Earlier in the season, Giancarlo Stanton was getting flak from Miami Marlins fans for striking out too much and not gathering a strong batting average as a result. Of course, as we all know, Stanton's strikeouts are not a major problem given how well he plays. Part of the reason why he plays well is that he has a strong idea of the strike zone and has maintained a pretty steady grasp of the strike zone. The other part of it his fantastic power numbers, which have reached a peak this season. Stanton has 25 home runs in just 302 plate appearances and is projected to finish the year with 49 home runs if he continues playing at his career-predicted pace.
The interesting thing about Stanton's plate discipline and power is that they stand at a delicate balance entirely dependent on the opposing pitcher.
*Excludes intentional walks
Notice any trends? Not surprisingly, when Stanton sees fewer pitches in the zone, pitchers obvious avoid the home run more often; in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Statnon only hit homers once every 18.2 plate appearances that did not end in intentional walks. The rate is impressive, but it is not that eye-popping Stanton power that we are so used to. Fewer balls in strike zone means fewer balls to hit. On the other hand, those balls out of the zone led to more walks without a significant difference in strikeouts. In both of those years, pitchers avoided Stanton like the plague and he came out doing well, walking in 12.5 percent of unintentional walk plate appearances while striking out in 27.9 percent of those chances.
When you look at the 2012 and 2015 seasons thus far, the years in which pitchers decided to attack Stanton more often, the balance is reversed. There were more pitches in the strike zone in those years, so Stanton whiffed a little more often and got on base less via the walk. The unintentional walk rate for Stanton dipped below 10 percent in both those seasons and is at 8.1 percent. However, to compensate, Stanton is making some serious hard contact on pitches in the zone, which has led to huge home run rates. His two best homer seasons were the 2012 year and this current career-making power campaign. And while the strikeouts were emphasized this season, the overall whiff rate in these two years was not drastically different at 29.3 percent. The difference between the strikeout rates is only 1.4 percent between the two types of years.
Pitchers have yet to find the poison they should use against Stanton. Stray too far from the zone, and it seems as though he takes what the pitchers are giving him and draws walks. Come too close and try to attack him more in the zone and you suffer the wrath of his bat.
Ironically, Stanton has not really changed his swing profile as this has happened. In fact, he may have found his desired balance within the last two years based on the way his swing rates have trended.
Stanton's out-of-zone swing rate is a little elevated from last year, but it seems to have settled into a baseline that closely resembles his career rate. In 2012, Stanton began swinging more frequently, perhaps in large part because he was so hot the entire year. Pitchers spent the next two seasons avoiding any of the zone with Stanton, not risking his bat beating them, and he responded in 2013 by swinging a lot less overall and particularly out of the zone. But those numbers have bumped up, and Stanton's swings are up this year in large part because of the increase in pitches in the strike zone. Perhaps he is more comfortable at this level of swings.
It should be noted that the strikeout rates have remained pretty similar throughout those four years in good part because Stanton makes a consistent amount of contact in the strike zone. Since 2012, he has connected on about 83 percent of his swings in the zone, with little change over the years. Where he has differed is when he has strayed out of the zone, and this year's poor rate of contact on out-of-zone swings is explanatory of the higher-than-usual strikeout rates.
It seems that Stanton has settled on an approach and has decided to take whatever the pitchers throw at him. If they want to go further out of the zone, his swing profile will lead to more walks, even if he does not optimize it for walks like he did in 2013. If they go into the zone, they will suffer from more home runs, as Stanton has never had issues making hard contact; he owns the second-highest hard contact rate since 2012. Given that he has made regular, stable contact in the zone, more in-zone pitches are not as likely to merely turn into more bad in-zone swings. Stanton's discipline in his approach at the plate keeps him from that issue.
Stanton's poor contact will always be present, but as he has displayed this year, pitchers have nowhere to turn in throwing to him. He will not sell out to chase out-of-zone pitches more than his usual, nor will he take too many strikes if pitchers are beginning to attack the zone. The results will come depending on which poison those pitchers take, but either way, Stanton is going to bring results for Miami.