Nothing went in Giancarlo Stanton’s favor in 2019. He missed nearly all of the season with a myriad of injuries and setbacks, only to return just in time for the postseason and get hurt once again. It was a disappointing and lost season for the now 30 year-old slugger still in the midst of his prime.
2020 marks Stanton’s third year in pinstripes. This one’s going to be the charm, right? Now, 2018 was a very good season by anyone’s standards: he hit .266/.343/.509 (130 OPS+) with 38 homers in 705 plate appearances. But, following his ridiculously great 2017 campaign with Miami, there was the predictable insatiable Yankees fan disappointment. That sentiment from some corners of the fanbase only got worse following his absence for much of last year.
Of course, Stanton wasn’t alone in dealing with the trials and tribulations of staying healthy last season. It’s hard to remember which players didn’t go on the injured list in 2019. But 2020 is a clean slate for everyone, Stanton included. Best of all, he’s still a fantastic player. With that, let’s get into a few of the storylines for him this season.
Can he stay healthy?
It’s the age old question for Stanton. Giancarlo played just 18 regular season games last season around a myriad of injuries. His postseason was also cut short by injury. It was an incredibly frustrating season, particularly after he seemingly shed the injury-prone label. Remember, Stanton played in 159 and 158 games in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
I’d like to think that the Yankees’ training staff overhaul will be beneficial to Stanton. Not only did Stanton suffer a number of maladies last season, but he also dealt with rehab setbacks. He wasn’t the only one to have setbacks during recovery, likely a big reason why the Yankees made the sweeping changes.
The Yankees were able to get by without Stanton and many others for much of 2019, but counting on similar performance from depth this year would be foolhardy. Yes, the Yankees tend to unearth position player gems out of nowhere, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be fine to lose Stanton again for months on end. Keeping him on the field is priority number one.
How much outfield will he play?
One way to keep Stanton off the injured list? Make him the designated hitter more often. Less wear and tear on his six-foot-six, 245 pound frame wouldn’t be a bad thing. That said, he didn’t get hurt playing the field last season. Rather, he injured himself running the bases and swinging the bat. Again, less running around the expanse of Yankee Stadium’s left field should help theoretically, but it’s not foolproof.
Moreover, Stanton’s actually a pretty good outfielder. He hasn’t had a below average season per Statcast’s Outs Above Average metric. DRS and UZR are fans too, although FRAA not so much in recent seasons.
If Stanton wasn’t good defensively, it’d be much easier to make him the full-time DH. Nonetheless, the Yankees are deep in terms of plus-defensive outfielders. Brett Gardner, Mike Tauchman, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge are all very good at their respective positions. That itself could make it easier to DH Stanton, especially once Hicks returns from Tommy John surgery rehab.
Aaron Boone was asked about the outfield vs. DH situation for Stanton this week. Here’s what he had to say:
“A good portion of both [DH and left field] probably. I think it depends on, you know, the overall health of our team as a whole,” Boone said. “I could envision him playing a good portion of outfield but I could also envision things unfolding in a way that that makes it to where he’s getting more DH reps. The thing about Giancarlo is, he’s comfortable doing either. He’s comfortable in left field … but he’s also taken to the DH role.”Aaron Boone
Yeah, it’s pretty hard for the manager to commit to anything when the calendar still says February. Here’s what Stanton himself had to say this morning:
Giancarlo Stanton said that he took two days off after the season, then resumed rehab and workouts.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) February 19, 2020
He has no limitations entering the spring and expects his OF/DH split to be similar to 2018, depending on what the team needs.
As long as he’s healthy, Stanton will be in the lineup on a daily basis. It’s just not quite clear how often he’ll need a glove. These sort of things work themselves out though (crosses fingers for Judge).
Will his opt out be a distraction?
It seems like any talk about Stanton’s post-2020 opt out has gone by the wayside. Per Cot’s, Stanton would earn $218 million from 2021 through 2027 should he not exercise his right to test the market. By the way, Miami’s on the hook for $30 million of that amount. Anyway, that’s a hefty sum to pass up, hence the lack of discussion about the opt out. Still, there’s certainly a scenario that it could happen.
For Stanton to walk away from $218 million entering his age-31 season, he’d probably need to come close to his 2017 campaign. That year, Stanton hit .281/.376/.631 (169 OPS+) with 59 homers and won the National League MVP. Yeah, I’d be absolutely ecstatic to see Stanton do that again, this time in pinstripes. But what would it take for him to approach that level again? Reducing his chase rate, for one.
Stanton set a career low in chase rate in 2017 — 25 percent — and in turn had a career low strikeout rate of 23.6 percent. When a guy who absolutely crushes the ball puts more in play, it’s unequivocally a good thing. And it’ll take the kind of discipline he had against Zack Greinke in Game 1 of last year’s ALCS:
After Stanton fell behind 0-2 — including a chase on a bad slider on 0-1 — he worked the count to 3-2, including laying off two sliders off the plate. It led to this thing of beauty:
All that said, I didn’t ask what it would take for Stanton to opt out. I asked if it would be a distraction. To which I say: no.
If Stanton’s opt out becomes a talking point this summer, I’d be absolutely thrilled. I mean, I’ll gladly take a season pushing 60 homers from Stanton. Wouldn’t you? Anyway, all it takes for Stanton to make a theoretical distraction go away is saying something simple like: “I’m not thinking about my contract at all right now, I’m fully focused on hoisting
a piece of metal the World Series trophy come this fall.” Done.
2020 Outlook: What They’re Saying
Here is what the projections are saying going into the season:
- PECOTA (595 PA): .257/.352/.536, 38 HR, 139 DRC+, 3.3 WARP
- ZiPS (567 PA): .257/.344/.571, 43 HR, 134 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR
- Steamer (612 PA): .268/.355/.589, 48 HR, 143 wRC+, 4.2 fWAR
Gimme the Steamer projection, please and thank you. I’d be happy with any of these, to be fair. One thing’s for sure: Stanton’s still a great hitter and should be one of the team’s best offensive contributors in 2020. It’s just a matter of staying healthy, as always.
Personally, I think we’re in for a monster campaign from Stanton. I was so, so ready for him to go off in the playoffs last year. It looked like that was about to happen, especially after that homer off Greinke. Of course, another injury ruined things. That’s OK though, the past is the past. I’m ready for and predicting an MVP-caliber season for Stanton in 2020.