John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
TAMPA - On his first day in Yankee camp, Giancarlo Stanton wasn't making any bold predictions or declaring that New York has yet to see him at his best, but he said just enough to make it seem he believes Year Two in pinstripes will be something closer to his NL MVP season of 2017.
Which raises an obvious question:
Is there legitimate reason to believe he's more than a streaky mistake-hitter who will always be vulnerable to elite pitching, as it appeared last season?
It's hard not to be skeptical, especially as bad as Stanton looked in the post-season against the Red Sox. Still, it seems only fair to give him some benefit of the doubt, based on three factors he and Aaron Boone touched on Monday that they consider significant:
1) Stanton figures to be more relaxed in his second season in the Bronx, not as concerned with trying to win over the New York fans that booed him right from the home opener in 2018.
2) The hamstring injury he dealt with for a couple of months last season was "quite a factor," he admitted on Monday, indicating he was far from 100 percent at times but pushed himself to play, especially when Aaron Judge was out with a broken wrist.
3) Being more familiar with pitchers in the American League, particularly the AL East, will give Stanton the edge he thrives on as a hitter who seems to anticipate pitches in certain counts.
That last part may be the most significant of all, based on something of an internal scouting report Boone said the Yankees have on Stanton.
"It's one thing we've really noticed with Giancarlo as we've dug in on him (analytically)," Boone said. "He really benefits from that. He gets a pretty significant spike (statistically) as he starts to see pitchers regularly - more so than the normal hitter.
"With video and technology now, you're able to get a decent feel for a pitcher, but there's nothing like facing a guy to understand how he wants to attack you and what his pitches are doing.
"Giancarlo has shown an ability to absorb information in those at-bats that benefit as he faces guys more and more."
Does that mean Stanton will be less likely to chase sliders out of the strike zone in 2019?
According to Fangraphs.com, he hit only .168 against sliders last season, easily the lowest such average of his career, and 69 points lower than his .237 average the previous year.
Again, it's hard to forget how overmatched he was by Craig Kimbrel in the ALDS, but obviously the still-unsigned closer is as elite as they come with his combination of high-90s fastball and sharp slider. And the overall numbers do indicate that a lack of familiarity hurt Stanton, who admits to doing a lot of studying pitchers via video.
"Just a matter of seeing guys," he said. "Their release point, their tendencies. I should be more comfortable facing some of these teams."
As it was, Stanton still did his share of damage last season, hitting .266 with 38 home runs and 100 RBIs. But that's obviously a long way from his MVP totals of 59 home runs and 132 RBIs with the Marlins, and last year he also racked up a career-high 211 strikeouts.
"I do think there's a chance he'll improve as he gets more familiar with the American League pitchers," an AL scout told me on Monday. "He looks like a guy who guesses at times, and obviously the more you know about a pitcher, the more it helps with that.
"But I tend to think his biggest issue is that he has trouble picking up the rotation on the breaking stuff. And I would like to see him go back to a more normal stance. I know he hit all those home runs with that closed stance (in 2017) but I thought it got to the point where he wasn't seeing the ball that way last year."
Perhaps, but that seems to be a sore subject with Stanton. Suffice to say he dismissed the question when I asked if he'd re-evaluate the extreme closed stance this season.
"I know how I feel and what's good," he said. "You guys can be hitting coaches all you like."
Whatever the mechanics of it, scouts agree that being relaxed and confident is what matters most to any hitter. In that sense perhaps the whole Year-Two-in-New-York theory will prove to be meaningful.
Not that Stanton was warm and fuzzy on Monday in his first exposure to the media in 2019, but blunt and succinct is more his style, and that's probably not going to change.
From all accounts, however, he was a big hit in his new clubhouse with an admirable work ethic and a flatline approach to the highs and lows of the season, including more boos at home than he could have ever imagined.
"He was just such a pro," Boone said. "He really earned the respect of his teammates."
But can he win over the fans? Will he deliver in the post-season?
Year Two will go a long way in determining whether Stanton can be what the Yankees envisioned when they signed up for 10 years with him.