When you think of Giancarlo Stanton making contact, you think of two things: laser line drives and towering fly balls that wind up a dozen rows back in the seats. To put it bluntly, Stanton hits the crap out of the ball when he makes contact. Had he qualified via plate appearances last year, he would’ve ranked 60th in exit velocity, 31st, in hard hit percentage, and 31st in barrels/PA% (tied with a bunch of people there). He also had his second highest (32.7) line drive percentage in the Statcast era last year. So why am I leading off this piece about improvements by talking about something Stanton does well? Because a funny thing happened on the way to his typical hard-hitting profile last year: a big spike in groundball rate.
Stanton hit grounders at a 49% clip last year. This led to a career high ‘weak’ contact percentage at 10.2%. Now, there are some caveats here. Stanton wasn’t fully healthy in 2020, it’s a small sample size, and it didn’t quite affect his production as he still ended up with a .373 wOBA per Statcast (.379 on FanGraphs). But it could’ve been better had he not beaten so many balls into the ground.
While his line drive rate didn’t suffer, as evidenced above, it did bring his fly ball percentage down to a career low 12.2%. Considering how much production he gets from balls in the air, it’s easy to see why so many grounders would mean he left production on the table. Per Statcast, he had just a .123 wOBA on grounders. Compare that to an absurd .922 on fly balls and line drives and you’ll see what I mean. Again, small sample, injury, and pandemic baseball caveats apply, but hitting so many grounders definitely hurt Stanton’s production, even if it was fine overall.
So, his room for improvement? Get the ball back in the air. Easier said than done, of course, so let’s look at where he could stand to do that by comparing 2020 to a more full season, like 2018. Immediately below is Stanton’s zone profile for GB% in 2020. Take note of two spots: middle in and middle down in the zone. 50% each, right?
Now, let’s take a look at 2018.
In the two zones I highlighted, we see much lower numbers: 37 and 44. If Stanton can get back to getting those balls in the air like he has previously, his production numbers could get even better.
Aside from being healthy, getting lift to his balls in play is probably the best thing Stanton can do to improve in 2021. Hopefully he can build off his great postseason run and help carry the team like he’s capable of.