Giancarlo Stanton Gets Pitched Weirdly

© Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

“When you’re pitched away, take the ball to the opposite field.” It’s a training mantra that seemingly exists everywhere. I heard it in Little League. I hear it on major league broadcasts to this day. The data show that hitters do it, and it’s just a natural swing. I can think of few hitting sayings I believe more than this one.

Of course, just because you can hit the ball the other way doesn’t mean you have to. Over the last two years, the list of righty hitters who have pulled the ball most when they swing at away pitches (from right-handed pitchers, just to standardize the sample) probably matches your intuition:

Pull Rate on Away Pitches, RHB/RHP
Player Away Pull%
Gary Sánchez 51.4%
Eugenio Suárez 46.7%
Patrick Wisdom 45.8%
Jonathan India 44.9%
Marcus Semien 44.5%

You basically understand the kinds of hitters on here. The guys ranked sixth and seventh are similar types: Salvador Perez and Mike Zunino. It’s big boppers who try to lift and pull the ball no matter where they’re pitched, as well as guys like Marcus Semien who sell out to pull in an attempt to juice their power. If you do the most damage on the pull side and accrue most of your offensive value through power, it’s a natural approach. You think anyone’s coming to the ballpark to see Patrick Wisdom slap a well-placed cutter the other way? They want dingers!

The list of the hitters who pull the ball least often when pitched away is mostly who you’d expect, and also not who you’d expect at all. Feast your eyes on the top five:

Pull Rate on Away Pitches, RHB/RHP
Player Away Pull%
DJ LeMahieu 5.2%
Ke’Bryan Hayes 5.4%
Myles Straw 7.1%
Jean Segura 9.1%
Giancarlo Stanton 11.8%

The top four are contact-oriented hitters with elevated groundball rates… and the fifth might be the most powerful baseball player in history.

Yes, despite having muscles on his muscles, Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t over-commit to pulling the ball when he’s pitched away. It’s more than that: when he does pull the ball on an away pitch, he’s been ineffective, to the tune of a .293 wOBA since the start of 2021. That’s meaningfully worse than average contact quality, and again, we’re talking about Giancarlo Stanton, the king of hard contact.

In fact, since the advent of Statcast in 2015, Stanton’s power numbers when he pulls away pitches are quite poor. He’s hit for a .275 wOBA and a .322 xwOBA. That’s a .280 batting average and .360 slugging percentage; not a particularly high BABIP (these are all balls in play), and a minuscule power output. That’s mishits and grounders, mostly, with the occasional laser-beam line drive mixed in. When he takes those same away pitches the other way or back up the middle, he does so with authority: a .450 wOBA (.453 xwOBA), .378 batting average, and .689 slugging percentage.

As it turns out, this has been a long evolution in his game. Here are his pull rates on away pitches from righties over the years:

Giancarlo Stanton’s Pull Rate on Away Pitches
Year Batted Balls Pull Rate
2010 42 28.6%
2011 65 32.3%
2012 44 34.1%
2013 58 32.8%
2014 65 20.0%
2015 28 10.7%
2016 66 18.2%
2017 86 16.3%
2018 75 13.3%
2019 8 12.5%
2020 8 12.5%
2021 60 13.3%
2022 16 6.3%

Early in his career, Stanton pulled a roughly average number of away pitches. But over time, he’s taking what the pitcher gives him more often, and he’s been at roughly the same low pull rate on these pitches since joining the Yankees in 2018.

Does this strike you as strange? It struck me as strange. I know that Stanton isn’t a stereotypical power hitter – he’s far stronger than even that archetypical bopper, and thus doesn’t have a power hitter’s swing because he doesn’t need one to leave the park – but being one of the least likely hitters in baseball to pull an away pitch just seems shocking to me. Even stranger is that when he does turn on an away pitch, he has below-average power. Below. Average. Power. Giancarlo. Stanton. I’m just repeating the words over and over in my head trying to make sense of it.

Here’s another way of thinking about it. On pitches on the inner third of the plate, Stanton is the fearsome power hitter you’d expect, with the eighth-highest wOBA and sixth-highest slugging percentage in baseball since 2015. On pitches away, his success is muted; even with all that opposite-field power, his complete lack of pull-side damage relegates him to 19th-best in wOBA and 23rd-best in slugging percentage. That’s still good, but come on: he’s Giancarlo Stanton, god of power! Pitch him away, and you might survive.

