A few weeks back, I took a look at Gary Sanchez’s slow start to the season, particularly the fact that he was striking out so damn much. While the results weren’t great, there were subtle hints he’d be able to pull out of it. Since then, he hasn’t. His struggles at the plate have continued and the process seems just as ugly as the results. For today, I’m going to take a look at some things I didn’t touch on the first time around and see what else is going on with Gary.
Last time, I noted that Sanchez’s chase rate was no different than it normally was and that remains true. What is a bit different, though, is his chase contact percentage. As of writing this, it’s at a career low 48.6%. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; making contact on pitches you’re chasing usually doesn’t lead to good results. However, that low contact rate helps explain the uptick in strikeouts.
Next on the list is first pitch swing percentage. This cropped up as an issue because it seems so different from the rest of his career. So far this year, Gary has swung at the first pitch of a PA 17.8% of the time, a career low by about four percentage points. It’s been declining since 2017, so perhaps this is a concerted effort for Sanchez. It’s possible that it’s backfiring this year and pitchers are using this strategy of his to get ahead of him, setting him up for strikeouts later in the at bat.
Then we come to what Statcast calls “meatballs.” This year, Sanchez is swinging at 61.3% of the meatballs he sees, the second lowest percentage in his career. This comes while seeing the highest number–7.6% of pitches–in his career (not including his cup of coffee in 2015). When we see a player letting first pitches and meatballs go, we see a player setting himself up to be in a hole; that’s what seems to be happening to Gary at the beginning of at bats, then he’s pressing and chasing later, leading to more whiffs, more strikeouts.
To drive the point home about Sanchez struggling against pitches he should mash, let’s take a look at a pertinent chart.
On contact, Sanchez has a .000 batting average on middle/middle pitches. In turn, that means he has a .000 SLG for that zone. A hitter as talented and as powerful as Sanchez should be destroying those pitches, no matter how frequently or not they come. And that gives credence to the eye test, doesn’t it? How many times this year–regardless of exact location–have you thought, ‘Wow, he should’ve crushed that pitch!’? For me, it’s been a lot and I assume the same is true for you, too.
With the season reaching its final month, time is running out for Sanchez to turn things around. With Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gleyber Torres all out until who knows when, it’s beyond important that Gary break out of this season-long slump.