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  • Mike Whiteman

Hopeful for Giancarlo

by Mike Whiteman

March 6, 2023


Back in 2017, the Yankees were coming off a surprisingly resurgent season, lead by the “Baby Bombers” of rookie Aaron Judge with his 52 home runs and catcher Gary Sanchez’s 33 home run season at age 24. Sweet swinging lefty first baseman Greg Bird (remember him?) looked to be coming back to good health. Young studs Clint Frazier and Gleyber Torres were on the way. The youth movement was fruitful earlier than expected, and the future looked bright. Then, seemingly out of the blue, GM Brian Cashman pulled a stunner – he dealt for reigning National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton was coming off of his monster 2017 season in which at age 27 he smacked 59 home runs. Yankee fans salivated at the thought of Stanton and Judge batting in the same lineup, putting up 80, 90, maybe even 100 home runs a season between the two of them. Well….things haven’t always gone according to plan. There were concerns about Stanton’s ability to stay healthy, but he was coming off a season in which he played 159 games and was in the midst of the physical prime of his career. All it took for the Yanks to pick up this player with generationally elite power was the easily replaceable infielder Starlin Castro, two minor leaguers, and the willingness to pay most of the $325 million contract he had signed with the Marlins. Excitement was in the air, and the newest edition of the Bronx Bombers would start in 2018 and be bound to eventually rank among the greats in franchise history. Stanton’s 2018 season was good, but not great. He struggled with a hamstring injury but stayed in the lineup and his 38 home runs was welcome in a summer in which Judge missed significant time due to a broken wrist (hit by pitch), and Sanchez cratered to hit .186 with only 18 homers. Acclimating to New York isn’t always easy, and not all imported stars excel right away. Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez are players who arrived with huge expectations and struggled at times early in their Yankee tenure, eventually going on to star in Pinstripes. Certainly, Stanton would join this group. Unfortunately, 2019 was a lost season due to bicep and knee injuries, and he appeared in only 18 contests. The 2020 season was dominated by the coping with COVID, but Stanton flashed his talent by batting .308 with six home runs in the postseason. Yankee fans finally saw both Stanton and Judge at or near the top of their games together in 2021. They fueled a resurgence in the second half, pushing the team to a .630 winning percentage after the All-Star break and postseason appearance. 2022 was a tale of two seasons, a first half capped with an All-Star game appearance and the MVP award, and a sub-.200 second half marred by an Achilles injury. What will 2023 bring? Stanton is now 33 years old and has earned the “brittle” label. It’s hard to predict his performance with any reliability because of this. The talent is still there – Statcast numbers show this. Stanton was among the top six in all MLB qualifiers in: Maximum Exit Velocity – 119.8 MPH Average Exit Velocity – 95.0 MPH Hard Hit Percentage – 52.3% Barrels Percentage per Batted Ball Event – 19.3% Barrels per percentage of Plate Attempts – 11.3% The interesting thing about these numbers is that they don’t look that much different than his 2017 output. The bottom line: When Stanton makes contact, the ball flies.

Therein lies the issue. In 2022, Stanton struck out 30.3% of the time, one of the worst marks in the game. In 2017, he whiffed 23.6% of the time. His numbers were just brutal in the second half of 2022, striking out almost 40% of the time. Stanton missed a month after the All-Star break with his injury, and sure didn’t look fully healed when he returned. His final numbers - .211 batting average, .462 slugging percentage, 31 home runs, left fans feeling dissatisfied. His .188 postseason average left a bad taste going into the offseason. Stanton's physical presence and set of skills make for one of the more unique players in baseball history, so it’s tough to chart a path to the rest of his career. Baseball - Reference lists Harmon Killebrew, Jose Canseco, Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt, Jim Thome, and Reggie Jackson among those with similar careers up to age 32. A quick look at the later stages of their careers indicate that they didn’t necessarily start to strike out with more frequency as they aged. I would surmise that the contact made was of poor quality, and statistics suffered as a result.

Those career tracks, along with his recent hard hitting tendencies, give me hope that Stanton still has productive years left in New York. As I said earlier, when he makes contact, the ball flies. Based on how his contact rate tanked in the second half of the season, a reasonable link can be made between Stanton’s health and contact rate. So, it’s crucial to keep Stanton healthy in 2023. Much is made of the issue of Stanton playing the outfield. He himself has expressed a desire to play the field more. Interestingly, this really doesn’t have the impact on his performance we may think it does. Here’s his breakdown in Pinstripes:

As a DH - .253/.344/504 As an outfielder - .269/.342/.509 A player with his extensive history of strains (quad, groin, shoulder, calf, hamstring…) is seemingly at risk any time he makes a sudden move. Each time Stanton plays the outfield, his very real injury chance increases. Now, I’ve said before I don’t want to see Stanton become Nelson Cruz, a DH-only player. The Yankees benefit from the lineup flexibility of having him play some outfield, but if I’m Aaron Boone, I’m not pushing him too hard. I’m not realistically hoping for an MVP performance, but he can still be an impact player. If you combine the second half of 2021 and the first half of 2022, Stanton ripped 44 home runs and drove in 116 runs over 146 games. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Yanks played .667 ball over that time. A productive Stanton makes a lineup with DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres go, and takes some pressure off some of the primary glove guys like Jose Trevino and Harrison Bader. We all would like to see the team upgrade in left field, but a healthy and menacing Stanton enables the team to not make a short sighted deal from their pool of youth. This isn’t what we fans hoped for when the Yanks traded for Stanton. It is where we are at though. The smooth road to Cooperstown he looked to be on in 2017 has a lot of potholes now. Personally, Stanton is one of a handful of players that I always stop and watch when he comes to the plate. He still is an exciting player.

Let’s hope we get to see plenty of him this season.

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