Giancarlo Stanton had become overshadowed, both literally and figuratively.
Until just recently, Stanton had been a Statcast God, often lapping the field in categories involving 100 mph-plus batted balls and average exit velocities.
But then Aaron Judge broke out, and Stanton, who was once the strongest and most physically imposing player in the game, was dropped down to the second chair. There is no larger perception drop than from first to second.
The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Stanton now has to look up toward another position player in the game — the 6-foot-7, 282-pound Judge. Stanton is also looking up at him on exit-velocity leaderboards.
While Stanton has already reached a career-high home-run mark this season, the campaign had been going somewhat under the radar given Judge’s remarkable first half. Also, in light of what appeared to be a concerted effort to trade power for contact, Stanton didn’t exhibit his trademark power in the early part of the season.
While Stanton’s average exit velocity of 95.9 mph in 2015 remains a single-season Statcast record — it’s superior to the 95.4 mph mark Judge had recorded as of Sunday — Stanton’s average has dipped to 91.7 mph this season, which “only” ranks 10th in the sport according to the Statcast leaderboards at Baseball Savant.
Dave wrote about this different version of Stanton, a player who appeared to have made a contact-oriented adjustment. Dave authored that piece in the middle of May. Stanton has continued to evolve in the meantime.
What’s interesting is that, while Stanton has retained his contact gains as the season has gone along, his power is again Stanton-like. He has a MLB- and career-best 42 homers after homering in eight of his last 10 games, his torrid home-run streak continuing Sunday.
What’s behind this skill growth? At a time when we tend to see more open stances with leg kicks or at least neutral, parallel-to-the-chalk-lines-of-the-box starting positions, Stanton now has one of the more extreme closed batting stances in the game.
Consider Stanton’s evolution over the course of June.
On June 1st, Stanton had a relatively neutral setup.
On June 13th, he had basically the same starting position with his feet.
But by June 19th we start to see him closing off his stance:
He seemed to continue to close off the stance. Consider, for example, this photographic evidence from June 29th:
And during his torrid August, the 27-year-old continues to be even more extreme in his closed setup.
What is he trying to do? I suspect Mitch Custer of the SB Nation blog Fish Stripes is on to something.
Giancarlo Stanton is a big man. Stanton doesn’t have to swing as hard as the average mortal man to make the ball fly out of the yard. With that being said, Stanton’s Achilles heel has been located in his front shoulder. In what I can only assume to be his steadfast attempt to hit a ball through the operable glass wall in the left field of Marlins Park, Giancarlo has historically had the tendency to over-swing, peeling his front shoulder out prematurely, and removing his bat barrel from the hitting zone in attempt to pull the baseball. When Giancarlo is peeling his shoulder out, he is prone to strike out on any given slider.
Just as a player like Bryce Harper dropped from 100% to 80% effort in his swing and enjoyed greater success, it makes sense that a player with Stanton’s sort of power might find a greater level of efficiency by sacrificing 470-foot home runs for 400-foot homers and more contact. The chase-type breaking balls, mostly sliders, have baffled Stanton throughout his career, and he has begun to make some strides against it this season.
Consider his breaking-ball and overall whiff rates, from Brooks Baseball:
But even with this extremely closed off stance, Stanton’s power is beginning to surge. And, he can still hit 477-foot home runs with a closed stance.
Stanton has made significant improvement. He’s cut his strikeout rate by roughly six percentage points from last season, to a career-low 23.9%. But his isolated power rests at a career-best mark of .354, which is well above his career average rate of .283 and just one point of his best mark for a season of .341, which he set back in 2015. His .635 slugging mark would also be a career best. He’s already reached a career best in home runs, as noted above.
What seemed to be a more contact-oriented version of Stanton is, all of the sudden, not trading in any power for contact.
Private swing instructor Bobby Tewksbary wrote about how the closed stance might be helping Stanton.
Stanton has always been a classic Pull Pattern hitter. This means he’ll create separation between his hips and shoulders, but his hands would come forward with his shoulders. He would close off in his stride, but he wasn’t able to delay the hands. This new setup is creating a whole new “environment” for him. I would imagine he FEELS closed in his stance. And because of this, he has a new feel of how he can get open. Instead of closing in with the stride as his load, he can now use his shoulder alignment/tilt movement as part of his load.
Stanton really appears to be up to something. Consider that his power increase has coincided with consolidating the contact improvement he has made, his strikeout rate remains about 23% since July 1, a period of time over which he’s recorded a .304/.411/.826 line. That combination of contact and power is rare.
And he’s doing something else, too: he’s become more of a fly-ball hitter in the second half, hitting just 34.2% of his batted balls on the ground and smashing 43.2% of his air balls for home runs.
So while the world was focused on Judge, Stanton was making adjustments in his shadow and perhaps he is ready to step from it and challenge again for status as the game’s most formidable and imposing slugger — while also becoming a better hitter.