Giancarlo Stanton’s Concerning Contact Rate

Giancarlo Stanton has always had a lot of swing and miss in his game, offsetting all the whiffs with ridiculous power displays on his way to being one of the game’s elite sluggers. So when you look at Stanton’s 2016 numbers, it’s easy to just look at the overall line (which includes a 115 wRC+) and note the unsustainably low .256 BABIP — he’s at .324 for his career, given that he hits the crap out of the baseball — in thinking that everything is going to be fine once that corrects itself.

And that’s mostly true, but probably not comprehensive enough, because beyond the BABIP, Stanton’s current struggles include one actually-concerning trend. Here are his contact rates, by season, for his career.

Stanton’s Contact Rate
Season Contact%
2010 70%
2011 66%
2012 68%
2013 68%
2014 70%
2015 66%
2016 62%

Stanton’s contact rates have always been low, but they’ve been on the low-end of the normal range. If you look at the guys who have run the lowest seasonal contact rates in the PITCHF/x era, you’ll see Stanton hanging out with a bunch of Ryan Howard‘s good seasons, some productive Adam Dunn stretches, Josh Hamilton’s last valuable year, and the recent versions of Chris Davis. You can be a good hitter while making contact at around 67-68% of the time, as long as you have elite power, which Stanton obviously has.

But he’s currently at 62%. Here’s the full list of players who have posted a contact rate that low over a full season, since PITCHF/x allowed us to start tracking contact rate.

Contact Rates Below 63%
Player Season Contact% wRC+
Mark Reynolds 2010 61.7% 96
Mark Reynolds 2009 62.7% 127
Mark Reynolds 2008 63.0% 97

Mark Reynolds is not really the guy you want as your only comparison; those three seasons were his last as a semi-productive regular, and he’s kicked around the league as a barely-above-replacement-level player ever since. Of course, Reynolds doesn’t have Stanton’s power, and no one is suggesting that Stanton is headed for a precipitous cliff, but it’s worth noting that there are basically no examples of productive hitters who swing and miss this often.

The good news for Stanton is he’s sort of had this problem before. Here’s his career K% on a 30-day rolling average basis.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 2.13.10 PM

In the second half of 2012, Stanton struck out in 35% of his plate appearances over 180 PAs, slightly higher than his 34% K% in 182 PAs so far this year. And then in 2013, he got his K% back down to 28%, and then 27% in 2014, when he put up a +6 WAR season. But in that second half of 2012, Stanton’s contact rate was still 66%; on the low-end of his range, but a lot higher than it is now.

Stanton has never really made contact this rarely for very long before, and when you swing and miss this much, all the power in the world doesn’t bail you out. Stanton is still the best guy on the planet at crushing baseballs, but for him to get back to what he has, he’s going to have to start hitting them more often again.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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David Palardymember
7 years ago

I’ve been looking at this the past few days. It looks to me from the heatmaps that he’s specifically had trouble making contact in the lower half of the zone.