Giancarlo Stanton was booed once again by Yankees fans over the weekend, this time after striking out for the fourth time against the Angels on Sunday. Strikeouts have come at a frustrating rate for Stanton in 2018, having already racked up 69 in just 50 games. Fans want to see Stanton trotting around the bases rather than trudging back to the dugout, but the latter is happening much more often during his first few months in pinstripes.
Despite his periods of intense struggles, Stanton has managed to be a productive player, holding a 114 OPS+ while mashing left-handed pitching. Still, the Yankees want to see the bonafide star that Stanton is, and believe he will eventually break out like he did in the summer of 2017. If Stanton is to do that, he will have to become a more disciplined hitter like he was in last year’s MVP season.
Stanton was much more than a home run machine in 2017. Sure, he struck out 163 times, but his strikeout rate improved immensely from 2016, dropping from 29.8 to 23.6 percent, which was also the lowest mark of his career. When arguably the best power hitter in the game adds a more disciplined approach at the plate to his arsenal, you get an unstoppable force. That’s what Stanton was last year.
The discipline is missing from Stanton so far in 2018. Could he be pressing a bit as he tries to win over the Yankee Stadium crowds in his first season in pinstripes? Maybe. After all, his wRC+ at home is just 84 compared to 154 on the road. Whatever the reason, Stanton is chasing pitches at an alarming rate, and it’s resulted in a painful amount of swings and misses. Here’s Stanton’s swings outside of the strike zone, per FanGraphs:
You can see how much Stanton’s patience improved in 2017, only to crash back down this season. Too often have Yankees fans watched Stanton flail at a breaking ball in the dirt early in the count, or chase a two-strike fastball at his neck. When he connects, the ball still goes a mile. The challenge for Stanton right now is to just make solid contact, which has been a struggle for much of the season.
Have pitchers made adjustments to Stanton after last season’s dominance, resulting in a decline in production? Not really, at least not based on location. Here is what Stanton has seen from opposing pitchers this season compared to last. The 2017 graph is directly below, with 2018 at the bottom:
The graphs are almost identical. Stanton has seen similar pitching this season, but has been unable to lay off the junk. If there’s any difference to be seen, it’s in the fastballs, which Stanton has not been able to resist. Here’s what Stanton has seen this season in terms of fastball location, again with 2017 on top:
Note the spike in fastballs above the strike zone. Stanton will continue to see this until he shows opposing pitchers that he can lay off the high heat. Last year, when Stanton was more patient, pitchers had to creep closer to the strike zone, and Stanton would make them pay.
Until Stanton shows he can keep his swing within the strike zone, he won’t see anything in his wheelhouse. He is still one of the best hitters in the game and is more than capable of making that adjustment. The home run barrage will come. Stanton, and Yankees fans, just need to practice some patience.