By no means was Giancarlo Stanton’s first season with the New York Yankees a disappointment. He led baseball’s most power-packed team ever in home runs, set a career high in doubles and carried over his mid-.260s batting average as he jumped into the deep waters against American League East pitching.
Neither could last year be classified as a runaway success for the 2017 National League MVP, either. The 29-year-old outfielder and designated hitter swung and missed way too often, striking out 41 more times than in any of his first eight seasons with the Florida/Miami Marlins, who traded him last winter as part of Yanks legend and current Marlins owner Derek Jeter’s roster purge. He drew walks in fewer than 10 percent of his plate appearances for the first time since his third season.
Getting the most out of Stanton this season, based on his 2018 numbers, likely means playing to his strengths. When starting as a DH instead of as a corner outfielder, his batting average (.284 to .245) and slugging percentage (.574 to .434) were up. He was a force when batting cleanup compared to Nos. 2 or 3 in the lineup, with an MVP-caliber slash line (.321/.393/.606 to .221/.301/.429).
Imagine if manager Aaron Boone made Stanton a full-time DH from the No. 4 spot in the order. That might give the Yankees the type of player who deserves to be paid $285 million over the next 10 years. They owe it to him anyway, so they might as well get that type of production in return, right?
But that’s theoretical. Last year’s four-game AL Division Series elimination by the Boston Red Sox illustrates why that doesn’t always work in practice. As the cleanup-hitting DH, Stanton was 4-for-18 (.222) and failed to draw a walk or hit for extra bases. He struck out once every three at-bats.
Yankee fans are especially intolerant of talented players who shrink in October. Stanton does not want to be remembered as a player who wilts in the postseason. It’s too soon to paint him with that brush, but he’ll need to disprove the notion this fall to avoid a negative label that sticks.