Unprecedented times call for unprecedented rule changes.
Should MLB's proposal for a truncated season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic come to fruition – featuring divisional realignment and an expanded postseason – the universal designated hitter will be used in both leagues.
In New York, adding a universal DH could be exactly what slugger Giancarlo Stanton needs to return to MVP form in 2020 and beyond.
First, let's set the scene. Clubs like the Yankees with depth to spare can fully utilize a ninth-available spot in the order for a quality bat during all 82 games of this proposed shortened campaign. Remember, with divisions reshaped based on geography to limit travel, all 30 teams will play a significant chunk of games in National League ballparks.
When facing off with NL East foes in New York's modified division, manager Aaron Boone could elect to cycle through the likes of Clint Frazier, Miguel Andújar and more, adding a position player to an already stacked order.
Another option, however, is to set aside the designated hitter spot for Stanton – a slugger coming off an injury-plagued campaign and a player that has excelled at DH in the past.
In Stanton's lone full season in pinstripes – back in 2018 – the reigning NL MVP at the time played in 158 games, hit 38 homers and drove in 100 runs. Considering the barrage of criticism he's received in the last 12 months – often justified courtesy of his inability to stay on the field a year ago – he's entering this season as one of the club's most underrated assets.
Within his 2018 performance, Stanton played 86 games at designated hitter. After spending the entirety of his career with the Miami Marlins before joining the Yankees, this was his first taste (or big gulp, since it was over half a season) of life as a designated hitter.
To say the least, Stanton transitioned well. He was at his best when penciled in as the Bombers' DH. The slugger mashed 24 big flies, compiled 60 RBI, had a .284 average (six points off his single-season best) and an OPS of .942.
For argument's sake, since 86 games isn't far off from 82, let's say those were the numbers he put up in 2020. Don't you think both Stanton and the coaching staff would be ecstatic with those results?
Through Stanton's 86th game played in 2017 – en route to leading the league with 59 homers and 132 RBI – the slugger had 26 long balls to go along with 58 RBI, a .277 batting average and .933 OPS. Besides trailing in big flies, he was better in all other listed categories at designated hitter.
Yes, of course, this comparison is ignoring quite a few factors. Stanton didn't play all 86 games consecutively and the season didn't begin three-plus months tardy due to a national emergency. But still, to put it bluntly, through 86 games at DH with New York, Stanton was on a better pace than his historic MVP season.
Let's pause here for a moment. This is all fine and dandy, but how can an injury prone Stanton stay healthy all of a sudden after just 18 games played last year? Plus, this proposal would feature so many adjustments, how can we expect this kind of production from Stanton in 2020?
These are fair questions across the board. Here's how Stanton playing DH full time opens the door for immense success.
Stanton's injury – a Grade 1 right calf strain – was sustained during fielding drills earlier this spring. His defense isn't necessarily detrimental to the Yankees – in fact, Stanton has proven in the past that he's a qualified corner outfielder – but by keeping him in the box and off the outfield grass, the odds of him getting hurt will go down significantly.
Sure, he could aggravate his calf running the bases, could get hit by a pitch in a bad spot, who knows. Any of those injuries could happen to anyone though – let's try and maintain an optimistic outlook on this scenario.
The beauty of this proposal is Stanton, along with his teammates, have had ample time to recover from any and all injuries. James Paxton will be back, Aaron Hicks could be back and Aaron Judge has been taking full advantage of the time off to heal his fractured rib.
Boone confirmed in mid-March that Stanton would be "ready to go." This proposal would place Opening Day on July 1.
The final component of Stanton's resurgence out of the designated hitter spot will be his familiarity with the NL East.
Take a quick peek at the Yankees' 40-man roster. Has anyone else spent nearly as much time in the division? Spoiler alert. Not a single position player on that list has played for a team in the NL East.
Stanton tormented even the best pitchers in the talented NL East over the course of an eight-year stint with Miami to start his career.
To circle back, New York would have more teams in this proposed division from their interleague neighbors than the clubs in their traditional division. That doesn't necessarily mean more games would be played against the likes of Atlanta, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, but a sizable portion will.
Having a DH accessible in road games against NL East foes – cities where Stanton has played a total of 714 games between old and current ballparks – would be invaluable. No need for Stanton to play the field while simultaneously taking another outfielder out of the lineup.
That total of games in the homes of NL East clubs is over 60 percent of Stanton's entire career. Talk about familiarity, you won't find many American League players with that much experience in the corresponding division of the opposite league.
If Stanton can get back on track in 2020, there's nothing saying the slugger can't ride the momentum into the rest of this decade. Perhaps a productive season in 2020 boosts his confidence that he can be just as good in pinstripes as he was in a Marlins uniform.
After all, Stanton is only 30 years old and still one of the best power hitters in the world.
Keep him on the field and the MVP votes will follow.
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