It took two pitches for Giancarlo Stanton to show why the baseball world has been waiting anxiously to see him in the New York Yankees’ lineup. The reigning National League MVP launched a ball 426 feet to right-center field for a home run in his first at-bat with his new team, picking up where he left off in 2017.
Stanton outdid himself in his final plate appearance on Opening Day, hitting a 434-foot home run to center field at Rogers Centre in Toronto, capping off a 6-1 Yankee’s victory over the Blue Jays. The outfielder ended his first regular-season game in pinstripes with three extra-base hits, four RBI and three runs scored.
New York couldn’t have asked for a better debut from their slugger, though it wasn’t all that surprising. Stanton hit 59 home runs for the Miami Marlins a season ago, winning the MVP award while playing for a team that finished eight games below .500.
Counting on Stanton to surpass or even match his home run total from 2017 would be asking a lot. His 59 homers were the most by any player since Barry Bonds set the single-season record in 2001 with 73 dingers. Only Bonds, Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Roger Maris have reached the 59-homer mark in a year.
What exactly would be a realistic number to expect from Stanton in 2018? Before the start of the season, MyTopSportsbooks.com set the over/under for Stanton home runs at 51.5. He’s the overwhelming favorite at Bovada.lv to lead the American League in home runs.
Giancarlo Stanton HOMERS in his first at-bat of the season! pic.twitter.com/d2uaBtMcby
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) March 29, 2018
Giancarlo Stanton CRUSHES his 2nd home run of the game. pic.twitter.com/U1hL60CtHd
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) March 29, 2018
The 2017 season was easily the best of Stanton’s eight-year career. His 132 RBI, .631 slugging percentage and 1.007 OPS were all career-highs. He had never previously hit more than 37 home runs in a season.
But Stanton’s final numbers weren’t exactly shocking. He’d shown signs that he could be MLB’s top power hitter. It’s why he’s the owner of the most lucrative contract in American team sports’ history.
In 979 games, Stanton has averaged 13.32 at-bats per home run, putting him behind only McGwire, Ruth and Bonds all-time. His 37 home runs in 2014 led the NL, and he’s had the league’s highest slugging percentage three times. Stanton had 27 home runs in 74 games in 2015 before a broken hand ended his season.
Injuries—a couple somewhat fluky—have prevented Stanton from playing a full season for much his career. He’s played more than 123 games twice since 2012 and finished in the top-two in MVP voting both times.
Never has Stanton been in a better position to hit more home runs than the one he finds himself in this year. His spot in the lineup makes him just about impossible to pitch around, which certainly wasn’t the case in Miami. Stanton led the league in intentional walks when he was the NL MVP runner-up in 2014.
Hitting directly in front of Stanton on Opening Day was 2017 AL MVP runner-up and home run leader Aaron Judge. Gary Sanchez, who has a .918 OPS and 53 home runs in 178 career games, was on deck every time Stanton stepped in the batter’s box.
The ballparks Stanton will frequent in 2018 also offers the right-hander a better chance to hit the ball over the fence. A 2016 study by ESPN found that four of the 10 best hitters’ ballparks are in the AL East, and the NL East was filled with pitcher-friendly stadiums. Stanton will be staring at a 314-foot right-field porch in half of his games.
Only 11 of Stanton’s 59 homers went to right field last season, but his two home runs Thursday afternoon could be a sign that he’s ready to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s dimensions. A seemingly effortless swing on the second pitch he saw as a Yankee resulted in the hardest-hit opposite field home run ever tracked by statcast.
Betances on Stanton's Yankees debut: "I’ve never seen a debut like that. first game with the Yankees and for him to do what he did today was unbelievable…I’ve never seen anything like that. Those balls were hit out in less than two seconds. Guy just has massive pop."
— Erik Boland (@eboland11) March 29, 2018
“He’s just ridiculously talented, man,” Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner told The New York Daily News after a spring training game. “I can’t even comprehend his whole approach and the way he hits the ball. It’s like he just flicks his wrists and hits a 400-foot something line drive the other way.”
MLB set a record in 2017 for the most home runs hit in a single season. With 33 homers hit in 13 games on Opening Day, baseball’s power surge doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Playing in more hitter-friendly parks in the middle of what could be the best lineup in baseball, Stanton has a chance to have his best power season yet.