When he’s on, Giancarlo Stanton is on. The shot he hit on April 2nd was superhuman, yet felt totally reasonable. If somebody told me Stanton hit a ball to Brooklyn, I might believe it. In 2022, though, Yankee fans watched Big G whiff on pitches breaking away from him out of the zone on a more consistent basis than ever.
Don’t get me wrong — he has above average plate discipline as a whole. For these purposes, I’m talking only about pitches in this specific location. Both his chase rate and whiff rate are through the roof in these zones only. This is more of a bad habit than anything else, as Stanton has a long record of solid performance overall with the Yankees.
In 2022, Stanton whiffed on 76 percent of swings on pitches out of the zone low and away:
Anthony Rizzo, a power hitter like Stanton albeit a lefty, whiffed on only 28 percent of pitches breaking away from him:
The indomitable Aaron Judge whiffed at a 63 percent rate on junk low and away, an above average mark, but still significantly less than Stanton:
Stanton’s high chase rate on a pitch so far out of the zone could be explained by the difficulty of hitting with two strikes. Junk out of the zone is usually thrown with two strikes, with the hitter on the defensive protecting the plate, so the whiff percentage could be skewed.
Thus, another helpful visual to paint a more complete picture is strikeout percentage. In these two strike situations, when a pitcher entices Stanton with a waste pitch low and away, he obliges and chases almost 60 percent of the time. Also note the overall trend that he strikes out at a far higher rate on outside pitches than inside pitches. It’s not at all uncommon for a slugger like Big G, and certainly doesn’t stop him from being an elite hitter and the esteemed exit velocity king. However, this drastic data might make it easier for opposing pitchers to gameplan for Stanton. If you can get him to two strikes, the book on him becomes easy.
It’s perhaps unfair to compare these numbers to 2017 when he hit 59 home runs, but the swing profile has changed completely. 2017 is much more balanced both within and outside of the strike zone, offering less of a pattern than in 2022. The difference indicates more ‘selling out’ for the inside pitch in 2022. Is it a change of approach as a result of age and reduced bat speed?
In regards to overall swing percentage, Stanton had a habit of chasing pitches he couldn’t hit with an oar in 2022. Pay particular attention to pitches not even adjacent to the strike zone. Overall no matter the count, Stanton chases almost a third of pitches low and away over a foot from the strike zone.
League average chase rate on these zones is significantly lower than Stanton’s, at 26 percent and 18 percent.
These should be easy takes, and on average they are. To some degree, a nasty slider that starts on the outside corner is going to generate some whiffs from any hitter. Stanton, though, swings at 31-33 percent of these almost un-hittable pitches.
For a hitter as skilled as Stanton, it’s not necessarily a hole in his swing, but rather indicates a strategic concession he made with his approach in 2022. He owned the inside half of the plate and mashed inside pitches both to the pull side and to the opposite field. This gave him the freedom to focus on that half of the plate — but the drastic two-strike whiff rates are a downside of his approach. Failure to lay off pitches off the outside corner is mostly to blame for his 30.3 percent strikeout rate in 2022, his highest rate in a healthy season of 100+ games since his rookie year.
Again, this isn’t necessarily an impactful flaw, but it is a concerning trend in a season in which he had a 115 wRC+, a fine mark but the lowest of his career. Stanton is a preternaturally gifted power hitter who hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down. This approach just might be indicative of age slowly creeping in. Until it does, though, Big G will keep hitting 500-foot nukes no matter his approach.