After having dramatic highs and lows during his first few seasons with the Yankees, what does the future hold for Gary Sanchez?
Before we had Judge and Gleyber we had Gary Sanchez, the proclaimed “Sanchize.” His nickname says all you need to know about fans and the organizations expectations of the young Bomber backstop. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the results have not met the initial conjectures.
After an historic rookie season where Sanchez became the fastest player to reach 19 home runs in the modern era (45 games) he followed it up with a sophomore campaign that saw him break the record for most homers by a Yankee catcher in one season (33, previous record 30 by Berra and Posada). Since then he has not only regressed offensively, he has taken minimal strides in his subpar defensive abilities.
Two things you can always count on offensively from Sanchez are strikeouts and homers, not much else. During his rookie season he played just 53 games en route to a second place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year ballot. He concluded the season with a .299 average, 60 hits, 20 dingers, 42 RBI’s and a 1.032 OPS. Since 2016 he has had 120, 94 and 125 strikeouts over 122, 89 and 106 games respectively. He also hit .278, .186 and .232 respectively over that same three-year period.
What we have seen offensively over these past three seasons is a catcher extremely uncomfortable in the box. He has had great struggles reading pitchers and more often than not, steps to the plate hunting fastballs only to strikeout on a breaker in the dirt. Between 2017 and 2019 his strikeouts per plate appearance have increased from .229 to .251 to .280.
Since his breakout rookie year Gary has increased his barrel percentage and launch angle each season. In 2018 he was in the top 5% of the league for barrel percentage at 13.9 and this past season finished in the top 1% at 19.1. The increase in launch angle and barrel percentage may seem valuable to many given the state of today’s game. But in Sánchez’s case it has been detrimental to his value at the plate by slowly turning him into another all or nothing hitter.
Defensively, Sanchez has some very obvious pros and cons. His pop time (time it takes to go from catching stance to throwing position) is easily his best defensive attribute. During his rookie season he led all of MLB catchers with a pop time of 1.90 seconds. He has since finished third, eighth and ninth.
The only thing Gary Sanchez does consistently on defense is allow passed balls. Between 2017 and 2018 the Sánchize led all of baseball with 34 of them. 18 in 2017 and 16 in 2018, both led the majors. This year he was able to get that number down to a more reasonable seven.
In his young career Sanchez has yet to become a great two-way catcher for the Bombers. Just look at his best offensive year in 2017, the same year he surrendered 18 passed balls. He continues to have scattered surges of power production with little defensive prowess.
Yankee greatness is ultimately determined by postseason performance. Gary has failed miserably. In seven playoff series he has batted .176 (18 for 102) with 40 strikeouts. While he does have six homers, his defensive ineptitude has continued. During the Yankees 2019 American League Championship Series loss to the Astros, Sanchez tallied three official passed balls but also allowed six “wild pitches” that could have easily been scored passed balls.
The Kraken’s 2020 will likely determine his future in New York. Now approaching his fourth full year in the big leagues it’s time for Gary to show an entire season of consistent performance. No more chasing breakers in the dirt and no more attempting to backhand wild pitches. Improvement in these areas will be a major benefit not only to the offense, but also to a new-look pitching staff poised for dominance.