Giancarlo Stanton’s Adjustment Appears to Be Carrying Over

Whatever their other uses, records are valuable for the drama they’re capable of facilitating. Wondering if Player X or Team Y will surpass a standard established by their predecessors is part of how many enjoy baseball. While each era is distinct in some ways — Dazzy Vance’s 21.5% strikeout rate meant something very different in 1924 than it would have in 2017 — the raw numbers still possess their own considerable weight.

Some records seem nearly insurmountable, others less so. At the moment, the Mariners’ single-season record of 264 home runs, set in 1997, is seeming particularly vulnerable. And it wouldn’t be surprise if the Yankees were the ones to topple it.

Provided they remain healthy, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton are going to do plenty of damage. There are lots of yet-to-be-launched home runs littered elsewhere on the roster, as well. The game is trending toward the optimization of launch angles, the ball might be juiced, and the Yankees have unreal power.

I suspect we are all curious to observe the individual damage Stanton, the reigning NL MVP, will do in his new home. He’s going from Marlins Park and its 80 home-run park factor for right-handed hitters — 100 is average — to Yankee Stadium’s 124 right-handed HR factor. He’ll be able to splinter his bat and hit homers to right and right-center at New Yankee.

Well, Stanton is off to a nice start. On Opening Day, Stanton became the first Yankee to debut with multiple home runs since Roger Maris did it against the Red Sox on April 19, 1960.

Enjoy the show, Neil.

Stanton’s home runs, his raw power — perhaps only topped by that of his teammate, Judge — captivate us. He hit a career-high 59 last season; with health, it’s plausible he can beat that mark at some point during his time in the Bronx. If anyone’s going to challenge 60 or 70 or 73 in the not-too-distant further, it could very well be Stanton.

But Stanton is fascinating in 2018 because he’s apparently brought over the adjustment he made last season that helped transform him from slugger to general, all-around offensive force. In the middle of June, Stanton began to close off his stance, and he continued to become more extreme in the setup. He was again in an extreme closed-off stance Thursday.

Perhaps just as, or even more, remarkable than Stanton’s 59 home runs last season was the reduction of his strikeout rate by 20%, or six percentage points, to a career-low 23.6%. (His career rate is 27.7%.) This reduction came at the time when strikeouts are, of course, at a record level in the game. This is a 6-foot-6 man, with long levers, who understandably might have a more difficult time making consistent contact.

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 now 28-year-old continued to be even more extreme in his closed setup.

On Opening Day (and throughout the spring)?

More of the same…

What was Stanton’s intent? Last summer, Mitch Custer of the SB Nation blog Fish Stripes wrote Stanton that 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 an attempt to pull the baseball. When Giancarlo is peeling his shoulder out, he is prone to strike out on any given slider.

Stanton began to cut his strikeouts in May before the adjustment, though he maintained sub-24% strikeout rate after closing off, so the alteration is about more than just avoiding strikeouts.

It is also about batted-ball quality.

After closing off, Stanton reduced his infield fly balls, dramatically boosted his HR/FB ratio, and traded in some line drives for fly balls. While trading line drives for fly balls isn’t ideal for all batters, it is good for those with a 40% HR/FB.

Stanton’s 2017 Batted-Ball Output by Half
1st Half 1.18 17.6% 44.5% 37.8% 20.0% 28.9%
2nd Half 1.09 14.1% 44.7% 41.2% 13.4% 40.2%

Following the day of that first screen capture above (from June 19), Stanton ranked eighth in opposite-field HR/FB (21.2%), according to FanGraphs splits leaderboards — this compared to a 15.4% mark to the date prior, which ranked 28th.

Amongst players with at least 80 batted-ball events to the pull side after June 19, Stanton ranked third in HR/FB (67.6%!). His HR/FB mark to his pull side was 41.9% in 2016 and 36.3% before the adjustment last season.

Stanton’s opposite-field percentage actually slightly decreased (18.6% second half, 21.4% first half) after closing off last season, so he wasn’t dispersing batted balls so differently as he was hitting them more squarely.

Partly due to adjustments in approach and mechanics, Stanton is making more contact and making better contact — and now he has a much more favorable home.

One game is one game — it’s often folly to make too much of anything in March or April — but there’s reason to believe Stanton’s approach is going to carry over and that the reigning NL MVP not have had his best season. Godspeed, AL East.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 years ago

Stanton’s 300 home run season is going to be awesome.

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

“You could go 2-5 with a homer and single every day of the season, hit .400 with 162 homers and 324 hits, and have a lower OPS than Bonds ’04”

via You Can’t Predict Baseball

4 years ago
Reply to  bananas

Good thing he’s going to go 3 for 5 with 2 homers every single day, then.

4 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Username _not_ checkout.

4 years ago
Reply to  bananas

If you’re curious like me, that line is a .598 wOBA compared to bonds’ feeble .537

4 years ago
Reply to  bananas

What in tarnation

4 years ago
Reply to  bananas

Such a batting line is practically impossible because pitchers would start to tend to walk you the same way they tended to walk Bonds. If you continued to maintain the stated production whenever they did come into the zone, you’d end up with less hits, less at bats, less homers, a lower batting average, and certainly a higher OPS.