Make of this what you will, but in the 10th inning of Sunday’s game between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter intentionally walked Aaron Judge to get to Giancarlo Stanton. Maybe, as one major league evaluator put it, that is because Stanton is more vulnerable than Judge, whom the same evaluator regarded as a superior hitter. Or maybe Stanton is just spiraling at the moment.
Regardless, Stanton broke his bat on a weak inning-ending groundout, part of an 0-for-7 day in which Stanton struck out five times.
And so, as Stanton and the Yankees come into Fenway Park for a three-game series that starts Tuesday night, here is the obvious question: what is wrong with the man who hit a major league-leading 59 home runs last year and is due nearly $300 million over the next 10 years? The answer, of course, is likely nothing, though Stanton wouldn’t be the first mega-talent to arrive in a much bigger market and have trouble transitioning to the intensity.
Until he adjusts, teams are likely to do what the Orioles did – attack Stanton with fastballs up in the strike zone and sliders away, leaving the 6-foot-6 behemoth flailing with futility. In his first homestand with New York, after all, Stanton went 3-for-28 with 16 strikeouts.
Given those startlingly bad numbers, it’s worth wonder whether Stanton has changed anything from his rock-star season of a year ago. If you have watched Stanton at all in the early part of this season, of the things that might have struck you is how “closed” he is in his stance, meaning that his left foot is pointed toward right field.
A Closer Look
For example, here is how Stanton looked in the early part of last season. Note how his stance is pretty even, meaning the toes on both feet are roughly the same distance from the inside edge of the batter’s box:
Now here’s Stanton from the early part of this season:
Obviously, in the second photo, Stanton’s stance is far more “closed,” which may or may not be a factor contributing to his early-season problems. On Sunday, Yankees color analyst John Flaherty remarked that the bottom half of Stanton’s body was going one direction while his swing pulled him in another, creating the kind of motion one might make while wringing a towel.
Is this all the cause of Stanton’s problems? Again, it’s impossible to know for sure. While Stanton was more closed in his stance late last season, as shown here…
… it is also possible that he has closed his stance even further in 2018, affecting his ability to turn on fastballs, particularly ones up and even slightly inside. On Sunday – after the intentional walk to Judge – this is precisely the pitch the Orioles used to jam Stanton, breaking his bat and forcing a weak, inning-ending groundout.
In the interim, know this: as appealing as the shallow right-field wall is at Yankee Stadium, Stanton would be foolish to aim for it. Last year, according to his spray chart on MLB.com, Stanton hit 48 of his 59 home runs to the left side of second base. Again, take note:
So, given that the Yankees typically focus on acquiring left-handed hitters, why did they acquire Stanton? Because, like Judge and Gary Sanchez, his power is so great from the right side that Yankee Stadium doesn’t necessarily hurt him. Stanton can hit the ball out of any ballpark, but he makes himself far more vulnerable to pitches on the inner half of the plate – even down in the strike zone, his hot spot – if his front side is locked up in the batter’s box.
Obviously, you should take this all with a rather healthy grain (or two) of salt. But if I were Stanton, I’d start with balancing out my stance and maybe even move a couple of inches closer to the plate. Stanton will always have holes, of course – who doesn’t? – but he’d have fewer than he has right now.
And right now, entering Fenway Park, he has a ton.
— By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
You can hear Mazz weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program, and from 6-7 p.m. on The Baseball Reporters. And you can get a closer look every Tuesday and Friday with the Behind The Seams blog. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.