Yankees seeing encouraging signs from rebound candidate in Spring Training

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Yankees
Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Giancarlo Stanton is coming off the worst season of his career, and the New York Yankees know that this is a huge year for the 2017 NL MVP. Brian Cashman pulled the trigger on a deal that would bring the slugger to the Bronx following that remarkable season, and while Stanton has had his moments, injuries and inconsistency have limited his output in New York. 2023 felt like the first serious slip of his career, it was the first time he had posted either a negative WAR or below-average OPS at the Major League level, giving Stanton plenty to reflect on over the winter.

While Spring Training doesn’t mean much for regular season success, we can still look at how Giancarlo Stanton’s process has changed thus far, and the initial returns are pretty good. There’s still an entire season for him to prove himself, but what have we seen thus far that could lead to a return to prominence?

Giancarlo Stanton Could Have a Huge Season For the Yankees

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Yankees
Credit: Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

Something that Giancarlo Stanton has struggled with has been his launch angle, as pop-ups and groundballs are the wrong kind of batted balls for someone with his profile. We aren’t talking about a speed demon who is slapping the ball the other way, but rather a hulking power hitter with incredible exit velocities that can change the dynamic of a game with just one swing of the bat. We can measure the ability to generate ideal launch angles with Sweet Spot%, which measures how often hitters generate a batted ball with a launch angle between 8 and 32 degrees.

Last season, Stanton ranked in the 2nd Percentile in that metric (27.4%), and we can point to that as the key reason behind his decline in average and BABIP. He’s gone from a consistent .250-.270 hitter to below the Mendoza Line, and while batting average isn’t a great measure of overall production, it still plays a role in your OBP. That number has improved to 38.7% in Spring Training, and as a result, we’ve seen the BABIP and average climb while the groundball rate has fallen.

One of the other stunning revelations comes in the form of a decreased Whiff Rate, and while Anthony Volpe is the player we’re focusing on for contact increases, Stanton has arguably had the more impressive turnaround. We expect a hitter like Volpe to make a ton of contact, and it’s not uncommon to see an increase in contact rates for a second-year player, but Giancarlo Stanton has been infamous for the high strikeout totals. Again, these are small sample sizes, but if we can see an increase in both the quality and quantity of contact, that would go a long way as well.

The three-HR day was the headline-grabbing performance that Giancarlo Stanton needed to get attention on skill changes that could have a massive impact on his upcoming season. What’s changed from years past is that the Yankees aren’t relying on a huge year from Stanton to have a good offense, in fact, the very same projection systems that believe the Yankees will be one of the top teams in the AL also believe Stanton will be at best a 1 WAR player. The addition of Trent Grisham as a fourth outfielder and reluctance to trade Spencer Jones is an indication that they’re not going to just pray that he plays 150 games and excels.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees
Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Without saying it outright, the Yankees are preparing for a future where Giancarlo Stanton is no longer on the team due to a continuing decline. Spencer Jones could be ready as soon as Opening Day next season, and the Yankees seriously intend on keeping Juan Soto for the long haul. Aaron Judge is in year two of a nine-year megadeal and Jasson Dominguez should be a long-term piece in the outfield as well, so where is the room for Big G? Well, he’ll have to create it by putting up a big season this year, and that’s an enormous amount of pressure; his job is quite literally on the line.

It doesn’t even have to be next season, if Jasson Dominguez returns and looks great, does Stanton play over Alex Verdugo? One thing that we’ve known about the 34-year-old is that he responds to pressure in one way; and that’s by hitting a ball over 400 feet and saving the day for the Bronx Bombers. When the lights have shined brightest, Giancarlo Stanton has always been the slugger the Yankees could turn to for a big hit. Whether it’s his 2020 home run barrage in the playoffs or a three-run shot in Game 5 of the ALDS, Stanton has found a way to thrive under pressure.

Despite what even the most cold-blooded and stoic athletes say, pressure doesn’t provide comfort, but maybe Giancarlo Stanton can do what he does best once again and rise to the moment.

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