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Coming into the season, expectations were very high for the Marlins, who finally seemed ready to commit to operating like an actual major-league franchise. They acquired a number of solid players in the trade market, but more importantly, made significant investments in their cornerstone players by signing Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich to long-term deals.
Through two weeks, however, things haven't quite gone to plan. Both Yelich and Stanton are off to cold starts and are playing a big part in the team's 3-10 start. Stanton, in particular, has been a bit worrisome, with his K-rate spiking and his power lagging a bit from where we expected. Is he dealing with lingering effects from last September's season-ending hit-by-pitch?
Inside Giancarlo Stanton
Coming into the season, we mostly assumed Stanton would be fine, but nobody could really be certain. We still can't say for sure, but there are both encouraging and discouraging signs right now. First, the good: Stanton has been more selective than ever this season, swinging at just 25.0 percent of pitches out of the zone. He has always had a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, so avoiding pitches he can't handle can only be a good thing for the big slugger.
Unfortunately, the number of pitches Stanton cannot handle right now appears to have increased. 46.9 percent of the pitches thrown to Stanton so far have been in the zone, up from 41.2 percent last year, and the highest mark he has faced since his rookie season. Despite this, Stanton is recording a whiff on 15.1 percent of the pitches he has faced, up from 12.9 percent last season and his highest mark since 2011.
We've already seen Stanton ditch his G-shaped faceguard against left-handed pitchers, and that seems to have helped; he has yet to strike out or even record a swinging strike against a left, on 19 pitches. The news isn't so great against right-handed pitchers, however, as Stanton has 17 strikeouts in 49 plate appearances, and has whiffed on 45 percent of his total swings against them. Last season, Stanton missed on 34 percent of his swings against right-handed pitchers.
One big issue for Stanton seems to be the inside of the plate. In 2014, he owned the inner half of the plate, but as the image below shows, that hasn't been the case this season. Whereas he made contact on upwards of 85 percent of his swings on the inner half of the plate in 2014, he has been below that almost across the board this season.
Given the nature of his injury last season, it might be easy to assume that Stanton's issues so far are related. However, we've also seen him go through stretches like this in the past, without assuming there was anything wrong; Stanton hit just .145/.265/.341 with 18 strikeouts in a 12-game stretch last July without anyone asking if something was wrong with him. Should he get the same benefit of the doubt now?
For the most part, yes. For all of his contact issues against RHP this season, both of his home runs came against them. Of course, both were opposite field shots that barely cleared the wall, so it isn't all good news, if you're worried about Stanton's coverage of the inner half of the plate. However, we can also see in the following image that Stanton is actually setting up a bit closer to the plate this season than last:
That is hardly what we would expect from someone who is worried about the prospect of facing pitches up and in. Stanton, like all hitters, will adjust his batting stance and placement in the batter's box throughout the season, and that's all this could be. Stanton can struggle with pitches down and away, so he might just be setting up a few inches closer to the plate to try and increase his coverage away from the center of the plate.
At this point in his career, Stanton has more than earned the benefit of the doubt from us. Some of these trends could be construed as red flags, but they could also be the result of a few dozen bad swings against some really tough competition to open the season.
Stanton's play will be something to keep an eye on moving forward, to be certain, but I'm not panicking right now, and neither should you.