Giancarlo Stanton is still great, when healthy [2020 Season Review]

To no one’s surprise, the hit pieces regarding Giancarlo Stanton and his contract are out in full force. Someone has to get the blame for the Yankees quiet offseason thus far, I guess. Rather than blame a payroll that’s been stagnant over the last two decades or lost revenue from COVID-19, Stanton takes the brunt of it. Sure, it stinks that he hasn’t been healthy over the last two seasons. But he himself isn’t holding back this organization.

Despite injuries muddying another season for Stanton, the slugger still managed to shine through when opportunities arose. He can still hit with the best of them and he thrived under the postseason spotlight. Like everyone else, I wanted to see more of Stanton in 2020, but at least there’s some silver lining.

Personal and organizational changes didn’t keep Stanton healthy

Stanton played 158 games in his first season in pinstripes, but has appeared in just 41 games since. In 2019, a biceps strain, right knee strain, calf strain, and a mysterious shoulder injury kept him off the field almost all year. The Yankees made sweeping changes to the team’s training staff because of the myriad of injuries the team suffered in ’19, so Stanton wasn’t alone. There was hope that the change would help keep Stanton (and others) available more often in 2020 and beyond, along with Stanton trimming down over the winter. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition.

First, Stanton suffered a calf strain in spring training that I admittedly forgot about. He likely would have missed time in the regular season had there been no pandemic delaying things. By the time the regular season got underway in July, Stanton was ready to go. For a short while, at least.

It took just a couple of weeks for Stanton to land on the injured list. A tight hamstring forced him out of an August 8th affair against Tampa Bay. He was placed on the injured list the next day with a hamstring strain. Initially, Stanton was expected to return in three to four weeks. Instead, it took him closer to five weeks as he rejoined the club on September 15th.

There’s really no way to sugarcoat a second straight year of Stanton spending significant time sidelined. It’s good that the team and player are pursuing avenues to rectify these problems, I suppose. Still, the results have yet to come. Maybe we can place some blame on the oddness that was 2020 and the brief summer camp, but who knows. Perhaps, as Brian Cashman has indicated, the new training staff really won’t pay dividends until year two.

Health aside, the bat was there when it mattered

For all of the health trouble, there’s still no doubt that Stanton is one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. You may recall that he started off the season with a bang:

Giancarlo stayed hot after that first at-bat homer, too. Up until his placement on the injured list in early August, the full-time DH was hitting .293/.453/.585 (182 wRC+). What’s more: he cut down on strikeouts (20.4 percent in 54 plate appearances) while walking a ton (18.5 percent) and maintained his typical power (3 homers, .293 ISO). It was incredibly fun to watch Stanton hit and exciting to see him remain in the lineup day in and day out. Of course, it was just too good to be true.

The good news is that Stanton’s 2020 story didn’t end after his hamstring strain. Now, he didn’t fare so well upon return from the shelf. Stanton hit just .200/.300/.400 (92 wRC+) in his final 40 regular season trips to the plate. This included a particularly ugly skid during which he went 1-for-19 with 11 strikeouts during a five game stretch spanning September 20th through the 25th. As bad as that was, Stanton turned things around immediately once the postseason began.

Giancarlo hit .308/.387/1.038 (yes, a 1.038 slugging percentage) in 31 opportunities in the postseason. This included six homers, all included in the video above.

People love to hate on Stanton, but when push comes to shove, there’s no question about his greatness at the plate. Yes, it’s no fun to not have not seen him play all that much since 2018. Yes, it’s fair to be concerned about his long-term health given the amount of soft-tissue injuries and age (31). I get that. Yet, even without Stanton for much of the regular season, he was a force to be reckoned with when the team needed him most. The reaction to his injuries shouldn’t be to trade him. Rather: what can be done to keep him healthy?

