MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 28: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins hits an RBI double against the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park on August 28, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
We all know Giancarlo Stanton is ridiculously good at baseball. I mean, he just hit eight home runs in 11 games on the road in the latest west coast trip, and he came back and had three hits at home against the Washington Nationals, with Stephen Strasburg on the mound no less.
So when Stanton complains that his plate appearances have been difficult due to their up-and-down, inconsistent nature, it comes off a little bit odd.
"If you want to be honest, I’m having either terrible at-bats or hitting a homer," Stanton said. "This is kind of the most ups and downs that I’ve ever had."
I mean, yeah, Stanton has struck out a lot. He has whiffed 24 times in 76 PA in August, a 31.6 percent strikeout rate. But we knew Stanton would whiff plenty of times. His plate approach and contact rates just lend to a lot of whiffs. But are these recent strikeouts indicative of something more predictive that Stanton should look to fix, or are these just fluctuations in a long season for a great player? Let's take a look at Stanton's plate discipline splits by month to see if his approach at the plate has remained "consistent," even if the results have fluctuated.
At this stage of the season, Stanton had inexplicably struggled, enough to get me to implore him to swing more often at pitches, particularly those in the strike zone. At the time, it was because it seemed pitchers were attacking Stanton more often in the zone; that 50 percent zone percentage was higher than it was in his rookie season. With pitchers throwing more pitches in the zone, it only made sense for him to get more aggressive and see if he could turn on a few more pitches.
Still, the approach in that month itself was not all that different from his career numbers, and his 26.0 percent strikeout rate (20 in 77 PA) was better than his career rate as well. In terms of "consistency," the approach was the same as his career.May
Of course, this was the month in which Stanton won National League Player of the Month honors, and clearly his 12 homers in the month turned teams away from pitching in the zone to him. They dropped his rate of pitches in zone by four percent, but Stanton maintained a similar swing rate. The difference in this month was contact; he made a lot more contact, both in and out of the zone, and that is what led him to post one of the lowest strikeout rates of his career in a month at 20.0 percent (25 in 125 PA).
But again, was his approach consistent with his career marks? He made a lot more contact, but he swung essentially at the same types of pitches and at the same rates. The approach remained very similar to his previous month and his career numbers, but the results were different. Chalk it up to a ridiculously hot streak and pitchers re-adjusting back to their previous modus operandi against an elite hitter like Stanton. I would say May was a pretty "consistent" month for Stanton in terms of approach.
June followed his monster month of May, and pitchers definitely adjusted to that in a big way. The 40 percent rate of pitches in the strike zone was tied for the lowest amount of pitches in the zone against a given hitter, tied with Adam LaRoche following a hot month of his own. Unfortunately, it seemed in this month, Stanton's worst of the season since April (.242/.339/.453, .346 wOBA), Stanton was unable to adjust to the opposing pitchers. His swing rate remained about level, but he was fishing for more balls and hacking at fewer strikes, leading to the 29.6 percent strikeout rate (32 in 109 PA).
His contact rates went back down to career norms, but that coincided with a terrible eye for the ball. Of course, that ended up coinciding with a terrible eye for the ball that resulted in his lowest ISO and BABIP since April. In this month, you could say Stanton's approach had been "inconsistent" with his career marks and needed to be adjusted and refined.
It seems teams forgot just how powerful Stanton was all the way back in May or how successful they were avoiding the strike zone in June, as pitchers returned to throwing pitches in the zone against Stanton. On the pitches in the zone, Stanton has been demolishing pitchers, as evidenced by his 88 percent contact rate on those pitches and the 10 home runs he has launched since his return from the disabled list.
It is the pitches out of the zone that have chewed Stanton alive. In previous months, his approach was still close enough to his career marks that he still drew walks at around a 10 percent clip. But this month, Stanton has taken to swinging at too many pitches, particularly out of zone pitches; his in-zone swing rate actually remained even with his April and May rates. It is not a stretch to believe that the increased number of swings has also helped to decrease the contact out of the zone as well, turning more balls not just into fouls or weak balls in play but into swinging strikes.
This month in terms of plate approach has been worse than last month's, and Stanton is referring to this struggle with pitches out of the zone as his frustration with his approach. Over the last two months, he has begun fishing more and more out of the zone, and that has not resulted in good news for the Marlins. The high strikeout rate combined with the low walk rate has really forced Stanton to depend on the mammoth power to keep his month afloat (though it has done much more than merely keeping it afloat, as it is his second best hitting month of the season).
In the case of the month of August, Stanton should refocus on that approach so that, in future months, he will not need absurd power months to make or break his month's performance. His goal should be what it has been for most of his career, the plate approach that he displayed in the months of April and May. If he can get back to that, the strikeouts will drop a tad again and it should not significantly hurt his home run power, as it did not hurt him back then or in years past.