Gary Sánchez is in a rut this October.
After an OK ALDS where Sánchez reached base five times in 12 plate appearances but mustered just one single, the bottom has fallen out in the ALCS. The Yankees’ backstop is a paltry 1-for-13 with six strikeouts and no walks. He’s yet to hit an extra-base hit this postseason and his average exit velocity has cratered.
When Phil Nevin sent DJ LeMahieu in his semi-controversial attempt to score in the sixth inning of Game 2, he did it with the knowledge that Sánchez was on deck. Chances are, there was a better chance LeMahieu’s scamper home would have been successful than Sánchez’s third turn against Justin Verlander.
Later in the same game, Sánchez came up with two men on and ended up flailing at pitches from Josh James, only to strike out looking.
Sánchez has compounded his issues at the plate with some lackluster results in the field this postseason. In six games, he’s allowed three wild pitches and a passed ball and one wild pitch produced an insurance run for the Astros in Game 3. It’s been uncharacteristic compared to his regular season when he appeared to correct those flaws in his game. (He’s also allowed two stolen bases in two attempts, but both steals were more on the pitcher.)
Of course, Sánchez is still coming back from injury. Between Sept. 12 and the start of the postseason, he played just 11 innings behind the plate after suffering another groin injury. That strain gave him little chance to get his timing back, nor an opportunity to get many reps behind the plate late.
However, the injuries at this point work less like a valid excuse and more as a reality Sánchez lives in. The 26-year-old has been a walking injury in his three full seasons at the Major League level and has missed significant time on the IL, particularly in the last two seasons.
Before we delve into the why and how of Sánchez’s postseason struggles, it’s worth noting some trends from the regular season. Though he was awful at the plate in many ways in 2018, he improved his eye and had a higher walk rate than ever. Those gains in walks evaporated in 2019 while his strikeout rate climbed higher. He swung less at pitches in the zone, chased more and pitchers reacted by throwing fewer pitches in the zone.
Likely, he was selling out for power and less willing to simply put the ball in play. That’s not a bad strategy for him. Sánchez is at his best when he’s driving the ball and most grounders are a death trap for him. He got out of his flyball/line drive heavy approach at times in the regular season, particularly in the weeks before his second groin injury in July.
In the postseason, he hasn’t been able to drive anything and that’s been in part due to poor selection at the plate. Randy noted how the Bombers were aggressive on the wrong pitches in Games 2 and 3, and Sánchez was one of the main culprits.
Sánchez thrived off pitches at the bottom of the zone in the regular season. Look at his average exit velocity by parts of the strike zone.
However, here are the pitches he’s put in play this October.
That’s right: Of the balls in play coming off Sánchez’s bat this postseason, just two were in the strike zone. In fact, the only ball he’s struck with over 100 mph in exit velocity in the ALCS is the curveball at the bottom of the zone … and it was a hard grounder right into the shift in ALCS Game 3.
Pitchers are attacking him with full knowledge of his weak spots for fastballs high in the zone and breaking balls out and away. While the Twins strayed from that on occasion, the Astros have perfected that strategy, as you can see below.
It doesn’t help Sánchez any that he’s facing one of the best rotations in baseball, but that’s the reality he and the rest of the Yankees face over the next two weeks if they want to win the World Series. The backstop needs to lay off the pitches high and regain some discipline at the plate in order to get pitches to drive. He did that against the Twins and it led to walks and a few tough-luck outs.
And if Sánchez doesn’t change his approach, he’ll remain a black hole in the Bombers’ lineup until the postseason concludes. Therefore, the Yankees need a reset from their catcher under siege.