What’s Next

Hopefully, a healthy 2021. The Yankees are planning for Stanton to be the designated hitter exclusively next season, which is a sensible plan. Ideally, he’d still be able to spell Aaron Judge or Clint Frazier in the outfield corners once or twice a week, but that may be asking for too much. As noted, Stanton’s bat is incredibly potent and if keeping him in the lineup daily requires a DH-only approach, so be it.

Again, perhaps year two under the Yankees’ new training staff makes a difference for Stanton too. Cashman relayed a warning he received about it taking time for a new staff to render results. In fact, he said that a new staff could result in more injuries in the first year employed.

If ZiPS has anything to say, it’s that Stanton is poised for a big 2021. The system projects a .250/.347/.558 (138 OPS+) next year, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even with all of his maladies, he hits when in the lineup. The bigger surprise is that ZiPS estimates 527 plate appearances for Stanton next season. Although that’s still short of a full year’s worth of playing time, it’s an amount I think anyone would sign for right now.

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6 Comments

  1. Vin

    I just wanna point something out.

    This past season there were no fans in attendance. I’ve always considered him to be someone who faced challenges with the NY pressure. Man his post series vs Hou two years ago he looked like such an easy out.

    I know that he’s had some strong stats as a Yankee when healthy. I would love for him to be the man, but the bottom line is, he needs to do it again with NY fans in attendance.

  2. MikeD

    I posted this similar thought on Mike’s blog a few weeks back. Stanton’s soft tissue injuries are on the rise. Could be age related, but it’s also corresponded with the more they DH him. I’m not saying there’s a cause-and-effect situation here as Stanton is going to be injury prone regardless, but it could be worsening the situation. He has shown he can take the field regularly, playing 159 and 158 games in back-to-back seasons, and in both cases playing in the field either full time (2017) or part time (2018). He’s a very big and muscular player. Sitting on the bench a half hour between ABs will lead to muscles cooling, contracting and tightening, ultimately increasing the potential for injuries.

    I believe Cressey has identified this as a problem. After Stanton returned from the IL this year, there were reports that Stanton was doing wind sprints up the lines between ABs. Good. Keep him stretched, keep the muscles warm. I can think of three separate injuries leading to the IL recently, one was him running to first, another sliding into second, another heading into third. In all cases, DHing, then sitting on the bench, then being forced into a rapid burst on the bases may be a contributing factor.

    I admit, I hate full-time DH’s because of the roster inflexibility it causes, so I want to figure out a way for Stanton to take the field at times. I’m not convinced Stanton iis best for LF, but I’d head into 2021 planning to give Stanton a third of the starts in RF. Judge is a better RFer, but Stanton is (or was!) solid out there too. Judge is also injury prone. He’ll miss games, but even if not, rotate some of Judge’s starts in the DH role too. We must may find both play more games that way.

    • Mungo

      I’ll take 120 games each from Judge and Stanton next year, but most importantly, I want them both healthy and at the top of their games at the same time in the postseason. Stanton’s bat was there this October, Judge most was not. In the past, Judge was there, Stanton wasn’t. That’s a fallout of their injuries. Even if the Yankees can get them back in time for October, that still won’t be good if they don’t have enough prep games. We saw that with Judge. He had a couple big bombs, but his timing overall was way off.

      • That’s a great observation and I’m highly inclined to agree with you! Sadly, he IS an injury prone player and while as you said this isn’t a cause-and-effect situation, it certainly makes sense that there is the possibility (based on some circumstantial evidence – but it seems right on to me, tbh) that him being the full-time DH could be contributing to his injuries esp. as he ages. Very astute of you. I totally agree. I live out West & dont watch a million Yankee games until the postseason & their one or two series in Oakland but it just all adds up. We can’t say for certain but it feels like something the trainers or doctors should be able to see & study to determine if there might be a connection there. Great comment.

        • MikeD

          I do think Eric Cressey and his team have identified this as an issue. Fans were hoping that he’d solve all the injuries his first year working with the team, but as even Cashman noted, there was always a chance injuries would increase the first year as routines were changed, and they experimented with different approaches.

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