With one more titanic swing of the bat from Giancarlo Stanton’s hulking 6’6″ frame, the Miami Marlins slugger buried the Seattle Mariners 8-4 with a walk-off grand slam on Friday. It was the second walk-off slam in Stanton’s young career, and the fifth in Marlins’ history. The right fielder now leads the majors with six homers and 26 RBI’s, and has made a big early statement that he is one of, if not the most, dangerous power hitter in the game today.
With none out and the bags full in the ninth, Mariners reliever Yoervis Medina uncorked a 1-2 breaking ball on the outside corner which looked to be a decent pitch. One could likely count on a single hand the amount of players capable pulling a pitch like that well over 400 feet to left field, but Stanton is most certainly one of them. The 24-year-old has already shown big improvements from a disappointing year in 2013 and has gotten back on track as one of the elite young up-and-comers across the league.
One of the biggest differences with Stanton this season is the performance of his teammates. Miami recently endured an eight-game losing streak, but the team has played good ball both before and after that, largely because the lineup is much deeper. The Fish are sixth in the league in runs scored after plating 85 less runs than any other team in baseball last season. That substantial leap can be attributed to the protection provided for Stanton so far by Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee and Jarrod Saltalamacchia hitting behind him. All three are newcomers and have done a fine job ensuring pitchers cannot casually pitch around Stanton. Also, youngsters like Adeiny Hechavarria, Derek Dietrich, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich have taken big steps forward getting on base in front of Stanton and also infusing some production into the bottom third of the order.
Stanton’s personal adjustments have been apparent in the sense that he is shortening his swing at times to avoid trying to do too much. The strikeouts are still higher than he would like, but he is back to being more aggressive inside the strike zone, whereas in 2013 he saw a smaller percentage of balls in the strike zone than almost anyone in baseball. His average is at a very strong .329, which is not too far out of his range. This is a guy who did hit .290 in 2012 as a 22-year-old, but last year became too timid and accepted that he would be pitched around so often in a ghastly lineup.
The day Miami needs to avoid is in the back of the minds of the front office. Fellow young superstar Mike Trout recently re-upped with the Angels for six years and $144.5 million, and as long as Stanton stays healthy he will command something in that ballpark. Miami is notorious for cutting ties with players instead of shelling out that kind of money, so things could get dicey if they are not prepared to adequately compensate Stanton once their contract extension negotiations take place.
A healthy and protected Giancarlo Stanton is already proving in April that he is the most feared and dangerous hitter in this game. No player across baseball can do the type of immediate damage he does because of his raw power. Often times he has not gotten all of a pitch but still can muscle it over the wall, but what makes him more dangerous is that now he is learning how to balance being patient with staying aggressive and not leaving the strike zone. There are few players more enjoyable to watch in today’s game.
Commentary by Justin Hussong