Yankees Analytics: Why everyone should be expecting a massive season from Giancarlo Stanton

New York Yankees, Giancarlo Santon
Aug 8, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; New York Yankees left fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) runs the bases after hitting a grand slam home run against the Chicago White Sox during the second inning at Guaranteed Rate Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

New York Yankees — Believe it or not, baseball is officially back! As pitchers and catchers report this week, the 2021 season will be in full swing with all the ups and downs that come with it. Prior to the Opening Day, and seeing as to how there’s plenty of time to dive deeper into some predictions throughout Spring Training, one Yankee that I am getting antsy to watch is Giancarlo Stanton. At this point, it’s as if every season is a new one for Giancarlo, and ultimately as fans, the only thing we can do is sit back and cross our fingers. Reports have stated that Stanton, and Judge unironically, have been lifting less this previous offseason and instead focused on their flexibility and agility. That reason right there, as crazy as it may sound, is one of a few as to why I am tossing my hat in the ring for an MVP-worthy season from Giancarlo Stanton. Everyone should be all aboard the Stanton Train to Success, chugging ahead.

The Shift to DH may be the BEST option

Ultimately, as many know, the odds a DH is to win the AL MVP are incredibly low. How low, you might ask? In baseball’s entire history, there has never been a player whose primary position was DH that has won the MVP award. The closest one in recent memory was Victor Martinez, who finished second back in 2014. I do not believe that this year will be the year that changes, but I do believe that Stanton can do enough to receive some consideration. Having Stanton as the set Designated Hitter is seen as premature to some, for where he is at in his career, as many believe that he is still good enough to man the corner outfield spot. I disagree, not because I think he’s a bad in the field, but having Stanton as DH solely allows for him to focus on his offense and staying healthy. As surprising as this may sound, a 6’6 245-pound behemoth of a man running around, backtracking, and sprinting to make plays takes a toll on the body. Allowing Stanton to put down the glove and focus more on remaining fit throughout the season should do wonders for the Yankees this year, especially if Clint Frazier continues his trajectory. There are a few reasons as to why I believe Stanton will be one of the best players not just on the Yankees but across the American League, and him being able to focus fully on his offense is one of them.

Take J.D. Martinez, for example. Although he was forced to play in the field with the D-Backs thanks to the NL’s intangible desire for pitchers to get at-bats, when he was able to solely focus on his offense with Boston in 2018, he exploded. That year, where Boston took a mini-me version of the Astros’ approach to getting a ring, Betts and Martinez carried that team. 2018 was the first year of Martinez’s career where his team told him he would be a primary DH, as he only saw 57 games in the outfield. While the reasoning for J.D.’s full-time DH move was because he was atrociously bad at defense — so bad that he makes Stanton look like Kevin Kiermaier — it was nonetheless the move he needed for his career. Stanton, unlike Martinez, has shown that he can man either corner spot admirably. However, with wanting to keep him as healthy as possible for this season and beyond, the Yankees feel DH is the best bet. If Stanton were to have the same statistical season as JD had back in 2018, hypothetically, of course, that would be a 1.031 OPS, 170 WRC+, 43 HR & 5.9 fWAR year. I obviously do not believe that Stanton will put together the exact same statistical season, but that was more of a reference point to what is most definitely doable for a player of his caliber. There’s no denying his power and prowess, now he just needs to blend it with a more agile approach that focuses on staying lean.

Different approach to his preparation

As mentioned earlier, Stanton and Judge both took it easy on the offseason weights. In today’s era of baseball, thanks to the inspiration from the PED era in the late ’90s and early 2000s, there seems to be an unwritten rule as to what a slugger ‘needs to be’. The classic Frank Thomas, Jorge Soler, and hundreds of sluggers alike all focused on power and mass over flexibility and movement. Those players are still going to be rampant and successful, as, in 2019, Soler led the AL in home runs, but seeing Stanton and Judge shift their workout regimes and styles may benefit them greatly. For Stanton, keeping flexible and agile is key as he has struggled mightily with various muscle injuries since donning the Pinstripes. Giancarlo and Judge reportedly took various yoga and pilates courses over the offseason, and hopefully, that translates to a healthier year on the field for both. Stanton, specifically, is notorious for his workouts and weight lifting, but seeing him now focus on pairing that strength with flexibility is crucial to his success and longevity. Yankees director of player health & performance, Eric Cressey, also believes that the results will speak for themselves, as he stated Judge and Stanton focused less on bulking and more on “being baseball players.”

