Giancarlo Stanton doesn’t look like a conventional No. 2 hitter. He doesn’t connect like one, either. But the Yankees slugger is prospering now that he’s found a home closer to the top of the order.
Stanton has 12 starts batting second this year, the first one coming on April 9, an Aaron Judge off day. Stanton received the same assignment on April 12 and 13, this time with Judge hitting behind him. Then things returned to normal, with Judge serving as New York’s primary two-hitter over the next six games.
Stanton received a much-needed break of his own on April 22. He was hitting .158/.238/.333 at the time.
Despite that ghastly slash line, Stanton was penciled in second on the lineup card when he returned to action on April 23. He crushed two home runs in four at-bats in a win against Cleveland that day. The two-hole has been his ever since.
Stanton has batted second in every one of his starts since that game, and he’s been thriving. The owner of a nine-game hitting streak entering the Yankees’ series with Houston, Stanton is slashing .436/.450/.718 over that stretch, which includes 39 at-bats. He’s added one homer post-Cleveland and has 17 total hits, two doubles, three RBI, eight runs scored, one walk and seven strikeouts since April 23.
Stanton has not been crushing long balls at an otherworldly rate since moving up—12 of those 17 hits have been singles and he has six total homers this year—but there’s been no shortage of power following his changed position in the order. He’s recorded exit velocities of at least 115 miles per hour nine times over this stretch, and he has batted more balls at such speeds more than the next two teams combined this season. Only somewhat jokingly, Stanton has become a pesky No. 2 hitter—with strength akin to The Incredible Hulk.
“It seems like he’s hitting two and three balls breaking Statcast every night with some of the balls he’s hitting,” Aaron Boone recently said. “I just think he’s in a good place in his season, in his process and his game plan. I think he has a lot of conviction right now when he’s walking up there, with what he’s looking for and what he’s trying to do. He’s been able to execute. It’s good to see him where he’s at right now.”
More homers will come for Stanton regardless of where he bats or how hot he is at the plate. Even when he’s struggling, he’s bound to run into a few pitches that end up in the seats.
Right now, however, Stanton is doing almost everything right. Though he’s walked less since becoming New York’s two-hitter, he has cut back on his strikeout rate while putting more balls in play. He credited his timing more than anything else.
“I’m on time for the fastball,” Stanton said of his recent success. “I was swinging through a lot of those in the zone, which then makes everything else—you’re picking everything else up a little later and just in between. When you can square up the heater and adjust to the rest, that’s when I’m at my best.”
Of course, it can’t hurt Stanton to have someone like Judge batting behind him, which has been the case in most of these games. Or perhaps this is just an incredibly small sample size—it is!—and Stanton happens to be on fire right now and would have been no matter where he was hitting. Baseball is, after all, a sport of streaks, and Stanton is among the game’s streakiest.
Either way, his scorching stretch has coincided with a new spot in the order. So far, the experiment has worked out perfectly for him and the Yankees.
If that continues, Boone should consider making the change permanent.