MLB Metrics 101: The Gaudy Numbers of Giancarlo Stanton's Race for HR History

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 14, 2017

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 02: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins hits a home run during the first inning of the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Marlins Park on September 2, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins via Getty Images)
Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins/Getty Images

Even amid the most extreme home run barrage in Major League Baseball history, Giancarlo Stanton looms like a titan over mere mortal men.

It's time for Bleacher Report's MLB Metrics 101 to pay proper homage.

The Miami Marlins right fielder already has 54 home runs. That's an astonishing number in and of itself, but it's also a gateway to a veritable treasure trove of other astonishing numbers.

Let's go through that gateway.

          

Stanton's Pace and Its Place

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 04: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins during an interview before the game against the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park on September 4, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins via Getty Images)
Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins/Getty Images

Even if Stanton doesn't go yard again this year, his 2017 season would still be a huge homer-hitting success.

His 54 dingers blow away his previous career high of 37, which he set in 2012 and matched in 2014. He's also just the 17th player to hit as many as 54 homers in a season, and he's the first since Jose Bautista in 2010 to do so.

But we might as well face it: Everyone and their uncle (and their uncles' uncles) wants to see Stanton top 60. 

He has a real chance of doing so.

With 54 homers through 143 games, ESPN.com puts him on pace for 60 on the year. He'd be the first player since 2001 to reach the 60-homer plateau, and it would only be the ninth of 60-homer season ever:

PlayerYearHR
Barry Bonds200173
Sammy Sosa200164
Mark McGwire199965
Sammy Sosa199963
Mark McGwire199870
Sammy Sosa199866
Roger Maris196161
Babe Ruth192760

It's indeed possible that Stanton will blow past 61 homers. He has as many as Sammy Sosa did through 143 games in 2001. Sosa then launched 10 more in his final 18 games. Given that Stanton hit 11 in a mere 12-game span as recently as August, a finish like that is well within the realm of possibility.

Some will argue that anything beyond 61 homers would make Stanton the "true" single-season home run king. The thought has even entered his mind.

"The record is the record," Stanton told Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel in August. "But, personally, I do [think 61 is the record]."

There are no mysterious implications at play here. The only guys who've topped 61 homers did so during the Steroid Era. That makes them personae non gratae with dingers.

But for every "Yeah, but," there's a "Yeah, but." 

In 1927, Babe Ruth played against the same seven all-white teams over and over again. In 1961, Roger Maris played in an expanded league with an expanded schedule. And while performance-enhancing drugs were a factor for Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds, so were expansions in 1993 and 1998, a widespread shift toward smaller ballparks and potentially a juiced ball to boot.

Speaking of juiced balls, they're likely the underlying cause of 2017's never-before-seen rate of 1.27 home runs per game. Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman presented a compelling case at The Ringer. Rob Arthur followed up with his own compelling case at FiveThirtyEight. 

And yet, Baseball Reference posits Stanton would have 55 homers in a neutralized environment. Considering that said environment would have blocked the 60-homer threshold from Ruth in '27 and Sosa and McGwire in '99, one could argue Stanton is headed for only the sixth "real" 60-homer season in MLB history.

Lest anyone get up in arms at the notion that Stanton isn't doing anything to drive his own surge, that's a segue to the next point.

           

It's About Consistency, Not Power

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 3:   Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins swings and strikes out in the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Marlins Park on September 3, 2017 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
Joe Skipper/Getty Images

As a 6'6", 245-pound star who's hit moonshot after moonshot since entering the league in 2010, it can't and won't be disputed that Stanton packs a great deal of power.

But 2017 doesn't mark a step forward for his raw power. His 12.2-degree launch angle, 91.9 mph exit velocity and 417-foot average home run distance are his lowest marks of Statcast's three-year era.

Rather, the bigger changes have to do with Stanton's health and consistency.

Regarding the former, the injury bug has left him alone and put him on track to smash through his career high of 150 games played. Regarding the latter, he's pushed his strikeout rate down from a career rate of 28.5 percent down to a more manageable 23.8 percent.

In short: A powerful man is playing in more games and putting more balls in play. If that isn't a recipe for dingers, nothing is.

Stanton made a change midway through 2017 that allowed him to take off like this. It's easy to spot when comparing his 17th homer on June 13:

To his 18th homer on June 19:

What should stand out is how Stanton switched from more of an even stance, with his feet roughly parallel to one another, to a decidedly closed stance, with his front foot closer to the plate. He only continued to push the envelope in the ensuing weeks. His most recent homer reveals he's now nearly showing his back to the pitcher when he's in the box.

"The stance helps me stay with my approach and not pull off balls like I would do, which would lead to more at-bats given away or falling into the pitcher's plan," Stanton explained to Tyler Kepner of the New York Times.

Before June 19, Stanton swung at 45.6 percent of all pitches. Since June 19, he's swung at 39.3 percent.

The benefits of his improved selectivity are staggering. Before the switch, he was slugging .542 with 17 homers. Since the switch, he's slugged .724 with 37 homers.

You'd need a What-If Machineand you can't have that without first having a Fing-Longer—to determine where Stanton might be if he had used his closed stance from the beginning this season. But for what it's worth, the 37 homers he's hit in 76 games since June 19 averages out to 0.49 home runs per game. That equates to a 79-homer pace over a full season. 

Well, maybe next year. In the meantime, there's plenty more to appreciate about what Stanton is doing now.

           

Barrels, Bombs, Bunches and More Miscellaneous Stanton Home Run Notes

The reality that Stanton's historic surge is less about extreme power and more about greater consistency might make you, dear reader, suspicious that his power is no longer extreme in any sense.

Not true.

Stanton remains built to barrel the ball, and Statcast reveals that he's hit with an ideal combination of launch angle and exit velocity on 48 of his 54 home runs. That's eight more than any other hitter.

If it's good, old-fashioned distance you prefer, consider that Stanton has seven more 420-foot homers than anyone and nine more 440-foot homers than anyone. And as this graphic from MLB's Daren Willman shows, no field has been spared from Stanton's bombardment:

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 02: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins hits a home run during the first inning of the game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Marlins Park on September 2, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins via Getty
Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins/Getty Images

In addition to tying an all-time record after he hit 18 homers in August, Stanton has collected multiple home runs in nine different games. That's three more times than any other player this season, and just two off Sosa's and Hank Greenberg's single-season record of 11 games.

Eight pitchers have had the displeasure of serving up multiple home runs to Stanton: A.J. Cole, R.A. Dickey, Jerad Eickhoff, Jaime Garcia, Mike Leake, Aaron Nola, Adam Wilk and Travis Wood. 

Dickey and Wood are two of 14 former All-Stars who Stanton has taken deep. Along with Felix Hernandez and Max Scherzer, Dickey is also one of three Cy Young winners to have felt the slugger's wrath.

Stanton's homers have mostly tended to be important. He's hit 33 of his 54 homers in medium-leverage or high-leverage situations, including a career-high eight for the latter. He also has a new high in his 20 homers with men on base, bringing his career total in that particular category to a nice, even 100.

There's more to get into. And not just a little more, either. A lot more.

But for now, this is enough. Everyone should leave here with an appreciation for the new and improved Giancarlo Stanton and the many enticing parameters of his chase for history.

Now all he needs to do is finish it.

          

All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant and are current through Tuesday, Sept. 12.

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