Here’s the thing about Giancarlo Stanton: He’s having a sub-par season when compared to his career numbers, not just his MVP season in 2017. But this is where I need to be clear: A sub-par Giancarlo Stanton is one of the top 10-20 players in the American League, period. It was nonsensical for fans to boo him earlier in the season and it’s nonsensical for the simpletons over at Simpleton Summer Camp to constantly harp on his “struggles”. Throw in that he’s switched positions and played injured and I’m thinking a little slack-cutting is warranted.
But the fact is, he is having a sub-par season. So I went digging into the numbers to see if there was an explanation or if this is all due to randomness – which as I’ve said before, makes up a FAR larger part of players’ and teams’ performances than most fans and broadcasters realize.
How “sub-par” exactly is his 2018 season?
When compared to his career numbers, this season his strikeout percentage and chase rate are both up. His base on balls percentage is down as is his OBP, SLG, wRC+, OPS+, production versus sliders and cutters, and overall contact percentage.
So that’s it. He’s swinging more, hitting less, chasing balls that break down and away. Simple, right?
The percentage of balls he’s hit that were line drives this season is up over his career average, as is his percentage of batted balls hit hard, his average exit velocity, the percentage of balls hit to center and right field, the percentage of balls hit on a line or on the ground and his batting average on balls in play (BABIP).
So he’s hitting it harder than he ever has, on a line more often, to center and right field more often and has a higher BABIP as a result. Those are all good things. Right …?
So what gives?
Is it randomness? A BABIP higher than the career average would suggest good luck, not bad. But the percentage of runners on base he’s driven in dropped from 18% in 2017 to 13% in ’18. No, that doesn’t mean lack of “clutch” because you know there’s no such thing as “clutch” by now, don’t you? Those numbers would suggest poor fortune.
Has there been a technical change in his swing or stance? More balls the other way, more line drives, and ground balls. But then why more swings and misses against balls that break down and away? Those two things aren’t congruent.
A philosophical change perhaps? Trying to beat the shift* with balls on a line and on the ground the other way as opposed to pulling it in the air? But why do that coming off a Hall of Fame level season? That doesn’t make sense either.
If you know the reason, you’re smarter than I am. But I’m going with the ups and downs of baseball. Players who hit 600 home runs over 20 years don’t hit 30 each year. Players who get 3,000 hits over 20 years don’t get 150 every year. A lot has changed for him personally and professionally over the past 12 months which can’t be disregarded. Remember, ARod had an all-time MVP season in 2003 then came to the Yankees and did well in ’04 but sub-par by his standards (albeit All Star, Hall of Fame level by anyone else’s standards). Then in ’05 he won another MVP with what was the 2nd best season of his career. Maybe adjusting to a different environment is harder to do than we acknowledge – players are human, after all. (Again, ironically, fans who hate numbers are the ones who forget this and fans who preach statistical analysis are generally more forgiving of players’ slumps.)
Whatever the case, if we’re “stuck” with this Stanton I’m fine – he’s the 2nd best player on a team with a lot of very good players. But if I’m right, we’re in for some Giancarlo fireworks in 2019.
*This reminds me of a story I just read about Ted Williams. In the late 1940s teams were shifting against him pretty heavily. One day in batting practice after hitting one frozen rope after another into right field (or the right field seats), he turned to the catcher and said “Watch this.”
He then lined the next pitch into left field. He turned to the catcher and said “I can do that anytime I want…” Then he pointed to right field and said “…but my money is out there.”