The Yankees have a little more than one week left in the 2020 regular season. It’s been a wild, frustrating year, but things look better today than they have in quite a while. The starting pitching has dramatically improved since late August, a number of Yankee stars have returned from the IL, and the team is rattling off wins in a businesslike manner. I never though I’d say this a few weeks ago, but I’m genuinely excited for the 2020 postseason.
Things will undoubtedly be different this October. There won’t be fans in the stands, and I expect that some of the normal pressure and energy of playoff baseball will be absent. Still, the postseason is the postseason. The stakes will be high, the games will be important, and baseball’s best teams will be competing head to head for the ultimate prize.
Some Yankees have already proved to be at their best when the lights are brightest. DJ LeMahieu was outstanding last October. Aaron Judge has been a consistent postseason performer since 2017 (the ALDS against the Indians being an outlier). Gleyber Torres didn’t do much in the 2018 playoffs, but he was a key contributor during last year’s run.
One Yankee who has a lot to prove this postseason is Giancarlo Stanton. Whenever the Bronx Bombers add a major talent like Stanton, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on that player to contribute to a World Series championship. The sooner Stanton gets the playoff monkey off of his back, the sooner he can win the undying respect of the Bronx faithful.
Stanton’s Past Postseasons
Stanton has appeared in two playoff runs for the Yankees. In 2018, he entered the postseason coming off of a season in which he played 158 games and was a staple in the Bombers’ lineup. Last year, Stanton missed almost the entire season with a series of frustrating injuries before returning just in time for the playoffs. Here are his postseason stats for those two years:
Stanton’s playoff numbers for 2018 and 2019 are actually pretty similar, which suggests his play has been fairly consistent in October. His improved OBP in 2019 helped boost his OPS, wOBA, and wRC+, but his batting averages were similar, he had only one home run each year, and he didn’t drive in very many runs.
Stanton’s Ideal 2020 Postseason
At this point, Stanton’s 2020 postseason expectations are probably pretty mixed. He’s paid a ton of money and he’s supposed to be a star player, which means the fans expect him to perform. On the other hand, he’s hardly played this season and he’s been rather pedestrian in his past playoff appearances. For these reasons, many Yankee fans aren’t holding their breath when it comes to Giancarlo. A good portion of the fanbase won’t expect him to do much more this October than he did in either 2018 or 2019.
I believe that Stanton will have to be a real contributor in order for the Yankees to win the 2020 World Series. He doesn’t need to play like A-Rod did in 2009, but he needs to play much better than he did in the previous two years.
As a thought experiment, I went back through Stanton’s career stats and came up with what I am calling his ideal postseason. If Stanton can do the following in the 2020 playoffs, then, as the saying goes, he’ll have earned his pinstripes. In the event that the Yankees win a championship this year, these are the numbers that would make Stanton’s postseason a success (he’d have to post these statistics over the course of roughly 16-20 games):
Obviously, this isn’t an absolute standard. Stanton can fall a bit short of my projection in any of these particular categories and still have a good postseason. However, if his numbers aren’t at least approaching those outlined above, then he’s probably underperforming relative to his potential. For those who are curious, I primarily based my projections on Stanton’s 2018 regular season numbers, which were strong but could certainly be replicated if Giancarlo is right at the plate.
Own the Big Moments
Stats are important, and they help us evaluate how effective a hitter has been over the course of a few games. But building an October legacy is about more than posting a good wRC+ or getting on base at a .350 clip. Those things are clearly worth something, but they aren’t everything. Playoff baseball is also about coming through in the big moments. In order for Stanton to have an ideal postseason, it’ll be important for him to deliver when it matters most. Hits late in games or with runners in scoring position will prove that Stanton can handle the big moments.
Great Yankees have a history of playing their best at the most critical times. Let’s hope that Stanton does just that this fall.