Giancarlo Stanton is reprising Aaron Judge.
You might remember Judge debuted with the Yankees by crushing a monstrous homer that elevated possibilities, and then spent the rest of that August/September cameo striking out at a historic rate — once in every two at-bats by the end.
Stanton homered in his first at-bat this season and also his final one on Opening Day. What has followed has mainly been a strikeout-athon equivalent to that of Judge’s: 20 in 42 at-bats, nearly one in every two. Stanton already has become the first player to twice in one season strike out five times in a game without getting a hit. And, of course, the soundtrack of his time in The Bronx so far is something from the Ed Whitson nostalgia files.
Judge has distinguished himself during a still young career by being able to make adjustments to foster sustained runs of excellence after the horrid slumps.
Stanton has done this as well — but as a Marlin. We will see now if he can make the changes when so many are watching, chronicling and caring.
“He’s an incredibly tough and determined kid,” said his agent, Joel Wolfe. “He has been here before, and in September nobody will remember this blip. The only thing consistent about baseball is its ability to humble everyone indiscriminately.”
Of course, it is Wolfe’s responsibility to prop up his client. But perhaps Stanton’s most recent and worst phase can serve to show that the slugger has indeed endured serial failure before, survived it and moved on to thrive.
For as recently as 2016 Stanton had such an extended streak of rancid hitting that there was genuine concern within the Marlins about his ability to recover. From May 7-June 12 of that season, Stanton had 11 hits in 98 at-bats (.112), managed just two homers and struck out 47 times.
The two prominent theories about what happened to Stanton are:
1. He was hit in the face by Mike Fiers in September 2014, resulting in multiple facial fractures. Some scouts say that thereafter, if pitchers worked inside hard early, Stanton would become worried about that pitch and easily susceptible away. This theory is problematic because Stanton performed well in 2015 before a hand injury ended his season and had gotten off well in 2016 before the extended slump.
Barry Bonds and StantonAP
2. For just 2016, Barry Bonds was the Marlins’ hitting coach, and there is some belief that he wanted Stanton to more consciously think of pulling the inside pitch for damage, which left him vulnerable away.
Frank Menechino, the assistant hitting coach in 2016 and the Marlins’ lead hitting coach since, did not want to dabble in theories about what triggered the slump. But in a text exchange, he did say Stanton “was not covering the ball away,” and that his focus inside messed with the ability to adroitly determine location, leaving his timing way off — fouling off too many hittable fastballs and being out ahead of breaking stuff.
But Menechino did offer: “I will tell you this: 1. He will figure out what to do. 2. When he relaxes and doesn’t try to impress, he will go off at home [Yankee Stadium].”
Like, say, Cal Ripken Jr. was, Stanton is viewed as a thoughtful hitter who serially tinkers with his stance and swing. He did rebound after that 2016 slump to hit 15 homers the rest of the way with a .906 OPS. But it was last June 19 that Stanton made his most dramatic alteration.
He had previously had his feet parallel and squared toward the pitcher, then he shifted to have his right foot move out toward the edge of the third-base side of the batter’s box, creating a closed-front-shoulder look toward the mound. He was doing well before this change with 17 homers — one every 14.6 at-bats — and a .900 OPS.
Thereafter, he hit 42 homers — one every 8.3 at-bats — with a 1.083 OPS, which carried him to the NL MVP a season after experiencing the worst month in his career.
So, now amid the boos at home and with his first road series to Fenway as a Yankee upon Stanton, we will see what modifications he might begin to make to, like his righty slugging mate, receive a better Judge-ment.