As noted in our bold predictions review, if before Opening Day you told me that Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge would be (mostly) healthy all year, I’d have expected the Yankees to be an offensive juggernaut. Of course, the Bombers weren’t in spite of two of the team’s biggest stars remaining available all year long. The offensive malaise certainly wasn’t their fault, though.
I thought Stanton might sneak in one or two 10th place MVP award votes thanks to his overall strong batting line (137 wRC+) along with a great second half. He didn’t, but that’s no biggie. More importantly, Stanton reminded us of what it’s like to have him in the lineup regularly again for the first time since 2018. And wow, was he fun to watch.
He stayed healthy!
Stanton appeared in 158 games in his first season in the Bronx, but has struggled to stay on the field ever since. He played in only 41 of 222 regular season games across 2019 and 2020 due to a myriad of soft tissue injuries, including biceps and hamstring strains. His injury in the 2019 ALCS may have cost the Yankees a chance to advance to the World Series, too. Then, this May, Stanton suffered a quad strain, evoking the “here we go again” sentiment. Fortunately, it was a brief absence as the slugger spent just 11 days on the shelf and wound up playing in 139 games this year.
It sure looks like an overhaul of Stanton’s offseason training made a difference. Remember, the Yankees made sweeping changes to the team’s training staff after the 2019 season, but as you know, 2020 was another year the roster was besieged by injuries. Amid the frustration that year, Brian Cashman noted that the payoff from a new training staff typically doesn’t come until year two. In Stanton’s case, that sure seems to be true. Perhaps it took a year of evaluating Stanton’s routine, and then before this year, the staff made recommendations that apparently worked out.
Stanton’s not getting any younger and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect him to play in 158 games ever again, but if the Yankees can continue to get him on the field in the 130 – 140 range, along with a clean bill of health for October, they’ll take it.
He can still play the outfield
It took until the very end of July, but we finally saw Stanton don a glove for the first time since 2019. He started in left field against the Marlins in Miami on July 30th and wound up playing a fair bit of both outfield corners through the end of the year. In total, Stanton roamed the outfield grass in 26 games (199.2 innings).
Playing the field was a long time coming. It was frustrating to see Stanton locked into the DH role for so long given all of the other players who could have rotated in, especially with the loss of Aaron Hicks and Clint Frazier in the outfield. Plus, it’s not like Stanton is a bad outfielder. He had a good reputation with the Marlins and was pretty solid for the Yankees in 2018 (+1 OAA).
OAA was a bit harsher on Stanton this year (-2 OAA), but I don’t remember cringing while watching him play the field this season. He’s not Aaron Judge or Joey Gallo out there, but he’s more than capable of handling either corner still.
All this isn’t to say that Stanton should no longer DH, but rather, it’d be nice to continue to see him split time at DH and the outfield. There was plenty of concern about how playing the field regularly would wear him down and lead to injury, but that didn’t happen this season. That may not be confirmation bias, either. As mentioned, he changed his offseason routine and that ostensibly helped him remain on the field for the majority of the year, outfield or not.
The bat hasn’t gone anywhere
Power and patience typically age pretty well, so it’s not a big surprise that Stanton’s still the same hitter he was even after missing so much time in 2019 and 2020. He hit .273/.354/.516 (137 wRC+) and swatted 35 homers in 579 plate appearances this year, which raised his wRC+ to 133 with the Yankees.
All of the underlying skills remain omnipresent, particularly how hard he hits the baseball. Some ranks:
- Max Exit Velocity: 122.2 MPH, 1st in MLB
- Average Exit Velocity: 95.1 MPH, 2nd (Aaron Judge was 1st)
- Hard Hit Percentage: 55.6%, 4th
- Barrel Rate: 9.7%, 17th
Ridiculous. He’s the kind of hitter who can’t be hurt by all of the alterations the baseball has undergone since it was completely juiced a few years back. You know how some industries are “recession-proof”? Stanton is dead ball-proof.
It’s no secret that Stanton can still crush the ball, of course. I don’t think anyone was particularly worried about that ability dissipating. On the flip side, strikeouts have always been a major worry with the slugger. He went down on strikes 30.1 percent of the time in his first three seasons in pinstripes. This year, he took a step forward and lowered it to 27.1 percent. The league K-rate has hovered between 23.0 and 23.4 percent since 2019, so it’s good to see Stanton find a way to improve relative to his peers.
Stanton was a little bit more aggressive this season, but certainly not to his detriment. He cut down on whiffs overall, including pitches off the plate. Moreover, while he still flailed a lot at breaking balls off the plate, he cut down on his swing-and-miss there too (72.0% to 70.5%).
Whether or not these plate discipline improvements are sustainable or not remains to be seen. Even if there is some regression, he consistently hits the ball so hard that it’s going to be tough to keep him down.
Stanton’s here for a while: at the minimum through 2027, though the Yankees have a club option for the 2028 season. Keeping him healthy will be of the utmost importance over those years, especially in the near-term when he’s still at the top of his game. Hopefully, this year is a sign of more good things to come. He had just one brief IL stint and remained healthy even while taking on a more physically demanding role by year end.
Now, even though Stanton played the field quite a bit in the second half, he probably will be the team’s primary DH in 2022. Judge and Gallo figure to roam the corners most of the time, although that doesn’t mean we won’t see Stanton there at all. In fact, it’s going to be nice to have Stanton as an outfield option from start-to-finish, rather than late July onward. Judge and Gallo will need days off, could occasionally DH, or even play center field in a pinch. That’s where Stanton will come in.
Offensively, Stanton should remain in the cleanup spot, which is the lineup position he possessed most of this year. Judge looks pretty comfortable hitting second, and I expect a lefty to break things up in the three hole. And Stanton should remain pretty great in the cleanup role. Steamer projects a .268/.353/.540 (141 wRC+) with 39 homers in 136 games next season. Sign me up right now.