Giancarlo Stanton is appointment viewing. You don't DVR his plate appearances. You don't watch the condensed broadcasts of his games. Giancarlo Stanton is the reason you bought MLB.tv. When he comes up to bat you close the door and you let the baby cry it out because Giancarlo Stanton has the best chance of any major league hitter to take your breath away.
Look at the leaderboard of this season's longest home runs and you'll see Giancarlo Stanton's name is all over it. He has the first, fourth, fifth, eighth, and ninth longest home runs of the season. This is absurd. His eight no doubter home runs ties him with Edwin Encarnacion for the MLB lead. Giancarlo Stanton is a man possessed. Giancarlo Stanton is the unstoppable force and baseballs are the moveable objects.
At this point you're probably wondering if there was a typo in the title. Perhaps you've scrolled up to make sure that you read it correctly. How could this be Giancarlo Stanton's worst season when he's turning baseballs into satellites orbiting the earth, never to descend?
Nope, you read it right. This is the worst season of Giancarlo Stanton's career. Mike Stanton was slightly worse, in his rookie season, though he struck out less often than Giancarlo has this season. Sneaky? Yes, but I'll make it up to you. I promise.
Since the name change, Giancarlo has definitely never been worse. His strikeout rate is more than 4 percentage points higher than his career average. His weighted on-Base average (wOBA) -- a good catch-all measure of a hitter's overall offensive value based on the relative values of each distinct offensive event -- ranks 30th in baseball. He ranked 23rd in 2013. Not convinced? Perhaps you think Stanton's wOBA is tainted by league and park effects? Well Stanton's wRC+, which accounts for these, is the worst of his career (as Giancarlo). Sort the league stats by wRC+, and Stanton drops to 37th overall. Not what you'd expect for the man with the longest homers in baseball.
Look at the distribution of Stanton's batted balls and you'll see a stark difference from his career trends. While Stanton has typically hit fewer ground balls than league average (which is usually around 45 percent), he's taken that to the extreme this year with roughly a third of his hits coming on the ground. He's traded a lot of these ground balls for flies, which tend to go for hits less often. Of course, there could also be a healthy dose of misfortune baked into his low BABIP, but we can't tell for sure as it's a stat that's extremely slow to stabilize.
In previous seasons, Stanton typically saw about 60 percent hard pitches (four-seam fastballs, sinkers, and cutters), but this season that jumped to 65 percent. Last year, Rob Arthur showed that high-ISO hitters, which Stanton most certainly is, tend to see fewer fastballs. Does the increase in the frequency of hard pitches indicate that he is less feared?
Stanton is also seeing higher than usual values in other "respect" categories. Look at Stanton's zone percentage and you'll notice another career high (43.4 percent). Pitchers are also throwing him first-pitch strikes at 57.1 percent, the second highest rate of his career.
In a recent Hardball Times article, Jesse Wolfersberger created a model that combined fastball percentage, zone percentage, and first-pitch strike percentage to show how pitchers approached a hitter could predict rest-of-season wOBA. That Stanton is seeing career, or at least near-career, highs in these categories suggests that pitchers may have recognized a weakness and are exploiting it.
But now here comes the interesting part. In that same article, Jesse showed that these values in the previous season were predictive of next season's performance as well. Using this model, he projected Stanton to have the second highest Respect wOBA in the league. You'll recall that Stanton's 2014 ended in sickening fashion with a Mike Fiers offering to the face (I won't embed the clip but you can see it here if you want). Did pitchers decide to challenge a possibly tentative Giancarlo Stanton early on this season to test his mettle? Jason Heyward suffered a similar injury in 2013 and saw career highs in fastball and zone percentage the next season (though his first-pitch strike percentage was just a tick above career average).
If pitchers are challenging Giancarlo opportunistically following his injury, it's worked. He may be hitting the longest home runs in the league, but he's still having the worst season of his career.
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Matt Jackson is a featured writer for Beyond the Box Score and a staff writer for Royals Review. He has an eight-month old but he doesn't let her cry it out for Giancarlo Stanton plate appearances (because he has a cell phone and MLB.tv subscription so they can watch baseball together from anywhere he has an internet connection). You can follow him on Twitter at @jacksontaigu.