Giancarlo Stanton Has Struggled with the Fastball

Giancarlo Stanton still looks like Giancarlo Stanton. He’s a gigantic human being who possesses a fierce swing that inflicts damage upon baseballs when his bat makes contact. The problem in the early part of this season is that his huge swing is making slightly less contact than it did a year ago when he was the National League MVP.

Stanton has swung at 116 pitches this year and has whiffed 48 times, per Baseball Savant. Based on his fantastic 2017 season, we would expect to see about 34 whiffs. While a difference of 14 whiffs over 250 pitches doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s the difference between normal, awesome Stanton and this abnormal version of Stanton that has struck out in 40% of his plate appearances.

To better understand just what’s going on with Stanton, let’s try to take the early-season numbers we have and separate normal Stanton from abnormal Stanton. To start, here is a table showing some statistics from his career, from last season, and from this season to spot the problems.

Giancarlo Stanton’s Strikeout Numbers
Metric Career 2017 2018 Normal/Abnormal
BB% 11.8% 12.3% 10.5% Normal
K% 27.8% 23.6% 40.4% Abnormal (Bad!)
ISO .286 .350 .275 Normal
BABIP .317 .288 .360 Abnormal (Good!)

The increase in strikeouts is as large and noticeable as Stanton is. His walk numbers seem fine. His BABIP is much higher than his career levels and much, much higher than last season’s. The ISO is also strong. When Stanton makes contact, he is doing just as much damage as he normally would — if not slightly more. The table below shows Stanton’s xwOBA and wOBA on contact from 2017 and this season.

Giancarlo Stanton’s Numbers on Contact
Metric 2017 2018 Normal/Abnormal
xwOBA .491 .622 Abnormal (Good!)
wOBA .512 .556 Normal

This indicates again that, when he makes contact, Stanton has actually been hitting the ball with more authority than he did last season. Going off just results, Stanton’s production on contact resembles the very best version of himself. The problem is, he’s been making contact at a rate much worse than his established levels. If the unprecedented success on contact regresses but the whiffs remains, there could be trouble.

Let’s take a look at Stanton’s plate-discipline numbers to see what might be gleaned from Stanton’s batting eye.

Giancarlo Stanton’s Plate-Discipline Numbers
Metric Career 2017 2018 Normal/Abnormal
O-Swing% 31.1% 27.4% 32.4% Normal
Z-Swing% 65.2% 65.8% 66.7% Normal
Swing% 44.7% 42.9% 46.4% Normal
O-Contact% 50.0% 52.5% 45.8% Normal
Z-Contact% 81.4% 81.5% 69.1% Abnormal (Bad!)
Contact% 68.2% 70.4% 59.5% Abnormal (Bad!)
Zone% 39.8% 40.5% 40.8% Normal
SwStrk% 14.0% 12.5% 18.8% Abnormal (Bad!)

Stanton appears to be choosing to swing in the appropriate situations — or, at least, at rates commensurate both with last season and his career. He’s missing on a few more swings outside of the zone, but the biggest change has come on pitches inside the strike zone. He’s just whiffing a lot more.

To further illustrate this point, let’s take a look at swing rates by pitch type. The four pitches below are the ones of which he has seen at least 10 this season, with swing percentages on those pitches both this season and last, per Baseball Savant.

Giancarlo Stanton’s Swing% by Pitch Type
Pitch 2018 Pitches 2018 Swing % 2017 Swing % Normal/Abnormal
Four-Seam 96 52.0% 42.7% Normal
Two-Seam 39 43.6% 36.9% Normal
Slider 62 45.2% 46.0% Normal
Change 23 47.8% 47.4% Normal
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

There is a slight increase in swings on the fastballs, though due to the small number of pitches, the changes don’t appear that significant. Where we do notice a change is in the number of swings and misses, as seen in the table below.

Giancarlo Stanton’s Whiff % by Pitch Type
Pitch 2018 Pitches 2018 Whiff % 2017 Whiff% Normal/Abnormal
Four-Seam 96 24.0% 12.0% Abnormal (Bad!)
Two-Seam 39 5.1% 6.7% Normal
Slider 62 22.0% 21.0% Normal
Change 23 26.1% 14.6% Normal
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

This year’s results on both the slider and two-seam fastball resemble last year’s. The change seems to have… changed, but with so few pitches, it is tough to make a determination there. Where we see the biggest difference in terms of the number of whiffs from 2017 to 2018 is in the four-seam fastball. Stanton’s whiffs have doubled on the pitch, accounting for roughly two-thirds of the increase in swinging strikes compared to last year.

This is the pitch chart for Stanton’s swings on four-seam fastballs this season from Baseball Savant.

Those pink dots are the swings and misses — and there are a lot of them. Most of the misses are up in the zone, but he is clearly not swinging wildly at pitches out of the zone. He is swinging at strikes and simply missing them. It’s possible that Stanton has just faced a collection of really good pitchers with great, high velocity fastballs. For the most part, however, that hasn’t been the case. Here’s Stanton’s pitch chart showing his four-seam whiffs by velocity, again from Baseball Savant.

The average fastball velocity on Stanton’s whiffs has been just 92.1 mph. Only three of the 23 swings and misses have been on pitches above 95 mph this season. It’s possible Stanton is simply late on the fastball. His pull percentage is down from a year ago. The chart below shows Stanton’s batted balls on four-seam fastballs, per Baseball Savant.

There are a lot of pulled balls, including a bunch of homers. Stanton’s only put 11 four-seamers in play this year, but he’s pulled just four of them and none were in the air a long time.

Whatever the problem is, the result is that Stanton isn’t catching up to four-seam fastballs. At the beginning of the season, Travis Sawchik noted that Stanton had maintained the closed-off stance that had been so successful a year ago. This what that stance looks like from above.

This is what happened on that pitch:

Here’s from Tuesday night against Chris Sale:

Stanton did pull a four-seam fastball against the Red Sox in that same game, albeit one low in the zone.

Now, here is a home run from last August against Max Scherzer.

Is Stanton doing something differently from last season? If you look closely, it appears as though he might be moving his foot more directly towards the pitcher this year. Stanton starts off with a very closed stance; his performance last season indicates that the approach can work for him, obviously. In the Max Scherzer plate appearance, however, it seems to my eye that Stanton’s final step as he is swinging opens the stance just a little bit. It might be nothing or it might be that slightly opening up the stance in the swing is what helps Stanton get around on the pitch.

Regardless of the precise cause, this issue seems unlikely to affect Stanton long term. Right now, he’s behind on fastballs up in the zone. He showed last season that he is willing to make adjustments to help himself and that those adjustments have worked in the past. The only difference between normal Stanton and abnormal Stanton is about 10 fastballs. Once he takes care of those, normal Stanton should return in full force.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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4 years ago

Excellent article. Thorough in the borough!

4 years ago
Reply to  Seuss2004

They’ve got the Bronx covered. Not much on Queens.

4 years ago
Reply to  jcutiger

*Thorough in the only borough that matters