A Look at Giancarlo Stanton’s Performance in 2021
A look at Giancarlo Stanton’s performance in 2021
By Chris O’Connor
June 24, 2021
Giancarlo Stanton is a very good hitter. I discussed at length earlier in the year how badly his contract is aging and how the Yankees are needlessly allowing it to hamstring them, but that is not necessarily a criticism of Stanton as a player. While he may never again repeat his otherworldly 2017 season where hit 59 homers and drove in 132 runs, Stanton remains a very productive hitter in his age-31 season. With the team’s well-documented hitting struggles, it seems like his performance this year has flown a bit under the radar. As we near the halfway point in the season, I wanted to take a look at Stanton’s performance thus far.
Stanton has played in 51 out of 71 games and has slashed .265/.343/.508 for a WRC+ of 132. He also has 13 home runs and 36 RBI’s, putting him on pace for 30 home runs and 82 RBI’s in 116 games. If he can play in that many games and maintain his current raw output, I think that it would have to be considered a win considering the injuries that have robbed him of much of the past two years. Where he has really struggled, however, is on the bases. Stanton’s injuries have robbed him of his speed. As recently as 2018, he was in the 70th percentile in sprint speed; he is currently in the 11th percentile, and anyone that watches Yankees games can clearly see that he either does not or can not run hard on the bases. Per Fangraphs baserunning metric, Stanton has been the fourth-worst base runner in the sport (interestingly, Gio Urshela has been by far the worst. The difference between Urshela and the second worst player is equivalent to the difference between second and twenty-third). This, combined with the fact that he is a DH only at this point, has him at just 1.0 bWAR and 0.8 fWAR despite hitting the ball mostly as well as ever. Still, if he can maintain his current offensive production, it has to be considered a positive.
Stanton walk rate and strikeout rates are in line with his career norms. His 2019 and 2020 were plagued by injuries, so it is probably better to compare his present profile as a hitter to his last full season, 2018. His walk rate is up slightly from 2018 and his strikeout rate is down slightly, but there is nothing meaningful there. Where Stanton is really thriving is in his quality of contact. His average exit velocity is an absurd 97.4 mph; that easily leads the league and is far and away a career high. The same is true for his hard hit rate, where his career average is 49.6%. This season, it is 61.5%. What I really like about Stanton this year is that he is using the whole field more: his pull rate is a career low and his opposite field rate is a career high. Stanton, like Aaron Judge, does not need to pull the ball to generate power and hit home runs. If he can use the whole field, he can diversify his offensive approach without sacrificing power. That is a great step in becoming a more complete hitter.
The big problem that I have seen with Stanton’s hitting this year is the same as the problem of the Yankees hitters as a whole: too many ground balls. His ground ball rate has ballooned to close to 50% this year, easily a career high and well past his career average of 42.5%. Similarly, his launch angle has sunk to 9.2 degrees after settling in the 11-15 degree range for much of his career. This is why, despite hitting the ball harder than ever more frequently than ever, he has just seven doubles and no triples thus far. Plus, while 36 home runs is obviously nothing to complain about, Stanton has proven to be capable of more. It is frustrating how many times he has grounded absolute missiles this year that have resulted in mere singles. This would be the case for all hitters but goes double for Stanton as his baserunning is not only extremely poor, but having a player who is not physically capable of playing the outfield run the bases puts him at risk for injury. There is, however, no easy solution. Perhaps a reason for his stellar batted ball profile is his disregard for launch angle, and perhaps chasing more fly balls would result in one of his prolonged slumps.
Ultimately, Stanton is still a very good hitter. While his injuries, contract, and inability to play the field is a constant frustration for many, I do not think any hitter in the league is capable of putting more fear into pitchers’ hearts than a hot Giancarlo Stanton. In a 13 game stretch from April 21st to May 6th, he slashed .446/.475/.839, hit 6 home runs, and was worth 1.1 fWAR. That, of course, means that he has been below replacement-level in the other 38 games that he has played in. He was the scapegoat in the Yankees 2018 ALDS loss to the Red Sox, striking out 6 times and consistently failing spectacularly in the clutch. He also hit 6 home runs and had a 254 WRC+ in 7 playoff games last year. Such is life on the Giancarlo Stanton train.