his caliber. His .351 xwOBA, on the other hand, was actually better than what he did in 2018 during his first season with the Yankees. His xwOBAcon, or expected wOBA on contact, was .473, one of the best in the league and his highest since his stellar 2017 campaign in which he belted 59 homers with the Marlins. In other words, he is still inflicting a whole lot of damage when he hits the baseball and that bodes well for his 2023 outlook.
Stanton was a bit banged up in 2022 and lost significant time with injury, so a fresh start and a clean bill of health could work wonders for his performance this upcoming campaign. If Stanton can take his strikeout rate to the 27-28 percent range and his line drive rate to the 18-20 range, he could return similar value to his 2021 self. And 2021 Stanton was criminally underrated and didn’t get the recognition he deserved.