On Tuesday night, Aaron Judge did nothing less than tie Babe Ruth’s long-insurmountable total of 60 home runs, but Giancarlo Stanton hit a homer that nearly upstaged him. Just minutes after Judge’s ninth-inning blast off the Pirates’ Wil Crowe trimmed Pittsburgh’s lead to 8-5, Stanton hit a walk-off grand slam. The shot offered some hope that he’s emerging from a prolonged slump, but until he sustains something close to his normal level of production, there’s plenty of reason for concern.
After Judge’s homer off Crowe, Anthony Rizzo doubled, Gleyber Torres walked, and Josh Donaldson singled to load the bases, still with nobody out. Crowe ran the count to 2-2 and then went down and in on a changeup. Stanton turned on it and hit a laser to left field:
First off, the home run was extreme. At 118 mph off the bat, it tied Shohei Ohtani’s June 25 homer off Logan Gilbert for the second-fastest of the year; Stanton also hit the fastest, a 119.8-mph blast off the Cubs’ Matt Swarmer. The home run’s 16-degree launch angle was just one degree off Stanton’s lowest homer of the season on April 8 off Nathan Eovaldi, though Xander Bogaerts had a 14-degree clothesline on August 31, and both Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Kevin Kiermaier had 15-degree ropes this year as well.
Stanton’s 10th career slam was also the second “ultimate grand slam” — a walk-off when down by three runs — of the Yankees’ season, after Donaldson’s shot off the Rays’ Jalen Beeks on August 17. Per MLB.com’s Sarah Langs, that made the Yankees just the second team to have two such homers in the same season, after the 1956 Pirates (one by Danny Kravitz, the other an inside-the-park homer by Roberto Clemente). Since 1925, there have been just 32 such homers in AL/NL history.
The homer clinched the Yankees’ 10th win in their past 14 games, but while they beat the Pirates again on Wednesday night in more lopsided fashion (14-2), Stanton was one of two starters who went hitless. He did accompany his pair of strikeouts with two walks, coming around to score both times, but any declarations that his slump is over appear to be premature.
Indeed, Stanton is hitting an unfathomable .118/.227/.235 (35 wRC+) with three homers in 97 PA since the All-Star break after a .237/.319/.516 (134 wRC+) first half with 24 homers, a performance that netted him his first All-Star appearance since 2017. Among players with at least 90 PA since the break, he has the lowest batting average and is in a virtual tie for the 14th-lowest wRC+:
Worst Second-Half Slumps by wRC+
Minimum 90 plate appearances since the All-Star break.
It’s worth noting that Stanton’s dismal performance may owe something to his injuries. He’s been sidelined twice this season, missing nine games due to a right calf strain from May 25 to June 4, and then 28 games due to left Achilles tendinitis from July 26 to August 25. Though he’s had bursts of productivity since he first went down — most notably a six-game binge over which he hit five homers from June 23–29, and then homers in back-to-back games on September 10–11 — he hasn’t come close to his normal level of production since his first stint on the injured list:
Giancarlo Stanton’s Segmented Season
|Apr. 8-May 24||168||11||8.3%||28.0%||97.2||.333||.285||.339||.523||141|
|June 4-July 23||160||13||13.1%||28.7%||92.6||.127||.167||.277||.471||112|
|Aug. 25-Sept. 21||87||3||13.8%||33.3%||94.1||.163||.133||.253||.267||55|
Stanton’s raw Statcast data for the full season tells us that he’s mashing, with a 95.1 mph average exit velocity (same as last year, and in the 99th percentile), a 19.2% barrel rate (up from last year’s 15.7%, and in the 98th percentile), and a 53.1% hard-hit rate (down from last year’s 56.3% but still in the 98th percentile). While his average exit velocity in the post-injury segments of his season has remained more than respectable — with even the lowest mark higher than his 91.9 mph average in 2017, the year he hit 59 homers — those astonishingly low BABIPs highlight the extent to which his meager production has been propped up by his occasional bursts of power, particularly that aforementioned binge in late June. He has a .139 BABIP since his first IL stint, the majors’ lowest by 15 points among players with at least 100 PA since the start of June, and has produced just a 92 wRC+ since then.
