Does the Data Think Gary Sanchez Should Be On the Yankees?

Gary Sanchez made a lot of enemies in 2020, as he was awful for the Yankees, but does the data show us more than what meets the eye?

Gary Sanchez was just not at all good in 2020. No matter how you slice it, he couldn’t hit, and his framing is basically average to below average. When his framing is average, usually you live with it due to his bat, but he was non-existent in 2020. Striking out left and right doesn’t bode well for any hitter unless they’re getting insane production out of the contact they do make. That’s the thing though, what did Gary do with his contact? Did he hit the ball hard? Was he able to still rip liners? Looking at Statcast and film, we can see what exactly Gary Sanchez was in 2020 for the Yankees.

A Film Review Of Gary Sanchez

Using the Film Room app on the MLB website, I was able to look at every single out recorded by Gary Sanchez. In the process, there were two constants: swinging strikeouts and hard hit outs. After reviewing the film I found 15 outs that I saw were hard hit. They had been smoked right at a hitter or had a highlight play made on them. I found 4 bad called strike 3s, however only one of them was on 3-2. The batted ball data would support me on this, with Gary Sanchez ranking 14th in the league (minimum 25 PA) in Barrel%. I could just conclude that he simply hit the ball hard but struck out a lot, his bad luck causing him to perform poorly. That to me just isn’t enough, however, and I think we can take this a step further to understand what Gary is.

Comparing Gary Sanchez To Other Sluggers

Why don’t we look at how Gary Sanchez compares to other prominent hitters in batted ball data.

PlayerBarrel%Hard Hit%Average Velocity
Gary Sanchez17.4%50%91.8
Bryce Harper17.3%50.7%92.5
Jose Abreu14.3%53.3%92.8

When you see that batted ball data, you can see that Gary isn’t broken to an unfixable point. He’s very good at hitting the ball for quality contact when he makes contact. That’s the key however when he makes contact. His contact percentages were really low, and his awful luck didn’t help either. When he made contact this season it was comparable to whatever AL MVP Jose Abreu or superstar Bryce Harper were doing when they made contact. The Yankees are known for being able to “fix” hitters, so why not fix Gary back up? His main issue really just seems to be strikeouts. With the strikeouts being the main knock on Gary, why don’t we look at why they spiked?

Death By…Fastball?

Somehow, someway, Sanchez managed to have his worst year against fastballs. He had career worsts in:

  • BA
  • xBA
  • SLG
  • xSLG
  • wOBA
  • xwOBA
  • Whiff%

How did he manage to do that despite his best exit velocity against fastballs? These just aren’t things that are sustainable in my opinion. If given 100 games in 2021, I just can’t see Gary Sanchez not being an above-average hitter. Tell me about upgrades at catcher all you want, but there’s simply no one you could feasibly get who’s an upgrade. Yadi? Can’t hit for his life anymore. James McCann? 1 good year isn’t enough. JT Realmuto? The Yankees don’t have $200 million to spend on him when you want to retain DJ and add pitching.

The Yankees are making the right decision if they stick with Gary Sanchez. His batted ball data shows there was more bad luck than bad play. If he stinks again in 2021 I’d look for another catcher, but right now Gary is your best bet.

Understanding Small Sample Sizes

The 2020 season for Gary was 49 games. Not 150, or 100, or even 60. It was 49 games. Can we stop overreacting? In 49 games anyone can look better or worse. Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger struggled mightily, where’s the press saying they should be cut? It’s easy to rag on one guy and forget how players are. If the Yankees want to properly evaluate Gary Sanchez they need a full season to do so. I think they have an offensive beast at catcher, and that’s what the data shows he still can be. 49 games, no matter how bad they are, still is just a small sample size.

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