As Giancarlo Stanton started a new chapter of his career last season in New York, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. It looked promising in the beginning, only to take a steep drop. In Stanton’s first game as a Yankee he hit two home runs, with one even coming in his first at bat with the team. For most, hearing that may come as a surprise as they can’t seem to remember that moment in a season that was highlighted by strikeouts. It wasn’t long for the tides to change as he was soon to be known for a game were he racked up five strikeouts; it was only his fifth game in pinstripes. Then it wasn’t even a full week before he struck out five times in a single game again. As the boos rained down on him from Yankee fans, things weren’t looking good. This trend continued throughout the season as Stanton finished with a K% in the bottom six percent of the league. He did hit 38 home runs but they were overshadowed by a total of 211 strikeouts, a new career high. It also didn’t help that the Yankees lost in the divisional series round to their rival, the Boston Red Sox. For a team that was one win away from the world series just a year before, a divisional series loss was far from a successful season. Stanton wasn’t much help either in the postseason as through 22 plate appearances he only hit one home run and totaled seven strikeouts. He didn’t get on base much either, as he recorded an OBP of .273. Giancarlo Stanton wasn’t the player he wanted to be in 2018 and many question as to how he will fare in 2019.
It only made sense that the expectations for Stanton in 2018 were high as he had just won NL MVP and had hit 59 home runs. A total that will sit with some of the best single season performances in baseball history. Going to New York was an upgrade too; he was now playing in the ultimate hitters ballpark with a team that was ready to compete. Some think that it was the pressure of playing in New York that accounted for Stanton’s high number of strikeouts and inability to hit the ball unless it traveled over the fence. In other words, it seemed as if all Stanton did was either hit a home run or strikeout. However, Statcast shows that this is exactly what we should have expected.
In Stanton’s historic 2017 season, there were two Statcast measurements that changed while the rest remained the same. Average Exit Velocity, Barrel%, and Launch Angle all stayed the same. It was K% and BB% that changed.
K% and BB% aren’t exactly Statcast measurements but Baseball Savant does include them in each player’s Statcast batting statistics section. Those two measurements are different from typical Statcast data since there is access to K% and BB% numbers that players recorded before 2015 which was the start of the Statcast data era. None the less, all of these measurements are valuable indications of a player’s ability and for Giancarlo Stanton, they are the explanation behind the strikeouts.
Saying that a high K% is the reason for a high number of strikeouts is obviously not a valid explanation as they are basically the same statistic. However, it is the trend in K% that explains why Stanton had the season that he did. In the 2015 and 2016 season Stanton recorded K% and BB% numbers that were almost identical to each year. Then out of no where in 2017 he raised his BB% by almost two percent and lowered his K% by over six percent. How he did this is probably hidden in Statcast data that is not available to the public. If the public had access to the data known as Biomechanics, then I’m sure we would have a more well rounded answer as to how he was able to create such a drastic change in numbers. Biomechanics is defined as the study of mechanical laws relating to the movement or structure of living organisms. In baseball, it is used to measure a player’s mechanics and can be interpreted to help them make changes in their swing or throwing motion. Then player’s are sometimes able to make these adjustments and by result can throw harder, throw with more accuracy, hit for more power, or some other variable that they are working to improve on. Its usage in baseball has increased as it is a big part of what Statcast does and I believe that it has the answer as to the change in K% and BB% for Giancarlo Stanton.
When his K% and BB% changed in 2017, his other numbers were impacted as well. He recorded a historic 59 home run total and a career high 7.3 WAR. Not to mention becoming the recipient of the 2017 NL MVP award. Overall, his numbers were just better than what he had usually recorded in previous seasons all across the board. With this historic season in the books, many thought he could repeat these numbers in 2018. He obviously did not and not just Yankee fans viewed his 2018 season performance as a let down.
When you take a look at Stanton’s Statcast data from 2018, you can see that his K% and BB% returned to what they once were. His Average Exit Velocity, Barrel%, and Launch Angle all remained the same but they weren’t enough for him to repeat what he had done a year earlier. These numbers seem to indicate a clear conclusion, that the 2017 season was something that could not be repeated as he returned to his typical numbers. I believe that this trend will continue as it seems to be occuring every season except for one. Stanton will continue to hit home runs at a high number but he will also continue to strikeout, and because he will continue to strikeout, than he won’t get on base. 2019 will look a lot like 2018 for Stanton and so will the years after that, if not worse. As Stanton ages, his numbers will regress and his strikeouts will only increase. The answer to his problem lies somewhere in the data of Biomechanics but until he finds the answer, which he may never find, we can only conclude that this trend will continue and that Stanton will never approach a season like 2017 again.
Data acceded from Fangraphs and Baseball Savant