What metrics say about Stanton's start -- and why it won't last

Slugger's strikeout rate is up to 33 percent, but exit velocity is up, too

April 24th, 2018
New York Yankees' Giancarlo Stanton celebrates his solo home run in the dugout during ninth-inning baseball game action against the Toronto Blue Jays in Toronto, Thursday, March 29, 2018. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)Frank Gunn/AP

Each week on the Statcast™ Podcast, hosts Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers dig into the world of Statcast™ and advanced metrics, exploring the most important topics in baseball through the lens of the groundbreaking Statcast™ technology. Download, subscribe and help others find the show by leaving a rating and review on iTunes or your favorite platform.
's first few weeks in pinstripes haven't exactly gone as planned, to say the least. He's already been booed. Stanton has been dropped in the lineup, swapping places with Didi Gregorius. On the whole, he hasn't looked all that much like the monster slugger who edged out Joey Votto to win the 2017 National League Most Valuable Player Award, and any time a star comes to the Bronx and gets off to a slow start -- he was hitting .185/.283/.395 entering Monday's game -- fans begin to worry.
Should they? Stanton's slump was a topic of this week's Statcast™ podcast, as we dug into what the data says about his slow start. The takeaway is that his early slump is concerning, but it's not like we've never seen him do this before -- and his 4-for-4 performance on Monday, including a 435-foot home run, may be the sign that the tide is turning.

While Stanton was the first "exit velocity hero" when Statcast™ came online in 2015, leading the Majors with a 95.9 mph average exit velocity that year, what was most fascinating about the success that followed was that he stopped hitting it quite so hard, seemingly trading top-end power for a better contact rate.
2015 -- 29.9 percent strikeout rate, 95.9 mph exit velocity
2016 -- 29.8 percent strikeout rate, 93.8 mph exit velocity
2017 -- 23.6 percent strikeout rate, 91.9 mph exit velocity
But so far in 2018, that trend has changed. Stanton's exit velocity is back up to 94.8 mph, a top-15 mark. Yet the strikeout rate, which had dropped almost to league average in '17, is back up to 33 percent. That's a strikeout one-third of the time, and it's essentially one of the 10 highest in the game.
So what's going on? Let's first prove the fact that we have seen this before.
Since Stanton's June 2010 debut, he's played in 43 months. Let's look only at the 41 months in which he had at least 40 plate appearances to see where the first month of the '18 season ranks in some important metrics.
33 percent strikeout rate: Sixth highest
Even in today's whiff-happy game, a 33 percent strikeout rate is high. Even so, we've seen Stanton go through these stretches before. Now, one of those was his first season in the big leagues, when he whiffed 38.3 percent of the time in June 2010. Stanton was at 37 percent in September/October 2012, and between 33-35 percent in three other months, too. Remember when he went through that terrible summer slump in '16? We've seen this before.
53 percent ground-ball rate: Third highest
While most of Stanton's issues are about making contact, it's not entirely about that, either. More than half of the balls that he is making contact with are ending up on the ground, the third-highest mark of his career, behind only last September (58 percent) and July 2011 (56 percent). Even when you hit as hard as Stanton does, getting it in the air is important.
30.2 percent opposite field rate: Second highest (tied)
Speaking of unexpected batted-balls tendencies ... Stanton is also hitting a shockingly high number of balls to the opposite field. For his career, he's pulled 43 percent of his batted balls, and put 21 percent to the opposite field. So far this month, Stanton is hitting nearly one-third of them to the opposite field, tied with May 2014, and behind only September 2014 (35 percent), when he hit just .230.

.342 Weighted On-Base Average: 10th lowest
Think of wOBA as being like OBP, except it gives more credit for extra-base hits, which is important to someone like Stanton. The Major League average wOBA this year, excluding pitchers, is .319. Right away, that should tell you something: Even a month that makes us wonder what's wrong with Stanton is still an above-average month. If you like OPS+, he's 10 percent better than average. If you like wRC+, he's 14 percent better than average. So yes, for Stanton, this is below average. For everyone else, this is a good month.
.362 Expected Weighted On-Base Average: Eighth lowest (of 16)
This one goes back only until the start of 2015, so it's only of 16 months, not Stanton's full career. This metric is basically the same as wOBA, except that instead of telling you what actually happened, it tells you what was expected to happen, based on the qualities of batted-ball contact, along with strikeouts and walks. (Think about it this way; if a batter crushes a ball that's a hit 98 percent of the time, but he is robbed by a fantastic defensive play, he'll get an out in the box score, but we still want to credit him for the skill he showed in squaring the ball up.)
This mark, believe it or not, is only slightly below Stanton's .378 total xwOBA since 2015. This is a slow start for him, but based on the underlying characteristics, not by as much as you'd think.
We've seen Stanton do this, and worse, before. He's always bounced back. There's no reason to think he won't again -- and Monday's great game might be the start of the turnaround.