Giancarlo Stanton is in the midst of the worst slump of his career. Everyone is wondering what is wrong with him. It’s a question that has plagued Stanton, hitting coach Barry Bonds, the Marlins organization, and all of baseball.
Just a few days ago Stanton’s last 30 games line was .118/.211/.206. He has now shown signs of improvement this past series against the Rockies, bringing his average up to .165 over his last 30 games and is hitting .318 over his last 7 games, but with 2 RBIs and no home runs. Better than before, but still not Giancarlo numbers. He is also not making as much contact with the ball. His strikeout rate over the past month and a week is 46.1 percent. That is not just above average- it is more than twice the Major League average of 21.1 percent. No hitter in baseball history has ever had a season with at least 300 plate appearances and put up a 40 percent strikeout rate. No hitter will last with that little amount of contact.
There have been many theories as to why Stanton has been struggling. Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez suggested that maybe Stanton cannot see the ball as well anymore after being beaned in head by Mike Fiers in 2014. He suffered fractures around the left side of his face and maybe that affected his eye at the plate. However, that doesn’t necessarily hold up since Stanton was on pace to have his best year yet in 2015 when a broken hamate bone ended his season in June. At that point, he was hitting .265 with 27 home runs and 67 RBIs. He was on pace for over 60 home runs last year. This year he was off to his best start ever. Why would he suddenly fall off and now not be able to see the ball as well?
He hasn’t lost his power as he blasted a 475 foot home run this year and also hit a ground ball on June 9th against the Minnesota Twins that Statcast measured to have an exit velocity of 123.9 MPH. Those are all good signs, but the numbers aren’t adding up. It doesn’t stand to reason that Stanton simply forgot how to hit, since he has a long, clear record of excellence. However, there is some evidence that maybe his swing mechanics have changed just to the point where it is causing him to struggle this badly.
Take a look at Stanton hitting a three run home run here back in June of 2015 against Colorado. Look at where his feet and his stride are. Because Stanton is so big and tall (6’6″ 245), he is able to stand a little bit off of the plate and still be able to reach the outside pitch, while also allowing himself to get extended on a pitch inside. This is what made him so good. He takes a somewhat closed stride in order to not get beat on the outside pitch while allowing himself room to hit the inside pitch.
Here, we have New York Mets flame-thrower Noah Syndergaard striking Stanton out on a 92 MPH slider on the outside corner. Stanton is flailing to try and make contact with the ball and comes up short. Look at his stride here. He is not as closed and is more open then he used to be. How to tell? You cannot see Stanton’s back foot in the home run shot, but you can see it in the strikeout. When Stanton opens up with his stride, he pulls off the ball and he takes away his ability to reach the outside pitch. The numbers agree too, as his outside contact rate has dropped from 49.8% in 2014, to 39.9% in 2015, and down to 32.5% in 2016. He also hits just .211 on sliders low-and-away and has his highest strikeout rate on that pitch. MLB Tonight analysts and former MLB stars Harold Reynolds and Pedro Martinez broke this down, saying that when a pitcher sees a guy stride open and pull off resulting in him flailing at the ball, the pitcher takes advantage of this mismatch. Pitchers will then pound the outside corner and low and away with off-speed after off-speed pitches until Stanton makes the necessary adjustments. Obviously, pitchers have realized this and are continuing to throw Stanton breaking-balls low and away and Stanton continues to miss them, like he does off of Syndergaard (see above).
On top of that, Stanton could still be experiencing side soreness. He missed the final week of May because his side was sore and he was unable to swing with his full power. For an athlete who’s job requires him to twist at maximum effort, this is certainly a problem, especially for someone as strong as Stanton who is relied on for power and run production.
The evidence is there and it should not be a huge adjustment for Stanton to stride more closed in order to reach that outside pitch. Once he does that, he will be able to attack the baseball and drive it to all parts of the field like he used too. If his side is still bothering him, then the Marlins can give him a week or two to rest and recover to make sure the side is healthy. Whatever Stanton has to do, he must do it quickly if the Marlins want to have a chance to compete for a playoff spot.
All information and stats courtesy of Statcast, Mlb.com, and Fangraphs.
Image courtesy of outsidepitchmlb.com
Screenshots courtesy of Fox Sports Florida and MLB.com At Bat