It’s kind of hard to imagine a man who is 6’6 and weighs 240 lbs. It’s easy to imagine the numbers, but it’s hard to fathom a person that size standing behind you in line at the bank or teaching social studies to third graders. We see numbers like this bandied about in sports, and when big men are playing on a field with other big men, the baseline is shifted. They don’t seem that much bigger than everyone else.
A few years ago, I was in the Twins clubhouse and got to talk a little with Justin Morneau. Justin Morneau is listed at 6’4″ and 220 lbs. My first out-loud question was something about how his training regimen changed since his concussion problems. My first internal question regarded how quickly he could leave me in a bloody pulp should my questions anger him. Morneau has 4 inches and 30 pounds (40 if you don’t include my spare tire) on me. Yet the difference, when standing face-to-face with him, was staggering. Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Morneau are large men, is the point.
Because Stanton is a large man, he gets to do things like this.
That’s the farthest home run hit so far this year. It’s a little hard to see in GIF form, but it landed in that bar with the Budweiser sign. At 484 ft. of true distance, it’s going to be hard to top. Freakish distance aside, this is pretty much what we expect a man of Stanton’s size to do. Stand, swing, trot, repeat. And for all intents and purposes, this is what he does and he’d very good at it. When he’s healthy, that is.
Over the past two seasons, Stanton has been sidelined (dugouted?) with various leg injuries. He missed 35 days due to knee surgery in 2012. He missed 41 days with a hamstring injury in 2013. He’s also missed a few days with an ankle sprain. In those past two years, he’s had nagging shoulder and abdomen issues as well.
Unlike a Jacoby Ellsbury, say, these are use injuries. The shoulder problem was caused by a diving catch, but the leg injuries are those that don’t happen from weird accidents or bad luck. Giancarlo Stanton contains a lot of muscle, and he uses those muscles hard doing baseball things. This can result in hamstring pulls and loose bodies being found in the knees. He’s 25, so I’m certainly not ready to call him an injury risk. But the 150 games he logged in 2011 is his highest to date.
But so far in 2014, he hasn’t missed a game. That’s sure to change — everybody needs a day off here and there — but it’s a good sign that 2012 and 2013 may be behind him and we can now see what an experienced Stanton does with a healthy body.
This is a quick overview of the last 3+ years. Stanton’s best year was 2012. He missed 25 games with knee problems and was still worth 5.6 WAR. His power was prestigious, but with that came a lot of strikeouts and few walks. Those numbers have been trending in the right direction now. He still strikes out a lot and probably always will, but better on-base skills matched with almost the same power numbers as two years ago is a good recipe for success. His .360 BABIP should regress, but both Steamer and ZiPS peg 2014 as Stanton’s best season yet in terms of WAR. Stanton’s shoulder and legs (which aid him in his power-hitting) appear to be doing better.
There are other factors we can look at, as well. His defensive numbers appear to be rebounding, which could indicate that he’s able to chase down balls a little easier. His Inside Edge numbers, which breaks down plays made based on likelihood, are also bearing that out.
|Season||Impossible (0%)||Remote (1-10%)||Unlikely (10-40%)||Even (40-60%)||Likely (60-90%)||Routine (90-100%)|
|2012||0.0% (82)||0.0% (6)||33.3% (6)||45.5% (11)||64.7% (17)||98.8% (242)|
|2013||0.0% (85)||0.0% (6)||0.0% (4)||37.5% (8)||87.5% (8)||99.6% (224)|
|2014||0.0% (29)||0.0% (8)||28.6% (7)||83.3% (6)||91.7% (12)||99.1% (110)|
Better wheels means a better base when swinging the bat. It also means better chances at getting to balls in the outfield. But does the third part of the game — base running — show the same positive trend?
Stanton was never a particularly great base runner. Announcers will say he runs well, but they really mean that he runs well compared to people his size. The fact that he doesn’t run like Adam Dunn surprises a lot of folks. It’s impossible to say if Stanton feels better on the base paths. We do have some anecdotal evidence, however.
This is Stanton beating out a grounder to third in 2013. This is on April 20th, ten days before hitting the DL with his hamstring injury. I pulled out the old stopwatch and clocked him at around 4.37* seconds from contact to first base. Was this before his hamstring was bothering him, or was he trying to play through the discomfort? I only have DL information so it’s hard to say.
This is Stanton beating out a grounder to third in 2014. The camera work is rough, but I came to about 4.24* seconds.
(* GIFs can do weird things with frame rates sometimes, but I timed these off the actual video, FYI)
It isn’t a huge difference, but it’s a difference. If Stanton had posted five-second times to first in 2013, he wouldn’t have been playing to begin with. But he could have been hampered by a balky leg, a leg that is now feeling better. For what it’s worth, he is also on pace for the most stolen-base attempts of his career. He has four, and has yet to be thrown out. Stealing isn’t a big part of his game, but the fact that he’s at least trying is a good sign.
According to WAR, Stanton is the most valuable outfielder in the game right now — ahead of Mike Trout and Yasiel Puig. He’s not a five-tool player per se, but he relies on his athleticism more than a pure slugger would. Every injury can harm performance, but arms and legs are a pretty big deal in baseball. Now that his are healthy, we may be poised to see the best Giancarlo Stanton yet. It probably won’t, but that could mean more of these …
… which would be pretty cool.