Giancarlo Stanton topped off the month of May with a final home run last night in the 5-3 victory over the Washington Nationals. That shot constitutes Stanton's 12th home run in May, and it caps off a month that may have been the best in Marlins history. A cursory glance at the numbers shows just how ridiculous Stanton's May really was.
This monster streak came in just 108 PA in May, but it was such a ridiculous run that it earned Stanton a full 18 runs above average in the month. To put it in context, Stanton offensive performance above average that month was equivalent of a full season's worth of performances from players like Brandon Phillips (.300/.353/.457, .351 wOBA) and Carlos Pena (.225/.357/.462, .354 wOBA) in 2011. Stanton was as good offensively in one month as a good majority of hitters in entire seasons. His performance was a rare one, and one we should not expect to see any time soon.
Just how amazing was it? Let's begin by comparing it to a month that another amazing player is having.Giancarlo Versus Hamilton
Josh Hamilton is having another season for the ages with the Texas Rangers, as he is hitting .368/.420/.764 (.480 wOBA) for them. He had a monstrous April, but he has gotten plenty of coverage for having a great month of May as well. But how does his stack up against Giancarlo Stanton's?
Hamilton also hit .344 and he also hit 12 home runs this month. They had comparable power and good fortune on balls in play. And that's right, Stanton still beat him, in large part because of that better on-base percentage. See, while Josh Hamilton has no problems taking a swing at anything and everything, Stanton has a known strikeout problem and has to be more careful at the plate. Hamilton actually has contact issues as well, as he owns a career 74 percent contact rate, but it turns out Stanton is the hitter with a little more patience at the plate, and that is a good thing to see.
In fact, the plate approach for Stanton this month is fairly notable. It is notable in that it very little changed, but it yielded a lot more success in May.
Earlier in the month, I advised that Stanton swing at more pitches and be more aggressive because pitchers were throwing more in the zone at him, potentially to exploit his contact weaknesses. Well, it did not take more than a few powerful swings from him to discourage that strategy, because pitchers went fro throwing 50 percent of their pitches in the zone against Stanton to 46 percent. It is still a more aggressive approach than they took against him last year, when they cowered in fear and threw about 42 percent of their pitches in the zone.
One glance at the numbers and you might think that Stanton properly adjusted to the changed approach, but he really did not. His rate of swings at pitches out of the zone remained unchanged at 30 percent; his drop in swing rate was strictly from taking extra strikes. This has actually been an ongoing theme for Stanton, as his selectivity has barely changed over the last few years. The only change he has made over the last few seasons since his rookie year is to get more aggressive with pitches in the zone in order to take advantage of some of the few hittable pitches pitchers will throw at him. It is not an ideal approach, but it is a smart attempt by Stanton to utilize his power even when pitches do not give him much to hit.
This month, Stanton struck out in only 20 percent of his plate appearances, and the reason behind that is actually quite obvious. His contact rate this month went up to 72 percent. This looks like a great improvement over his rate of 68 percent in April and 66 percent in 2011, but it is not as if he has not been around this territory before; in his rookie year, he made contact on 70 percent of his swings, so this is not out of the ordinary. In fact, it was likely a mere fluctuation around his normal rate, which is likely around 68 to 70 percent. The improved contact was spread out between in- and out-of-zone pitches, which helps to suggest that it probably was some random fluctuation which could be on the way down next month. But in May, Stanton made just enough contact in those pitches to avoid strikeouts and launch some balls out of the park.
When Stanton did make contact, it was hard contact as well. He did not fool around much with ground balls this month.
For a power hitter like Stanton, this is an amazing profile. Among qualified hitters this March, Stanton ranked eighth in line drive percentage and 13th in fly ball percentage. He put up the second lowest ground ball rate in May, ahead of only Adam Dunn. It should be obvious to anyone that power hitters who avoid ground balls give themselves more opportunities to put the ball in the air and potentially in the seats, and both Dunn and Stanton did just that in May.
When Stanton put the ball in the air, we all saw that it generally went a long way, and few power hitters were able to match that in May. In terms of home runs per fly ball (HR/FB rate), Stanton ranked fourth in the month with a 32 percent clip. Only Carlos Beltran, Dunn, and Hamilton were knocking homers on a larger amount of their fly balls. This only supports our suspicion that, in April, Stanton was either a) kidnapped by aliens; or b) still suffering from lingering effects of his knee injury suffered during Spring Training.
Improvement is Scary
Stanton did most of his damage in May to compensate for a poor April start, but it is interesting to note that, when looked at as a whole, his season stands out as eerily normal for his career, with the addition of some minor improvements. For example, his 22.8 percent HR/FB rate is within line with his career 23.8 percent mark. He was walked unintentionally in 9.1 percent of his 2012 PA, which almost perfectly matches his career unintentional walk rate of 9.2 percent. Yes, he has a .336 BABIP, but he hit .330 on balls in play in 2010, so while this number is likely to go down, it is not entirely unreasonable. His .281 ISO is better than normal but not that far ahead of his .275 ISO from last year as well.
So where has Stanton shown improvement? His strikeout rate this season, in a season in which he is making marginally better contact than in his rookie year, is down to 22 percent on the season. It is too early to be definitive about that rate, but that would be a huge step forward for Stanton if he could continue to strike out at that sort of rate. In 2010, had he qualified for the batting title, his 31 percent strikeout rate would have been second-highest in baseball. In 2011, his 28 percent mark ranked third among qualifiers. In 2012 right now, he ranks 40th in strikeouts, right next to Freddie Freeman and Alfonso Soriano. We suspect that that number will go up a little, but even with just a 71 percent contact rate that barely differs from his rookie season, he has been able to drastically decrease his strikeouts. If this aspect of his game continues, it could be the stepping stone with which Stanton can propel his hitting career into superstardom.
Things are looking up, Marlins fans.