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.