Stanton's laser homer a reminder for his critics

October 13th, 2019

HOUSTON -- All it took was one swing. All it will ever take is one swing.

Yankees left fielder reminded everyone why he was in the lineup in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Astros on Saturday at Minute Maid Park and how he is always one monstrous hack away from the signature moment the franchise has been waiting for since he was acquired from the Marlins in December 2017.

Stanton’s sixth-inning solo home run -- a laser to right-center field that was projected by Statcast to travel 406 feet and was clocked at 110.7 mph -- gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead in the eventual 7-0 victory. It will go down as the slugger’s second career postseason home run, his first this year, but it could be remembered as much more.

Stanton finally is healthy, and Saturday’s homer could be a sign that he’s back on track and poised for a breakout postseason.

“[The home run] is obviously what you want, but you have to keep pushing and having good at-bats,” Stanton said. “If they are not going to give me good pitches to hit, keep the line moving. I knew I hit it good. I didn’t know how far it was going to carry.”

It’s been an eventful year for Stanton. He was limited to 18 games during the season after spending time on the injured list from the start of April to the middle of June with a left biceps strain and again from June 26-Sept. 18 with a right knee contusion.

Stanton, who was not in the lineup for Game 2 but is available off the bench, has been a work in progress at the plate since his return. In fact, he chased 34.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone in September, topping his 24.2 percent rate through June. Stanton has, however, been much more selective in October. He chased only 15.6 percent of the pitches outside of the strike zone in the AL Division Series against the Twins, the third-lowest rate out of 64 postseason hitters who saw at least 25 out-of-zone pitches.

Stanton finished the ALDS with one base hit, but with four walks.

“In the playoffs, it’s just about not giving away at-bats,” Stanton said. “The least amount of at-bats given away [by a team] is usually the team that’s going to win. That’s the overall team approach, and I’ve worked hard trying to do that, and it’s been working.”

Stanton’s improved discipline at the plate meshes well with his team’s approach. The Yanks ranked second in pitches seen per plate appearance in the Majors in 2019 with 4.05, trailing only the Mariners, who saw 4.11 pitches.

“You just see how it wears down pitchers, grinding out at-bats,” Stanton said (graphic below). “They are throwing their best stuff, and you’re not even checking. We will have our days when it will not be as good, but that’s the overall approach -- to wear guys down.”

It’s not hard to see why Stanton has drawn the ire of the Yankees’ faithful. His acquisition came with high hopes and a high salary. The Yanks paid Stanton $26 million for 2019, and they still owe him $209 million through '27.

Stanton has hit 41 home runs in 176 regular-season games with the Yankees during the last two seasons. He hit 59 homers in 159 games in 2017 in his last season with the Marlins.

The expectations are even greater in the postseason. In last year’s ALDS loss to the Red Sox, Stanton had four singles in 18 at-bats while going 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. But past shortcomings are a distant memory to him.

“I feel like he's been taking good at-bats, really, since he's come back,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Doing a good job of controlling the strike zone. Obviously had a couple of hits and a big one where he leaned on one. But that comes from a product of him really looking for a pitch and zoning it up well.”