Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Giancarlo Stanton thriving on offense when playing defense

Yankees rightfiielder Giancarlo Stanton singles to deep right-center

Yankees rightfiielder Giancarlo Stanton singles to deep right-center against the Rangers during the second inning of an MLB game at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

As dangerous as Giancarlo Stanton’s freakish strength is for opposing pitchers, you have to wonder about the people at the other end of his high-velocity homers: the innocent bystanders sitting 400 feet away.

Stanton delivered another low-flying cannon shot in Tuesday’s 7-1 victory over the Rangers, an 118.5-mph screamer that nearly reached the concession stands all the way at the back of the lower bowl in leftfield. To the naked eye, unaided by the Statcast data, that number seems low.

"Stanton comes up with a big knock, hit it about 130," Aaron Judge said that night. "I feel bad for the fans sometimes."

These Herculean feats are nothing new for Stanton, aside from the fact that he’s been performing them lately as an outfielder, a role the Yankees have grown comfortable with in the second half of this season. Previously, there was concern Stanton was too much of a hazard beyond DH duties -- both to the team and himself, based on the injury history.

But with Stanton now able to wear a glove along with his pinstripes -- he was, after all, an MVP rightfielder for the Marlins in 2017 -- the Yankees may have unlocked another level for one of the game’s most lethal weapons. And also give themselves the flexibility to do what they did for Wednesdays series finale against the Rangers: let Judge nurse an undisclosed injury as the DH while using Stanton to replace him in right.

The Yankees waited until late July to experiment with Stanton in the outfield, but it’s proven to be an unqualified success, and their fears over the health risk so far have been unwarranted. Heading into Wednesday night, Stanton was hitting .308 (28-for-91) with nine homers and 18 RBIs in his 24 games as an outfielder (15 in RF, nine in LF) as compared with .260 with 22 homers and 64 RBIs in 100 games at DH. It’s a much smaller sample size, but encouraging nonetheless, especially going forward with six years and another $189 million left on his $325-million contract. It’s not unusual for sluggers to prefer playing the field despite being typecast as a DH, and Stanton thriving in these opportunities would suggest he feels the same way, even though he’s never bristled at how the Yankees have deployed him.

"I think there’s definitely something potentially to it," Aaron Boone said before Wednesday’s game. "It’s hard to say for certain. Anytime you’re talking about a hitter like Giancarlo, the track record’s usually going to show up. That said, I do think there’s something to him having gone out there.

"I’ve even heard him talk about just how it helps him be a little more of a complete player, obviously, engaged in other things instead of just worrying about one thing for three-plus hours of a game. And I also think his body has responded well to it. So physically it’s something that’s maybe even been beneficial for him."

Stanton staying upright for 129 games this season, after playing a total of 41 over the previous two years, has led to him staying on pace with Judge for the team lead in every major offensive category. That includes exit velo, as Stanton may have MLB’s hardest hit ball this season, clocked by Statcast at 122.2 mph, but Judge is tops with the game’s highest average velocity at 95.9.

While the data is everything in this data-driven era, it still doesn’t do justice to the spectacle of actually witnessing Stanton smash a baseball. As for what that feels like, Stanton shrugs at the question. What we marvel at is just another trip to the plate for him.

"It is a cool thing to see what the numbers are after the fact," Stanton said. "But it’s just good to be able to contribute."

Stanton is familiar with the other side, too. Back in July, he was hitting .215 for the month, with only two homers and seven RBIs, along with 30 strikeouts in 79 at-bats before grabbing a glove for the Marlins series during the last weekend.

Did that help jump-start Stanton? As Boone suggested, maybe a rebound was going to happen anyway. But looking at the numbers in retrospect, getting back to the outfield again certainly didn’t hurt. And it turned out to be a nice boost for the Yankees, who now are reaping the reward, with Stanton crushing 11 homers in his last 26 games alone. That’s teeing it up for the rest of the more balanced lineup, too, as the Yankees had homered in a season-high 14 straight games before Wednesday night.

"It just puts huge pressure on whoever’s on the mound," Stanton said. "You see them trying to navigate, be a little too perfect, and that’s when they make mistakes."

Forcing the fans to run for cover.

New York Sports