Two years ago, Gary Sanchez took the MLB world by storm by slugging 20 home runs in 53 games. Last year, he solidified himself as the best offensive catcher in the MLB after hitting 33 home runs and driving in 90 after missing the first month of the season.
Now, Gary Sanchez has been the biggest disappointment in a season that has seen the Yankees excel in all facets. Both sides of his game have seen a serious regression; he's done little to silence the critics who point out his inefficiencies behind home plate, and for the first time in career his bat can't cover for it. He's already lost the trust of one starting pitcher in Sonny Gray, who's been just as big as a disappointment but has flashed signs of climbing out of his funk with backup catcher Austin Romine as his guy.
That the Yankees still maintain a half-game lead over the Red Sox in the AL East and have the best record in baseball despite Sanchez's struggles is a testament to the team's depth. What Sanchez is lacking is what neophytes like Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres have picked up in his stead. But if the Yankees are to solidify their hold as top dog in all of baseball, they need to have their All-Star worthy catcher round back into shape for the final months of the season.
There's no denying Gary Sanchez is a hitter. He's one of the most dangerous names in the American League when things are going right. And to call for a drastic change for a player who's experiencing his first true extended struggles is premature, it's still the nature of the game. What have you done for me today? Yankee fans should remember fondly the double in Game 4 of the ALCS that tied the playoff series at two games apiece.
Digging into Sanchez's numbers reveals that a lot of his struggles may have to do with some hard luck. In terms of his pull percentage, meaning the percentage of him hitting the baseball to the pull-side of the field, center percentage, and oppo percentage, the numbers have stayed relatively the same compared to last year (51.5/48.6, 32/30.6, 16.4/20.8). The most concerning stat differential comes in his in-field fly ball percentage (IFFB%) which has skyrocketed from 10.8% in 2017 to 23.4% this year. This could show that his timing is off and he's getting underneath the ball more than usual, and when one notices his line drive percentage (LD%) go from 21.1 in 2017 to 13.9 this year, it seems all but confirmed that his swing is all out of tune.
One should've expected the numbers to correlate and reflect a more accurate result from these percentages. He's making more hard contact (37.3% from 34% the year before) and less soft contact (19.2 from 20.8%), but the strikeout rate has increased from 22.9% to 24.8%. A batting average of balls put into play (BABIP) of .190 is rotten and indicative of hard luck, especially considering Sanchez contact percentage of 72.5 is at his career average.
The metrics are overbearing, and FanGraphs does a great job of explaining every metric they measure. A close analysis of these numbers shows that the Gary Sanchez of this year is not much different from the Gary Sanchez of last year. But the overall numbers have skewed from the norm drastically, and from there the evidence may lie in the eye-test rather than the actual numbers.
There was much hype regarding the trio of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez entering the season. But it would be fair to say most of the attention was focused on the two gargantuan sluggers in Judge and Stanton, who a year prior both eclipsed the 50 homer mark and won the AL Rookie of the Year and NL MVP, respectively. Is Sanchez trying to compensate for a perceived slight from the media? It's all speculation, but more times than not it's appeared as if Sanchez has ascribed to the three true outcomes of the modern game: home run, strikeout, or walk.
Unlike the other two, Sanchez is not a 200-strikeout guy. In any year he may not have the home run totals as the other two, but he'd most likely have the higher batting average and be just as productive in the run-producing department. So if his struggles result from him trying to play the game at a style he's not accustomed to (i.e, selling out for the big home run) then his struggles will only persist. There's a reason many Yankee execs regarded him as their best hitting homegrown talent, and a 2017 season where he hit .280 with 33 home runs and 90 RBI is remarkable and no gimmick.
The true gimmick is the .190 batting average. Sure, his 12 home runs put him on pace for 32, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut. Sanchez will hit his home runs, there's no doubt about it. But it's June, now, and a.190 average will not cut it. The Yankees don't need a .220 hitter. There are plenty of those in today's game. Sanchez's value lies in his offensive prowess; but if he can't make up for his defensive deficiencies with offensive output, then I think most of Yankee fandom would rather see Austin Romine behind the plate for an extended period.
Because Romine's production has made him valuable. Sanchez still holds a ton of value, but he needs to learn what kind of player he is. As soon as he does that, he can ignore the expectations others have for him and play the way that has made him one of the brightest stars in baseball.
The Yankees are 42-19 despite Gary Sanchez's struggles. The rest of the league better hope he doesn't get his act together.