It used to be that Giancarlo Stanton was known for one thing and one thing only: mashing baseballs. That is still the primary root of his notoriety, but signing the biggest contract in the history of baseball/sports/the universe has muddled the waters of his fame. As a result, sometimes it's important to look back and reflect on what makes Stanton so special, beyond simply the size of his cheque book.
The Marlins' franchise player's affinity for hitting baseballs a long way is well documented; what gets less press is his ability to hit unbelievable line drives.. There is are a couple of reasons for this:
1) The farthest-hit balls tend to be fly balls, and long home runs are sexy.
I would argue that line-drive home runs have their own distinct beauty, but people like the long flies that give commentators enough time to write and deliver haikus while the ball is in the air.
2) Line drives are predictable.
Last season hitters in major leagues hit .690 on line drives. You know a liner is probably going to result in a hit, but a fly ball has the alluring "will they won't they" feel of the first season of any great sitcom.
3) Line drive statistics are messy.
Classifying line drives is notoriously difficult. There are so many hits that fall into the gray area between fly ball and liner that the numbers are unreliable and tend not to be predictive.
It is important to look at any line drive numbers with their unreliability in mind, but that doesn't mean that sometimes they aren't remarkable. Even if pinpoint accuracy cannot be achieved, that doesn't mean they aren't without value. Even if that value is in understanding the aesthetics of a hitter's style, rather than his true talent.
When it comes to aesthetics of hitting, Stanton is one of the most discussed men in baseball, largely due to his moonshots. Where he lacks the appropriate accolades is his ability to deliver laser beams off the barrel of his bat.
The slugger did get plenty of attention for the opposite-field shot below, but he is far from a one-hit wonder and has more line-drive hitting chops than many realize.
Last season Stanton dominated the leaderboards when it came to the effectiveness of his line drives. The chart below shows his numbers on balls classified by FanGraphs as "liners"; he led the league in each category listed. For a frame of reference I included the number put up by the next best qualified hitter and his identity:
|Second-Best in each category
|.810 (J. Abreu)
|.388 (A. Eaton)
|.823 (J. Abreu)
|452 (J. Abreu)
As it turns out Jose Abreu is the closest to being Stanton when it comes to line-drive success, but he's lagging by a fair amount. Adam Eaton's inclusion here is a bit bizarre and likely speaks to the potential noise in the numbers, but it is worth noting that Stanton is head and shoulders above the pack. Additionally Stanton's career numbers on liners show this year is no outlier.
How is it that Stanton's line drives do more damage than anyone else's? He does it by using one weird trick: he puts them over the wall.
Since the Marlins' professional annihilator of baseballs broke into the league in 2010, he's hit 154 home runs, which is tied for the third best in the league. What makes him unique is the percentage of those homers than have been hit on a line. The following sortable table shows the top 10 home run hitters in the league over the last five seasons and how many of their long balls have come via the line drive according to Baseball Savant.
|Total Home Runs
|Line Drive Home Runs
|Line Drive Home Run Percentage
Once again Stanton rises above the crowd. The figures are undoubtedly imprecise, because when it comes down to it a line drive is something of a subjective thing. What is clear is that Stanton can hit screamers out of the yard like quite literally no one else alive.
Ultimately, whether it's taking the SI Sportsman of the Year to the deepest part of Marlins Park....
... or shooting a heat seeking rocket over the Green Monster (on a hit that was somehow not classified as a line drive, proving some of the unreliability discussed above)...
Giancarlo Stanton's line drive stroke is just another tool he uses to amaze baseball fans.
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Nick Ashbourne is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Nick_Ashbourne.