Get Stanton in the Field. It Matters!
Get Rid of the Kid Gloves: The Yankees Need to Start Playing Giancarlo Stanton in the Outfield Again
by Chris O’Connor
July 30, 2021
When the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton in December 2017, it was known at the time that he had a pretty lengthy injury history. While he was coming off an MVP season that saw him play in 159 games, he had played in more than 123 games just twice in his other six full pro seasons (not including his debut year). In his first year with the Yankees, he was a virtual iron man: He played in 158 games and carried the offense throughout July and August when Aaron Judge missed time due to a hit-by-pitch on the wrist.
The injuries, however, caught up to him in 2019. He played in just 18 games that year due to a variety of ailments ranging from his biceps to his shoulders, but he was able to play the outfield in 13 of those games. He returned for the playoffs and played in a few games (notably homering in the Yankees Game 1 win in the ALCS against the Astros), but he was forced to miss the final four games of the ALCS due to a quad injury.
In the shortened 2020, he played in just 23 games, missing time due to a hamstring injury despite being used exclusively as a DH. Once again, he was able to return for the playoffs, and he did not show any rust. He had 6 homers and 13 RBI’s in the seven playoff games, but the team fell to the eventual pennant-winning Rays in a tight 5-game series.
In 2021, he has been able to stay relatively healthy. He has played in 78 of the Yankees 98 games thus far, putting him on pace for 129 on the season. Like 2020, however, he has been used exclusively as a DH. At this point, he has played just 13 games in the outfield since 2018. Still, I think that it is time to rip off the kid gloves. The Yankees have to start using Giancarlo Stanton in the outfield due to the ceiling on his overall impact as a DH and the desperation of the current team.
The Yankees are not maximizing the value out of both Giancarlo Stanton and the rest of their roster when they limit him to DH duties. Let’s start with Stanton. Every baseball fan knows that not every position is created equally. Catcher and shortstop are generally seen as the two most difficult positions to play, so it makes players who can man those positions less replaceable than, say, a first baseman or a corner outfielder.
While not a perfect stat, WAR does adjust for position in its calculations: Baseball Reference estimates that a catcher is worth, on average, nine wins over the course of a full season, the highest of any position; DH’s, the lowest of any position, are estimated to be worth -15 runs. Anybody can DH, but not everybody can catch. Thus, DH’s are measured on a much higher standard from an offensive standpoint.
With his bat this year, Stanton has been solid, if unspectacular. A .260/.353/.462 slash line, 16 homers, 46 RBI’s, and a 124 OPS + slash line in about half a season is not bad by any means. By WAR, Stanton has been basically a league-average player. With the positional adjustment for a DH, he has been worth just 1.2 bWAR. Fangraphs is even less bullish, pegging him at 0.9 WAR. With his offensive numbers, to estimate what he would be worth if he was playing the field, look no further than 2018 (assuming his defense has not fallen off a cliff since then, which is not a safe assumption. Still, just playing left field provides more value than DHing). He had a similar slash line of .266/.343/.509 with 38 homers for an OPS+ of 130, but was worth 4.4 bWAR despite having below-average defensive metrics. Just having Stanton play the outfield might be the difference between having a league-average player and an All-Star caliber one. That alone justifies the increased injury risk of him playing the field.
The risk is further justified when considering the makeup of the Yankees roster and the context of this season. The Yankees lineup has a number of underperforming players, but perhaps no position as a whole has been a black hole as much as left field. Yankees left fielders have cumulatively been worth -2.0 bWAR, second worst in the majors. Left field, of course, is Stanton’s natural position, so plugging him in there could fill a gaping hole in the lineup. DH could then be filled on a rotating basis.
The addition of Joey Gallo clouds this a little, but not much. Aaron Judge or Gallo can play in center with Stanton then getting innings in left field or right field.
Being an exclusive DH not only limits Stanton’s value, but it handicaps the versatility of the rest of the roster. The Yankees have a few glaring holes that can be patched up by putting Stanton in the field.
As I write this, the Yankees are 53-48 and 3.5 games back of the second wild card spot. This has been a pretty brutal season for the team, but missing the playoffs would be a complete disaster. This is not 2016. This Yankees team had legitimate World Series hopes entering the season. I know Hal is not exactly his father, but what would he think spending over $200 million on a team that did not make the playoffs? The Red Sox did that in 2019 and subsequently fired their general manager and traded the league MVP. And remember, that was after they won the World Series in 2018. The Yankees, even in their streak of four straight playoff appearances, have won exactly one division title since 2012. Not to mention not having been to a World Series since 2009. The Yankees need to maximize every chance they have at making the playoffs this year. An appearance as the second wild card team would not be ideal, but I refuse to believe that there is no point in gunning for it. There are no 2018 Red Sox or 2019 Astros in the American League this year. While the Yankees have struggled against the Red Sox this year, they are a combined 6-3 against the other two division leaders, the White Sox and Astros. Putting Gerrit Cole on the mound in the Wild Card game has to make fans confident regardless of the opponent, and then the Yankees would be right back in the World Series mix.
The Yankees can look to the Los Angeles Angels for the model. The Angels are a similarly desperate team: a large market, high payroll team that has underachieved in recent years. The added pressure on the Angels is to give Mike Trout a chance to add to his legacy in the playoffs. They have been to the playoffs just once since his debut and were promptly swept in the first round. Like the Yankees, the Angels had an injury-prone star player in Shohei Ohtani who just could not stay on the field despite the restrictions put on him that were designed to keep him healthy. They finally reached the point entering this year where they were desperate to maximize his value in an attempt to make the playoffs, so they eliminated all restrictions in his game. I loved this move at the time because there comes a point where the bubble wrap has to come off. The Angels have been rewarded with an MVP season from Ohtani (despite sitting outside of the playoff picture).
With regards to Stanton, what do the Yankees have to lose? What they are doing now is simply not working. If he gets injured playing the field, at least they tried to maximize his production. As previously mentioned, DH is the most replaceable position in the sport. They would just rotate guys in that spot who might need a break from time to time.
Despite such a talented roster, the Yankees are floundering. This is a move that can help them salvage the season, and I think that they should be desperate enough to try it.