Digging through his Statcast pages, a few things stand out. First, he’s struggling against fastballs:
Giancarlo Stanton vs. Fastballs, 2021-22
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
That looks like two completely different hitters, and if not for the 97 mph exit velos on the four-seamers, you wouldn’t think either of them was Stanton. Last year he crushed fastballs, but this year, if he isn’t running into one to send it over the fence, he’s in trouble. I didn’t have room for it in the table, but his whiff rate against four-seamers is up, from 28.5% to 34%, and his Statcast run value against them is down from 13 runs above average to four above average. He’s not whiffing as much against sinkers as last year (16.3% versus 17.9%), but his run value there has fallen from six runs above average to six below.
While Stanton isn’t particularly struggling against fastballs high in the strike zone (mainly four-seamers), his problems show up on those in the lower third as well as the inner and outer thirds. I’ve aggregated four-seamers and sinkers here to beef up the sample sizes:
Giancarlo Stanton vs. Fastballs by Location, 2021-22
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Zone numbers refer to Gameday zones.
Yikes. Stanton’s performance against the two types of fastballs was adequate (and perhaps unlucky) in April and great in May, but has been abysmal ever since:
Giancarlo Stanton vs. Fastballs by Month, 2022
I put the line breaks in as a reminder of his absences, but the general trend seems clear: it’s been downhill since he first got injured.
Note the variance in the tables above when it comes to his launch angles. Unlike Judge, Stanton tends to hit a lot of grounders even when he’s doing well, because he scorches enough of them that they get through the infield. This year he’s hitting them harder than at any other time in the Statcast era but isn’t getting results:
Giancarlo Stanton Groundballs
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
2019 and ’20 omitted due to small samples.
Via Statcast, Stanton is topping more balls than ever, meaning that he’s hitting them with exit velocities above 60 mph (below is weak contact, the yellow half-circle) but at unproductive launch angles, generally below zero:
That’s a career high 35.5% rate of topped balls, up from last year’s 32% and a Statcast-era mark of 31.3%. Meanwhile, his sweet spot rate (the percentage of balls hit with launch angles in the 8–32 degree range, regardless of exit velocity) has fallen to 26.1%, down from 32.6% last year and a career mark of 33%.
Stanton’s diminished performance on grounders coincides with his sprint speed falling through the floor, either because he genuinely can’t run fast due to the leg injuries or because he’s trying to protect himself. The trend is grim:
Giancarlo Stanton Sprint Speeds
SOURCE: Baseball Savant
Keep in mind that even before this season, Stanton suffered a litany of leg injuries. In 2019, when he played in just 18 regular season games, he had a left calf strain, a posterior collateral ligament strain in his right knee, and a right quad strain. In 2020, when he played just 23 games, he had a right calf strain and left hamstring strain, and last year, he had a left quad strain and right calf strain, though he did manage to play in 139 games.
Since the start of August, the Yankees have gone just 24-24 while scoring 3.85 runs per game. Beyond Judge, who’s hit for a 253 wRC+ in that span (.366/.505/.791), only two currently available regulars have managed a wRC+ of at least 100, namely Donaldson (125 wRC+) and Rizzo (109), and the latter has been limited to 25 games in that span due to injuries. More recently, Torres and Isiah Kiner-Falefa have heated up, and the long-awaited debut of Harrison Bader should help. Given his importance to the Yankees’ lineup, it’s understandable why Stanton would want to play but be wary of aggravating old injuries, though the numbers say he’s doing more harm than good. Perhaps it’s still a matter of getting his timing and mechanics back, but one has to wonder if he’s physically sound. Even a well-timed homer here and there isn’t enough to convince anyone his slump is really over, but if the Yankees are to stick around in October, they’ll need his big bat.