Grounded: Digging into Giancarlo’s Biggest Issue

When a Yankee comes up to the plate with a runner on first and/or second, do you reflexively cringe, just waiting anxiously for the double play to come? Yeah, me, too. That’s what the 2021 season has done to us as Yankee fans. Their penchant for grounding into double plays–always, it seems, at the worst possible times–is maddening beyond belief. A player emblematic of the Yankees’ struggles to get the ball off the ground is, ironically enough, Giancarlo Stanton.

All year, he’s struggled to lift the ball and while he’s had a fine season overall, it’s definitely hurt his production. Mike Axisa, in his 8/13 patreon post, dove into Stanton’s grounders a bit:

 “…his 50.0% ground ball rate is a career high by three percentage points and well above his 43.6% ground ball rate from 2016-18…”

Mike also showed that Stanton has jumped way up in terms of balls that are hit at a launch angle of 10 degrees or lower, up to 56.5%, way above the marks from 2017 or 2018 (Mike excluded ’19 and ’20 for SSS reasons). With this in mind, I took to the Statcast illustrator to check out Stanton’s 2021 launch angles, then compared them to his 2015-2020 numbers.

This is the chart for 2021:

What immediately jumps out to me are those numbers at the top of the zone and just out of it. While the middle-up zone shows a launch angle we’d expect from a power hitter, the middle-in, middle-out, and just above the zone do not. Those are pitches we expect hitters, especially power hitters, to get under and hit in the air, which is what the 2015-2020 chart demonstrates:

What the differences in these charts tell us in those zones–and others–is that Stanton is hitting grounders on balls he didn’t normally for the rest of his career. Perhaps his swing on those zones is out of whack and he’s topping balls in those spots. When a power hitter is topping those balls, it’s not going to lead to great success.

Let’s now take a closer look at where in the zone ground balls are actually coming from off of Stanton’s bat. First again is 2021; following that is 2015-2020.

The difference that jumps out to me is that prior to this year, the majority of Stanton’s ground balls came on pitches that either jammed him inside or that he chased on the outer part of the plate and beyond as well as below. This year, however, we’re seeing a higher concentration of grounders in the upper part of the zone, particularly high and outside as well as low in the zone rather than out of it. While it’s nice to see that he’s not rolling over on pitches inside or that he’s chasing, it’s concerning that we’re seeing so many grounders in the zone in places that shouldn’t be producing grounders.

Unfortunately, this issue has persisted through 2021, but if I’m writing about this, Stanton and the Yankees are obviously aware of it and are trying to fix it. From this evidence and a far-off view, it seems that he may be swinging in an suboptimal way to produce good, productive contact. Maybe he needs to take the Juan Soto route and try to hit a bunch of homers in BP to get his swing back to what it needs to be.

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4 Comments

  1. MikeD

    Bat speed remains, and he still crushes the ball. His K% at 28.1 matches his career rate, and is actually the lowest of his Yankee career. The double play he hit into last week vs. the Royals, which matched the highest hard-hit ball in MLB (both by Stanton), was so vintage 2021 Yankees. It’s really been a team-wide issue. Hitting two many ground balls. Too many DPs. Perhaps opposition pitchers have changed their approach vs. the Yankees and they in turn haven’t adjusted back, or maybe the Yankees adopted a different approach this year in an attempt to put more balls in play. Difficult to say, but as the author noted, the Yankees are certainly well aware of it. This is the type of issue that can get the hitting coach fired, deserved or not. Reminds me when Kevin Long was regarded as the best hitting coach in the game and the Yankees eventually let him go after a down year. Thames will have many suitors if he’s let go.

  2. V. Fieseler

    Time for a change of a hitting coach… or a Stanton trade.

  3. I’m no batting coach (nor have I ever tried to hit a 95+ fast ball) but it sure seems to me that Stanton feels like he’s lost some bat speed and is trying to compensate by being in ‘swing mode’ on way too many pitches, particularly the breaking balls down and away.

    I also never saw him play earlier in his career so don’t know if he’s always been a ‘guess’ hitter or not but that’s what he’s turned into now. The problem is that when you guess on a pitch and you get your pitch you need to hit it and do some damage and he swings through (or hits ground balls) on way too many of them.

    This isn’t likely to get better as he gets older and the Yankees are likely stuck with him for a long time-just a really bad acquisition to a team that was already overloaded with ‘all or nothing’ approaches at the plate.

  4. Scully

    I’ve seen enough Stanton ABs this year to notice that he uniformly steps towards the third base line with each swing. He stands so far from the plate and he’s so open with his stance that by stepping towards third base he’s essentially pulling off every pitch that isn’t a hanging breaking ball in the middle of the zone (like the one that he hit off Hendricks the other night for a home run). He’s not staying through the ball by stepping into it and therefore he’s getting on top of everything and easily wiffing on breaking balls over the outer half of the plate. If i can see this watching on TV, other team’s scouting reports have noticed it.

    He’s also SO rigid in his swing. I believe he actually needs to lose 5-10 lbs this offseason and become more flexible.

    I’ve also seen Stanton take more fastballs right down the middle for strike three than anyone in recent memory. I think perhaps that’s because he gets so many breaking balls out of the zone and fast balls low and high and away, that he’s never ready for a pitch right over the plate to hit.

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