A Casual Stanton Bat Flip. Photo Courtesy of Elsa, Getty Images
In Not The Weekly Mailbag, we explore a topic that would be typical for the Weekly Mailbag. As we all endure the ramifications of the pandemic, please continue to send Mailbag questions to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. As questions accumulate, I’ll either write a Mailbag or use your question for a piece (with attribution, of course). This week, we’ll talk about the ramifications of a shortened (or cancelled, in the worst-case scenario) season on Giancarlo Stanton’s Hall of Fame chances.
Giancarlo Stanton has been a deeply divisive topic of discussion among Yankee fans since the 2018 season. Stanton’s physical gifts are obvious, and his track record of performance with the Marlins made Stanton one of the highest profile players in the game. Fans were initially ecstatic to acquire Stanton in a trade that amounted to a salary dump by the Marlins. Sure, Stanton’s 13-year deal (signed in 2015) was sure to be an albatross at the end of its life, but at the time the Yankees acquired him, Stanton showed no signs of slowing down, and had even won the NL MVP in 2017.
In his first year in pinstripes, Stanton seemed to press somewhat at the plate, and he struggled to adapt to playing LF instead of his typical RF position. In totality, Stanton went from a defensive asset in the outfield to possibly worse than average, and his detractors saw him as essentially a one-trick pony at the plate with a soaring strikeout rate. While that perspective has some validity when comparing Stanton’s output to his previous seasons, it really doesn’t tell the full story. Stanton was still worth 4.3 bWAR/4.3 fWAR in 2018! While his strikeout rate went up and his walk rate dropped, his plate discipline was still playable for someone with his prodigious power and acceptable levels of contact. While not quite the All-Star performance most expect of Stanton, the season was far from a disaster. In fact, assuming that $/WAR is somewhere between $7-$9 million, the Yankees still got good value out of their investment in 2018.
The detractors obviously have a point in 2019, however. Stanton had issues with his shoulder/bicep, knee, and calf in 2019, leading to just 79 plate appearances during the regular season. On a Yankee roster with more injuries than many of us have ever seen in a Major League season, Stanton’s absence was one of the most notable. However, the Yankees received some surprisingly good performances from guys like Mike Tauchman, Cameron Maybin, and Clint Frazier (in April and early May, at least). The replacements played well enough that the Stanton detractors have gotten louder than his sympathizers. 2019 has significantly skewed our ability to look at Stanton’s career rationally, and I think we need to put his performance to-date in context.
Including an injury-shortened 2019 season, Giancarlo Stanton has been worth 40.4 bWAR/39.3 fWAR. He is a 4-time All-Star, a 2-time Silver Slugger winner, and an MVP winner. All of this has been accomplished through age 29. Most guys see their peak continue through their age-32 season, with their decline happening at various rates thereafter. Over those 3 seasons, without injuries (we’ll get to that in a minute), I would expect Stanton to average 4 WAR over that time, with the potential still existing for an MVP-caliber season in that time frame. That would give Stanton roughly 50-52 WAR (depending on the calculation). Stanton is also at 308 HR for his career. Would anyone be surprised if Stanton averaged 35 homers in healthy seasons in that time frame? That would put him at 413 HR heading into his age-33 season. With a gentle decline, Stanton would be within more than shouting distance of Hall-of-Fame numbers.
Two things get in the way of that. Number one is the injuries. Stanton suffered through knee issues early in his career, and he’s a big guy. We may be at the beginning of the end of Stanton’s time as a full-time outfield option to keep him healthy. Beyond the knee though, the other injuries Stanton sustained in 2019 were pretty fluky in nature. Yes, he had a calf strain in Spring Training this year that would have threatened the beginning of a normal regular season, but even the Yankees noted publicly that they were bringing him along slowly out of an abundance of caution. I think Stanton has a good shot of being healthier than most predict over the next couple of seasons.
The greatest threat to Stanton’s HOF chances is a shortened or cancelled season in 2020. At this point, I’m not sure I see a realistic path for even 100 MLB games this season. Even in the best-case scenario, this would be a hit to Stanton’s stat line and his ability to accumulate dingers and WAR. Most of us are worried about things far more important in the world today than the impact of a pandemic on Giancarlo Stanton’s HOF chances, but the fact remains that Stanton is likely to lose a large chunk of one of his final peak seasons.
Personally, I like Stanton, and I am looking forward to an eventual Stanton resurgence. I can’t help but feel like Stanton’s climb up the mountain to Hall-of-Fame status has become a lot steeper.