Here’s a list of the right-handed hitters with the lowest rate of away pitches seen (at least six inches away from the dead middle of the plate) so far this year:

Lowest Away Pitch%, RHB/RHP
Player Away Pitch%
DJ LeMahieu 27.3%
Giancarlo Stanton 29.2%
Starling Marte 30.9%
Lane Thomas 31.0%
Andrew McCutchen 31.3%

Wait… what?

This isn’t some new way of attacking Stanton. Since 2015, he’s in the eighth percentile of away pitches seen from righty pitchers. The book on him is to come inside early and often; he has the fifth-highest rate of inside pitches over the same time horizon.

Want to know the really weird part? We’ve been looking at production on contact, but even his swing-level numbers make it seem like pitching inside so often is a mistake. Since the start of 2015, Stanton has swung at 1,002 pitches that were six inches or more towards the right-handed batter’s box from the middle of the plate (thrown by righties — sorry for the pile of qualifiers). These are, in other words, inside pitches thrown by righties to a righty. He’s come up empty on 25.9% of them.

When he swings at away pitches – six inches towards the left-handed batter’s box from the middle of the plate, the same definition in reverse – he does far worse. He’s swung at 1,028 of them and come up empty 51.8% of the time.

That sounds worse than it is, because all batters swing and miss more frequently at away pitches. It’s a sampling thing; breaking balls disproportionately end up away, while fastballs disproportionately tail in. In righty-righty matchups as a whole, batters whiff on 19% of their inside swings and 39% of their outside swings.

But overall, I don’t quite get pitchers’ approach to Stanton. All things considered, he’s excellent at handling those inside pitches they love so much. He hits fairly well against pitches away – he’s a very good hitter, after all – but he adds three times as much value per pitch seen when facing inside pitches relative to away pitches.

If I had to guess at one culprit, it’s everyone’s favorite culprit: the shift. I don’t quite understand righty shifts, but teams have shifted against Stanton – either a strategic shift where the infielders are shaded but remain in a 2-2 configuration or a full overshift – on a third of the pitches he’s seen from right-handers as a Yankee. Righty-righty matchups as a whole have only been shifted 22% of the time.

Righty shifts don’t really work. They especially don’t work against hitters who are likely to hit the ball the other way. And Stanton is most definitely that guy – if you pitch him away, he almost never pulls the ball, whether in the air or on the ground. If you’re going to shift against Stanton – and teams are, oh boy, they are – you can’t afford to pitch him away. It’s just asking for a shift-enabled single.

Even though teams are clearly aware of the difficulty in shifting against Stanton – they pitch him inside extremely frequently, and I don’t think that’s on accident – he’s been a better hitter against the shift than against a standard defense. He’s batting .279 on grounders against an unshifted infield since 2018, as opposed to .337 against strategic shifts and overshifts. Teams want to shift Stanton, so they throw him the ball where he can pull it in the air – and those shifts don’t even take away groundball singles effectively.

So what’s up with Giancarlo Stanton’s complete lack of pull power on away pitches? I have no idea. Maybe, probably even, I’m missing something here, because the numbers just don’t add up. But it seems to be doing him a huge service – by making teams pitch him inside, despite the fact that he’s a great hitter there, in an attempt to shift against him. The shifts don’t even work! It’s a great situation for Stanton, and a puzzling one for the teams that face him.

Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Ostensibly Ridiculousmember
1 month ago

Super Interesting!

Perhaps could be psychological?
Anecdotally, I recall seeing him absolutely smash opposite field homers so often and with such ease that I kind of expected that to be his preferred location.
Perhaps because his away power is sooo much better than the average player, and displays of it so shocking and frequent, that those memories dominate normal human consciousness.

1 month ago

He does hit a lot of opposite field home runs, that’s not anecdotal. Ben is just saying that he drives the outside pitch to the opposite field and pitchers prefer not to pitch him there because of exactly what you’re saying.

1 month ago
Reply to  kylerkelton

This was my question also. If he’s strong enough to hit the ball out anywhere why bother pulling? Also Yankee Stadium is shorter to RF

Fayyaz Muneer
1 month ago

This was my instant reaction too. I actually thought the article, from the title, was about about why going away to him is dumb (because of all those highly gifable oppo HRs – I don’t watch whole NYY games). Those lasers to rf really stick out,.