I’d like to begin by saying that the majority of Yankee fans I know are smart, positive, and not overly reactionary. But like in any fanbase, there are those who are swept into a fervor at the first inclination that a player is slumping, overpaid, or not living up to their hype. Unfortunately for Giancarlo Stanton, the Yankees’ fanbase contains many of the second kind. So many in fact, that the fanbase is split on whether or not Stanton should be in the playoff lineup.
This line of thinking has permeated up to television analysts and personalities, who have gone so far as to debate this question on national TV broadcasts. Frankly, even posing it is insulting to the caliber of player that Giancarlo is.
Stanton in the Media
The best example of this is the clip above from MLB Tonight. Brian Kenny and Howard Reynolds are discussing the topic, and each has a different reason as to why Stanton being in the postseason lineup may not be a good idea. The point that stood out to me most was from Brian Kenny, who said, “It’s the actual diversity of the lineup, guys fitting into certain spots like Cameron Maybin… Maybin and Gardner are different sort of players. You add right-handed power who strikes out a lot, it’s a redundancy. And, can he get back and be healthy, and be productive right away when everyone else is productive? I mean it’s a tough spot.”
I’ll begin with Kenny’s third point, as is the one I find most salient. Health and time are the only things holding Giancarlo back. His rash of injuries, along with strange updates detailing freak occurrences during rehab, have led many fans to write Stanton off as a re-injury waiting to happen. Some with looser ties to reality have accused him of milking injuries to cash checks without having to work. But with some critical thinking, we can easily dismiss these claims.
In Stanton’s seven-year career with the Marlins, only three injuries required more than a standard 15 day IL stint. The first, in 2012, was a right hamstring strain that kept him out for about a month. The second, as we all remember, came from facial fractures after being hit in the head with a pitch in 2014. The third was a broken hamate bone in his left hand in 2015. This injury, in particular, is extremely common (over 100 cases in the past 20 seasons), and often occurs simply from gripping and swinging a bat. Only the hamstring injury could possibly be blamed on a supposed lack of preparedness or flexibility by Stanton.
His 2018 season was extremely impressive in this department as well. Giancarlo played in 158 games (albeit many as a DH), second only to his MVP 2017 season. And while he has been plagued by injuries for all of 2019, let’s not forget the injury issues the Yankees have had as a whole. There have been at least 30 different Yankees to hit the injured list this year, including two other stars who have missed almost the entire season. Yet Stanton alone is blamed by some for his injuries, often being labeled “fragile” or “soft”. In my eyes, nothing could be further from the truth.
Now Kenny’s first point was technically true. Maybin and Gardner are very different players from Stanton. They are worse players, and that is simply a statement of fact. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved Brett Gardner since he was fighting for a roster spot back in 2008. The production Cameron Maybin has provided compared to expectations has been nothing short of incredible. But baserunning is the only facet of the game where Maybin and Gardner have the edge over Stanton, and that margin isn’t even all that wide. Kenny’s second point falls flat when you realize that the “right-handed power that strikes out a lot,” he refers to includes Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Edwin Encarnacion, and Luke Voit. When healthy, those four are among the best hitters in baseball. That is a ‘redundancy’ that any team would dream of.
The Proof is in the Numbers
Some may reject my assertion that Stanton is a much better hitter and fielder than Gardner and Maybin. Instead of comparing the three directly, let’s compare Stanton to the entire league. Let’s also throw out his prolific numbers from Miami, as playing for a record-breaking Yankees team is much different from slumming it with the Marlins. This should also give every Stanton hater the benefit of the doubt because we will only be using numbers from his “down” 2018 season.
As you can see in the chart above, Stanton ranked in the top 10% of the league in a variety of advanced stats. He is extremely productive at the plate and hits the ball unfathomably hard, but often overlooked is his defense. In 300 innings as a left fielder, he had the best UZR/150 of any player in baseball. Not bad for a player who many think should be relegated to a full-time DH.
Now comes my personal favorite question to answer, “Just how hard does Giancarlo Stanton hit baseballs?”. In short, HARD.
In the chart above, you’ll see Average Exit Velocity plotted against Barrel Percentage. The goal here would be as close to the top right corner as possible. Clearly Stanton is closer than most, but let’s zoom in a bit and get a better look.
This corner of the chart is reserved for hitters with an average exit velocity at or above 90 mph and a barrel percentage at or above 15%. Only 12 players in 2018 met these criteria, including players like Mike Trout, JD Martinez, Aaron Judge, Shohei Ohtani, Joey Gallo, Max Muncy, and of course, Giancarlo Stanton.
There are legitimate concerns about Stanton. First, that he would come back without being completely healthy wanting to help with the playoff race. Given that he is healthy, the second concern would be that he may not have enough time for a full rehab assignment before the playoffs start. However, it is now being reported that he could rejoin the team as early as the 17th, which should put these concerns to bed. In any case, Giancarlo Stanton will be in the lineup when healthy. Considering the team’s production in his absence, this should make pitchers around the league very, very scared.
**As always, detailed descriptions of every stat found in this article are available at https://library.fangraphs.com/ **