Giancarlo Stanton is cut from a different mold than almost any other hitter on the planet. He’s bigger. He’s stronger. His average home run distance would be considered a moon shot for most hitters. But I have struggled with Stanton. His mechanics differ at key points compared to his peers, and not in small ways. I asked several trusted hitting coaches about this dilemma and they simply said Stanton’s athleticism overcomes his mechanics. There have been boatloads of athletic baseball players with bad mechanics who never even sniffed the level of success Stanton has achieved. What does Stanton do to allow him to be successful?
I want to dispel the thinking that Stanton or any hitter is so athletic they can simply “out athlete” a bad swing. While doing research for this article I came across articles talking about how coachable Stanton is and how creative he gets in the cage. Great athlete plus creative hard work is a combination that can work even without an ideal mechanical profile.
Stanton’s stance has evolved over time but the movement has essentially been the same. Stanton came into the league with an open stance and a fair amount of bend in his knees. Over time he’s lined up his feet and stood more upright. His stride fluctuates between a small raise of his foot and a controlled double tap.
One of the first things I look at is how well hitters sync up their hands and feet. When the feet move the hands should be moving as well. First, it establishes good rhythm and timing within the swing. Second, and more importantly, it allows the hitter to understand what happens if they mistime a ball. If a hitter were early on a pitch and didn’t have his hands and feet in sync, it becomes a guessing game about which segment of the body’s timing was off. If they are in sync, he knows his whole timing was simply off.
Stanton’s hands move very little in his swing, but they sync up with his feet perfectly. When his foot moves at first, his hands drop slightly before rising back up and in to his body as his foot proceeds forward. It’s a small but important movement and Stanton executes it in a very smooth and controlled fashion.
The forward portion of his stride is nearly perfect. His front foot only moves because his whole leg moves. This is just how you want the foot to move. You don’t want the foot to really reach out well in front of the knee. That style of stride kills balance and weight transfer but luckily you don’t see any of that in Stanton.
Look at the relationship between his front foot and his front knee. His front knee is turned in just slightly through 90 percent of his stride but look what happens in the moments between his toe hitting the ground and planting his heel. See how the knee opens up just as the heel drops? This makes it much easier for Stanton to open his hips.
Here’s a more blatant example:
The interaction between Stanton’s front foot and knee isn’t as obvious but it is just as effective.
Sticking with Stanton’s lower body, look at the energy he creates during his stride. As he strides forward his hips are moving toward to the pitcher and the angle between his back foot, knee, and hip is steepening. This ensures that if Stanton does decide to swing he doesn’t have to force his weight to transfer; he can just allow it to happen naturally.
After his foot lands, his back leg continues to showcase textbook movements. He turns his back knee and begins to drive it forward and toward the ground while keeping his back heel planted. This is key. If Stanton (or any hitter) gets on their back toe too early they lose the ability to tap into all the energy they have created. They would be left with nothing to do but spin on the baseball.
I cannot claim this example as my own but think of a baserunner stealing second base. As they break, they are going to turn the knee and the hips toward the bag, then get to their toe at the last second.
When in doubt let Rickey show us how it done.
From the waist down, Stanton has a swing that is about as dialed-in as you will see. It’s from the waist up where the truly unique aspects show up. I mentioned that I love the way Stanton moves his hands throughout his stride. Even though I dig the movement, I am put off by the position of his hands.
Most elite hitters share some key commonalities at the point in their swing when their front toe hits the ground. Their hands, back elbow, and back shoulder should all be at about the same height. If there is a difference in height it will show up in the hands being a bit lower than either the elbow or shoulder. The bat will be slightly cocked but there will always be a sliver of daylight between the bat and the helmet.
Stanton is an elite hitter, but he is not lined up like the other guys. His back elbow is lower than both his hands and shoulder. His bat is laid back and angled to such an extent that there is no daylight between his helmet and bat. Stanton’s hands are also different. Miguel Cabrera and the like have their palms nearly perpendicular to the ground while Stanton’s are angled back.
As Stanton plants his front heel the madness continues. His back elbow is still too low and the end of his bat is pointing toward the crowd behind him while other hitters typically align their bat to be pointing skyward.
When he begins to launch the bat forward, he looks like he is ready to have the world's longest swing. I love when hitters get the bat flat early (it helped save J.D. Martinez’s career) but I’ve never seen a successful hitter do it as early as Stanton. His bat begins to flatten and blur one frame after his heel touches down. Other hitters, like Cabrera, need somewhere between 1.5 and 2 frames to blur the bat to the extent Stanton does.
Stanton gets the bat moving early and gets it moving fast. These are both good things. Stanton isn’t good; he’s downright special. Here’s the special moment in his swing. From heel plant to contact Stanton is unreal.
He gets the bat moving early and it’s moving in a rotational fashion. From heel drop to contact his bat head is moving forward and away from his body. Watch his back elbow. Watch the angle. The vast majority of hitters would either let that back arm extend as the bat comes through due to the force of the bat pulling it that way or they would drag the bat through the zone inefficiently with their elbows in front of their hands. Stanton doesn’t. He keeps his back arm at about a 90 degree angle and even gets his hands properly in front of his elbow prior to contact.
Sparknotes version: Stanton is special because he gets the bat flat and generates bat speed extremely early while still managing to be at a perfect position at contact.
Other hitters could not move like he does. If they tried, they would be around everything thanks to the inability to keep that back arm at a solid angle. Or if they did keep their arm at the correct angle they would still have a hard time because their elbows would lead the hands instead of the other way around.
Beyond the extremely flat plane of his bat the other very noticeable thing about Stanton’s swing is his follow-through. For as big a human as Stanton is, you would expect him to have a long, flowing finish. He doesn’t. It’s short and compact. Honestly, though, it doesn’t matter. Stanton does fully extend his arms after contact but quickly brings them back into his body at the tail end of his swing. It’s neither good nor bad, just interesting.
Stanton's success is not purely a matter of being more athletic than the other guys around him. He found a way to tap into that athleticism inside his swing. So the question becomes: Do you change his mechanics? Do you try to work with that upper body to mimic guys like Cabrera and Manny Ramirez? Nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand I would say "hell yeah" without blinking. In Stanton’s case I say "hell no."
What is there to be gained? Stanton’s bat plane is solid. This is not a J.D. Martinez situation where the raw tools have flashed despite terrible movement to the ball. Stanton doesn’t struggle against any particular pitch or location. He can hit the ball to all parts of the yard. There is no reason to change his swing. Undoubtedly Stanton will continue to hone and refine his swing but don’t expect any wholesale changes any time soon.
There is a blueprint for a swing 99 percent of hitters follow. Stanton doesn’t follow that blueprint exactly. So what? This young man is a special hitter both in results and process. Both should be celebrated. Nobody in the world can hit like Stanton and nobody in the world can swing like him. Sit back and enjoy the show. Just don’t park your car behind the outfield fence.