Miami Marlins: Does Giancarlo Stanton Have Problem with Plate Discipline?


Giancarlo Stanton is one of the elite power hitters in the game today. He is a marquee player and one of those players that is probably a face of the league. Like any human (Mike Trout is not human), he has a flaw. 

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Giancarlo Stanton’s flaw happens to be striking out. Power hitters are known to be more susceptible to striking out and this is even more true in today’s game. For those two reasons, the strikeouts are nothing but an afterthought.

Despite striking out in 28.3% of his career plate appearances, he has a career wRC+ of 142, meaning he is 42% better than the league average hitter, adjusting for park and league. In short: he’s a great hitter.

This season, however, Stanton has been a little less great. He has struck out in a career high 32.4% of his plate appearances. Considering he has gone up to bat 136 times so far, this data means something. Considering he posted a lower rate in 2640 prior plate appearances, it doesn’t mean a whole lot.

More importantly, Stanton improved his K% each year from 2012-2014. It would be a little crazy to expect his decline to begin at the very young age of 25, especially when a guy like 2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers is just now getting his career going at the age of 24 (he turns 25 in December).

But what’s the problem with the Big Man this season? Is his plate discipline lacking?

Luckily, Pitchf/x tracks this data, so we can examine his plate discipline rates. In this case, we need to look at his O-Swing%, or otherwise known as Chase %. This is the percentage of pitches out of the zone a batter swings at. This season, Stanton is sitting at 31.1%, which is his highest rate since 2012. However, it’s only .4% higher than his career average of 30.7%. He’s not chasing pitches anymore often than he has in the past.

How does that compare to league average rates? League average is usually around 29-30%. The difference is certainly negligible, so it appears he doesn’t have any issues with his plate discipline.

As mentioned previously, power hitters are usually more prone to striking out. This definitely holds true with Stanton, whose ball-striking ability is feared but it has definitely come at a price. His contact abilities are below average, but again, this hasn’t prevented him from being a great hitter. The league average contact rate is usually around 79-80%.

Stanton currently has a career rate of 68.1% and a 2015 rate of 64.5%. This is a career low for him, which certainly explains his career high K rate. Simply put, he’s making less contact and this is resulting in more strikeouts. His approximately league average plate discipline is very much intact.

But does Stanton have any weaknesses? Pitchf/x also measures a hitter’s production against individual pitches. It assigns a total run value to each pitch. It also then divides each by 100 to give a common denominator, making comparisons easier. A pitch value of 0 would denote average production against that pitch.

In his career, Stanton has been above average against all but one type of pitch: sliders. However, he has been worth just -.9 runs above average against sliders. Essentially, he has been basically league average against them in his career. Further, he has been worth -.04 runs above average per 100 sliders. It’s definitely his weakness, but that’s relative. Even though sliders are the one pitch he doesn’t demolish, he’s still league average against them.

What about locations? Power hitters usually fare better in pitchers on the inner half of the plate than pitches away. Is this the same for Stanton? If so, is it really a concern?

Fangraphs has a very nifty heatmaps tool that allows us to examine different data. One such example is contact rate based on location of the pitch. Stanton’s worst location is down and away in the strike zone, but even that 63% contact rate isn’t too much lower than his 68.3% career contact rate. Once you go low and outside the zone, the contact rates are pretty dreadful, but they aren’t much better low and out of the zone and low and in.

Low and away is definitely his weakest area but again, it really isn’t much worse than his career average. Also, it appears Stanton simply struggles with pitches that are low and out of the zone, as opposed to pitches that are low and away.

Ultimately, Stanton doesn’t appear to have any plate discipline issues. He has a virtually league average chase rate but he has a below average contact rate, which doesn’t shock anybody. Stanton’s weaknesses, sliders and pitches low and away, really aren’t even weaknesses. They basically serve to make Stanton look mortal rather than bad, which means there really shouldn’t be any concerns about them.

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Obviously, Giancarlo Stanton is an excellent baseball player. He’s having a bit of a rough go, but if having a rough go means being 16% better than league average, there probably isn’t much to be worried about.

Right now, there’s no reason to see Stanton’s strikeouts becoming a bigger problem because he might even have some room for growth as a hitter. So just sit back, relax, and watch what might be one of the greatest power hitters of all time do what he does.

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