NEW YORK – Giancarlo Stanton has become the king of out-and-out speed on Little League courts in Tujunga, California. He remembers the nights he and his father, Mike, jumped fences in closed fields and dashed through buckets of baseballs before the last bit of daylight passed.
Mike had a rubber arm in batting practice. He throws his son into courts for hours on end and does so without using an L screen to protect himself from his son crushing one down the middle. But to avoid blowing a liner off his father’s chest, Stanton learned how to rotate his body and improve his swing trajectory by either hauling balls to left field or smashing them to right. He still credits his ability to knock out teammates on the opposite field due to work he did years ago with his father.
Saturday’s homer, his first of the season, was a blast on the same field, the same variety he perfected so as not to throw his dad away with one of his patented homers.
He didn’t realize how different his bat speed was until Statcast announced its tracking stats in 2015. Saturday’s home run came out of his bat at 112.3 mph. It took a few years for him to fully understand the numbers because even though he was constantly hitting the ball hard, he didn’t know if he was generating pop because of his 6-foot-5 frame or if his strength was a result of the way he was. Seriously he was able to swing the bat or if it was a combination of the two. When he was younger, there were days when he hit balls 50 or 100 feet over fences and it looked easy. Then there will be times when he swings as hard as his body will allow and can’t hit the ball. So far in his 14th major league season, chasing to perfect his swing is an ongoing process.
“Actually, we have to be scientists,” said Stanton. the athlete. “We have to be physicists to understand your angles of path to be the most successful hitter you can be. There are all kinds of things you have to understand in your swing to be able to be consistent.
“Swinging is the most amazing and frustrating thing in our world. There will be times when you feel like you’re never going to get out and times when you have to wonder if you’ll ever get hit again. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s always your swing. It’s sometimes what you feel physically, How you feel mentally. It all affects your swing to some ability. It’s a fun test of yourself every day to try to be as perfect as you can and go to work so you can go out and be your best that day, and then whether you’re great or not, The moment midnight arrives, or the day. It’s over and you have another day. You must have a short memory of this game.”
That brief memory showed itself on Sunday afternoon. After ending the 7-5 loss on Saturday by going into a bases-loaded double play at the end of the game, Stanton obliterated baseball on Sunday afternoon and caused Aaron Judge’s jaw to drop in awe. After exiting his bat at 117.8 mph, Stanton sent a ball 485 feet to straight center clearing the batter’s eye at Yankee Stadium. It was the third longest home run in the stadium’s history.
“I thought the wind was blowing a little bit,” said Ross Stripling, who gave up the race in favor of Stanton. “So maybe 460 on a normal day. No, just kidding. That was too much.”
In Statcast history, 108 balls have been hit as hard as Stanton’s massive blast on Sunday, and 56 of them are out of his bat.
“He’s definitely one of the people in terms of putting offense in baseball,” said Yankees pitcher Kyle Higashioka.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone believes Stanton is a “better hitter” now than when the team acquired him in 2018 after winning the 2017 National League MVP with the Marlins and leading baseball with 59 home runs. Stanton’s ability was never in question. He was on pace last season when he hit 19 home runs in 63 games and posted a 0.858 OPS.
Stanton then dealt with soft tissue injuries to the Achilles tendon, calf, and ankle. Stanton’s strength and ability to consistently land good swings was diminished in the second half of the season due to those injuries. He posted his worst WRC+ since joining the Yankees, a career-worst . 759 OPS and his . 211 average, . 293 on a percentage basis was 50 percentage points worse than his career averages.
Over the past few years, health has been the top concern when discussing Stanton’s worth. He averaged 124.5 games over the past two seasons. He only played 19 games in 2019 due to injuries and even in the 60-game season in 2020 he played 23 games.
“What he did in the first half is who he is,” Yankees coach Dillon Lawson said. “That’s an indication of what he’s capable of. It’s no accident. If he can post 130 games, the numbers he put up for Miami are still possible. I think 50 (home runs) are possible. If 50 is possible then 59? Well, yeah.” “Who would be so stupid if they put a cap on him? He’s very much capable of what he’s shown in the first half of last year and over the course of his career. Like Bonney said, I think he’s getting better. He’s dealt with the stress of being a Yankee and trying to win a World Series.”
