Remembering Giancarlo Stanton’s 59-homer season, which seems all but forgotten

Jason Foster

Jason Foster

www.sportingnews.com

As Aaron Judge sits at 59 home runs, with an excellent shot to reach or pass 60 and become just the sixth player in history to touch that milestone, and the first to do it in the post-steroid era, there’s really only one person who can relate — his Yankees teammate, Giancarlo Stanton.

That’s because Stanton was the last player to seriously flirt with the big 6-0, the last player to step right up to the precipice of history. What? You forgot that Stanton hit 59 homers in 2017? Not surprising — because, for whatever reason, we’ve just completely stopped talking about Stanton’s impressive campaign from five years ago.

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This was a season in which Stanton not only hit a near-historic number of dingers, but also won NL MVP in a crazy-close race with the Reds’ Joey Votto. Seriously, look how close the vote was. But before Stanton’s 2017 season is completely swallowed by Judge’s heroics and pushed even further down the memory hole, let’s take a look back and give Stanton a proper shout-out.

2017 was Stanton’s eighth season in the majors, his Age 27 season, and was his last season in Miami as a member of the Marlins. By that time, he was already a three-time All-Star and noted power threat, having led the NL with 37 homers in 2014, a season in which is finished second in MVP voting to Clayton Kershaw. So he already had a well-established reputation as a guy who would hit a lot of homers and crush the ball at impressive speeds. Still, his 2017 season was an unexpected display of power, mostly because his 2015 and 2016 seasons were plagued by injuries, causing his home run total to top out at 27 both years.

But 2017 was a year in which is stayed healthy all season. In fact, it was the first time Stanton played more than 150 games, which was a major factor in his ability to compile lots of long balls. But perhaps even more important was his plate discipline that season.

Stanton made contact on pitches in the strike zone nearly 78 percent of the time in 2017, the highest mark of his career, and his chase rate was just 24 percent, his lowest ever in a full season. But even when he went outside the zone, he tended to be rewarded. His whiff rate was 31.8 percent that season, also the lowest of his career.

It translated not just to those 59 long balls, but to a league-leading 132 RBIs, an OPS of 1.007 — which was 38 points higher than his previous career best — and a wRC+ of 158. Not to mention a bWAR of 7.9.

As with Judge this season, Stanton’s bombs in 2017 were overwhelmingly no-doubters (nearly 68 percent, according to Baseball Savant), meaning he didn’t benefit from many short porches or wall-scrapers down the line. In fact, based on the distances of his fly balls that season, his expected home run total was around 62, according to Savant.

More fun with expected numbers: Stanton would’ve topped 60 homers had he played all his 2017 games in Houston, Oakland, Seattle, Texas, Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, Los Angeles (Dodgers), San Diego, Colorado, New York (Mets), Washington, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and, yes, Miami. 

Ironically, had he played all his games that year in Yankee Stadium, his expected home run total would’ve been just 58. 

But as for the chase for 60 itself, it was a relatively slow burn. Unlike with Judge in 2022, there was no hot start that had people talking early. Stanton didn’t hit his first homer until the Marlins’ eighth game. He also had first-half stretches of 11 and 14 games in which he hit no homers (Judge’s longest stretch this season is nine games).

CHASING 60
  Stanton 2017 Judge 2022
Game of 1st HR Miami’s Game No. 8 NY’s Game No. 6
HRs at All-Star Break 26 33
HRs at end of August 51 51
Game of 59th HR Miami’s Game No. 159 NY’s Game No. 146
Total HRs 59 TBD

Through the All-Star break, Stanton had 26 homers (Judge had 33 this year). His second half got an early boost with a stretch of seven homers in nine games, but didn’t truly didn’t get going until Aug. 4, when he began a stretch of 11 homers in 12 games.

MORE: Aaron Judge will reach 60 homers, but he’s been as complete a hitter as any team could want

Stanton ended August with 51 homers (same as Judge this season), but his pace slowed significantly in September. He didn’t hit his 59th homer until Sept. 28 (his 156th game) but went into the season’s final three games with a solid shot at 60. And though he went 5-for-14 in those final games, he produced just one extra-base hit, a double, and finished the season right at the doorstep of 60.

So why don’t we talk about this more? Maybe it’s because Stanton played for the Marlins, who were bad in 2017 and tend to not get much talk anyway. Maybe it’s because he didn’t reach 60, and falling one short is the same as falling 10 short in many people’s minds. Even as it was happening, the “Stanton watch” was relatively subdued. There was interest, but not the kind of consuming interest many feel with Judge. But regardless of the reason why it’s been all but forgotten, Stanton’s 2017 season remains worthy of discussion and celebration.

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Of course, Stanton wasn’t the only guy in recent memory to flirt with 60 in the post-steroid era. Ryan Howard of the Phillies also came close, clubbing 58 homers in his 2006 MVP season. But apart from them, a serious run at 60 has been a quest with no takers until Judge this season.

This shows how hard it is to hit that many homers in a post-steroid world. Guys can still hit homers in bunches and accumulate large totals, but the consistent pace required to reach or pass 60 is what makes the feat so impressive — and that’s what has Judge on the verge of history and what caused Stanton to fall just a step short.

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