The move to yoga and pilates could end up playing even bigger dividends this season for Stanton than just (hopefully) keeping him fit. After recent years’ of complaints about the baseballs being too bouncy, leading to an ‘uglier’ style of home runs and strikeouts at an abundance, Manfred and the MLB made the change. Supposedly, the baseballs this season being less bouncy will lead to fewer home runs, which in theory should lead to players having to change their games a bit. Giancarlo being a now lean, mean baseball clobbering machine, is a sight that we may not have witnessed yet. Assuming the changes to his workout do lead to him playing, say, 140 games, and knowing the competitor Stanton is, he’ll have adjusted his technique and approach accordingly. The change to the baseballs themselves may not have the most apparent effect on the sluggers that have the muscle and pop to hit 40+ lead baseballs for home runs, such as Stanton. His tweaking his approach and offseason training should, if anything, only make it, so we have more base hits and solid contact from him to go along with the jaw-dropping home runs. That is if he is able to capitalize on pitchers’ mistakes like he did prior to his injury stints the last few seasons.

Playing to his strengths and punishing pitchers’ errors.

While Giancarlo is one of, if not the most feared hitters to face, the last two years — albeit shortened by injury — he hasn’t been swinging at “bad” pitches as often as he used to. I don’t know whether it is him being more patient and trying to see more pitches or if it is him not knowing what pitch is coming and being confused. Below is a chart showing Stanton’s slight decline in his aggressive plate approach (combined ’19 & ’20 due to him only playing 41 games) info via BaseballSavant:

YEAR Meatball % Meatball Swing % 1ST Pitch Swing % Zone Swing %
19 & 20 6.1% 66% 18.3% 55%
2018 5.8% 72.8% 24.7% 66.4%
2017 6.9% 75.1% 23.1% 66.5%
2016 5.8% 80% 31.5% 66.1%

Although the sample size is small, as Giancarlo only played 41 games in ’19 & ’20 combined, it is clear that he’s not been nearly as aggressive over the last two seasons specifically. In his first year with the Yankees, in 2018, he emulated a similar approach to what he did well, but since it has seemingly changed. While I’m not asking for Stanton to go up there and hack at every pitch in the zone or swing at the first pitch every time, I would like Stanton to be a bit more aggressive when he steps in the box this year. What earned the respect of every pitcher in baseball isn’t him being 6’6 245, but it is the fact that he has lightning-quick hands and bat speed, paired with his aggressive approach and torque, that has led to years of dominance and their respect. Stanton is always going to be a high walk rate, high strikeout rate guy, but he needs to be able to capitalize on bad pitches more frequently and swing when he wants to swing. If I were a betting man, I would say that Stanton will be batting in between Voit and Hicks and that lineup protection is some of the best in baseball. One-through-nine are feared hitters, and sandwiching Stanton in the middle should deter pitchers from pitching around anyone above him in the order.

Fueled by his doubters

MLB has released their T100 list going into the season, and the list is well, interesting, to say the least. Giancarlo Stanton clocked in at number 97, yeah ninety-seven. Apparently, the MLB must have forgotten about Stanton’s MVP season only a few years back, and his injury-plagued recent years have instead captured their attention. Unfortunately, there is no way to argue against the reasoning for him being a bit of a risky bet to play the majority of the season but to say there are 96 guys in baseball better than he is absolute lunacy. In what world is Giancarlo Stanton, likely future HoF with 500+ HR’s, being this low justifiable. Even with the injuries, when he was on the field, he put together solid displays. Not to mention last year’s postseason onslaught — 6 HR, 254 WRC+, 1.426 OPS in 7 games. There should be no denying that that ranking should light a fire in Stanton, as one would assume he’s anxious to silence his naysayers. What better fuel and motivation is there for a player than being doubted when you’ve done everything on the field to avoid that doubt?

While Stanton’s last two seasons’ worth of baseball have been very minimal, when he was on the field, he was still a force to be reckoned with. His 139 WRC+ through 18 games in ’19 & his 142 WRC+ in ’20, had those been sustained, would’ve landed him in the T25 both years. Additionally, since 2017 he ranks 9th in total fWAR amongst outfielders with 12.4 — whilst only playing 41 games the last two seasons. There are endless statistics and accomplishments that back up the fact that Stanton is still one of the best players in baseball. The quality he puts out on the field is always his individual best, but the biggest key is getting out on the field. Assuming the first full season’s worth under Eric Cressey is as promising as it seems, there should hopefully be a rejuvenated health staff and fewer injuries this year. Having Stanton healthy, motivated, and ready to bash baseballs into oblivion looks to be a frightening sight that some seem to have forgotten about.

This year is the year for Stanton and Judge, the Towers of Power, to show up everyone that doubts their abilities and labels them “FRAGILE, Handle with Care” — and no, FRAGILE is not Italian for anything positive. For Giancarlo, in his age 31 seasons, the time is now for him to take the reigns of this team as one of the oldest position players in the lineup and help lead them to that coveted World Series ring.