Lawson describes Stanton as one of his favorite players he has ever coached because of how thoughtful he is and how accountable he is. Lawson said Stanton can be quieter and more observant in conversation, and it’s not always entirely clear what he’s thinking or how he feels, but he’s an extrovert, calling the Yankees player one of the most thoughtful people he’s ever been around. There have been times when Lawson will ask him questions about different swing strategies and specific bat trajectory angles, and sometimes it takes a week for Stanton to respond because he wants his answer to be as detailed as possible.
This level of detail and preparation is what Judge tries to emulate from Stanton. When Judge was at Fresno State and coming through the Yankees’ minor league system, Stanton was one of his favorite players along with Albert Pujols. Judge was drawn to Stanton when he was with the Marlins because he was one of the biggest players in MLB who could do it all. Hit for power. Can hit average. He was a good defender on the right field.
There are not many players who can handle the referee the way Stanton can. With the season coming to a record 62 home runs in the American League, Judge was interested to see what the next season would be. Stanton hit out 38 batters in 158 games with the Yankees after hitting 59 in 2017. Judge isn’t interested in bringing it back this year. He wants to be better.
“One of the things I pick on his brain is his approach,” Judge said. the athlete. He’s encountered several pitchers along the way and I ask him about certain situations. “What are you looking for with those pitchers or what are you trying to do in these different places?” Then I kind of take it as my own game. He’s the guy who always gets hits in Big situations. He’s got a lot of teammates, so that’s something I’ve asked him a lot. Like, hey, in these situations where you want the hitter to be the guy who delivers to you, like, how do you deal with this guy who’s really all around you trying to get you to chase you? How do you relax and stay at present?
“It was impressive to see up close because from far away, you could see a guy like that—he made his money. He won an MVP. He was an All-Star. You can kind of think this guy might be like, ‘Okay, okay,'” I’ve done my thing. I’m with the Yankees now. I’m going to relax and have fun. He’s a guy who comes in here and works his butt every day and he wants to get better and he wants to get better. And you don’t see that often with superstars like that.”
When Stanton was younger, it wasn’t always his dream to become a professional baseball player. He knew he wanted to be a professional athlete and baseball was one of the sports he excelled at along with basketball and football. He realized in high school at Sherman Oaks (California) Notre Dame that basketball probably wouldn’t be his choice. He could have stuck with soccer. During his senior year, Stanton caught 29 passes for 745 yards and 11 touchdowns. But he and his father attended more professional baseball games. It was at the height of the home-running era, and he imagined himself hitting homers one day.
So he picked up baseball and is now one of the most prolific home run hitters of his generation.
“I like to say, you put drive on the ball,” said Stanton. “It seems like it has its own little generator. Those are numbers I’d like to see for hitters. They have RPMs on balls for pitchers and RPMs on balls leaving the bat because I would say there’s a great correlation as pitchers with high turnover rates.”
Stanton describes the feeling of hitting home as “a brief, euphoric, out-of-body moment in time.” The Yankees will feel the same joy if Stanton can play about 140 games this season, including about 40 to 60 innings to open up more at-bats for others in the designated hitting zone. If Stanton can stay healthy, the Yankees know how prolific their offense can be.
“He’s the best player,” said the judge. “He’s a guy who, with one stroke of the bat, can turn the game around, turn a series around. When you get that right in the middle of your lineup, it makes for a tough, long day for a pitcher on the mound. That’s why one of my targets is always in that first inning, if he’s hitting center 800 when he hits in the first inning because the pitchers had to go through me, DJ (LeMahieu), (Anthony) Rizzo. Then I got Giancarlo Stanton waiting on deck with a couple of guys in The base. It makes a tough outing for him. When he’s healthy and when he’s doing what he’s doing, he’s one of the best guys in the game.”
(Photo by Stanton at 2022 ALDS: Sarah Steer/Getty Images)
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