Gary Sanchez turned his defense upside down: Part III

In the first two parts of this series, I broke down Gary Sanchez’s problems framing pitches and looked into how he’s improved his blocking. To conclude the series, I take a deep dive into Sanchez’s early-season throwing errors.

Sanchez nabs Trout (MLB.TV)

It was truly befuddling. Beginning with the second game of the season, Gary Sanchez, arguably the best throwing catcher in baseball, committed a throwing error in four consecutive games.

That just didn’t make sense. Sanchez is renowned behind the plate for his arm. For all his flaws, he’s suppressed the run game and made Don’t Run on Gary a motto for Yankees fans.

In full, Sanchez’s throwing numbers have been poor this season. He’s caught just four of 22 base stealers, or 18 percent. That’s 10 percent worse than league average, six percent worse than his career marks and much worse than 30 percent in 2018 and 38 in 2017.

Baseball Prospectus’ Throwing Runs metric paints a similar picture. He was no worse than 15th in baseball in Throwing Runs from 2016-18, tying for fifth with 2.3 in 2017. However, for the first time in his career, he’s a negative with -0.1 in 2019, 71st out of 88 catchers.

Sanchez’s eight throwing errors are already more than he had all of last season (six) and more than halfway to his career-worst 13 in 2017.

Funny enough, his pop time has actually improved. From Statcast’s catcher defense, he’s second in baseball with a 1.92 second pop time to second base (league average is 2.01). Last season, in a relative down year, he averaged 1.94. His average on caught stealings in 2019 is 1.94 seconds vs. 1.92 on successful steals. His one pop time to third base this year was the best in baseball at 1.44 seconds.

Though his exchange time is a pedestrian 0.75 seconds, his arm is a cannon. His 87.9 mph average throw is the second just to Miami’s Jorge Alfaro.

The eight throwing errors are their own problem. But the lack of caught stealings are a surprise considering the underlying numbers. Even if you remove the errors, he’s still been under league-average.

Some of that is on pitchers. The Yankees have a notoriously slow-to-the-plate staff. However, one of the biggest culprits, Dellin Betances, is on the shelf while only three stolen bases have come against Adam Ottavino. It’s been a variety of pitchers. Even though some steals have been by Billy Hamilton or other running mavens, it’s still be a down year for Sanchez.

The only area of throwing where Sanchez has clearly improved is pickoffs. He already has tied his career-high with two and has shown a propensity for attempting them in recent weeks.


So let’s get to the tape to see it for ourselves. Below, I’m going to show four errors, two pickoffs, two successful steals and two caught stealings to get a sampling for Sanchez’s year behind the plate thus far. Lets’ start with the errors.

This was his first of the season. Gleyber Torres doesn’t do much to block it, but this is a 80+ mph bullet that Sanchez short hops. There isn’t much Torres can do. The pop looks normal and the ball looks fine coming out of his hands. Just an errant throw.

Again, Sanchez short hops it and, this time, it hits off the runner. The ball looks off coming out of his hand with perhaps his arm slot not where it’s supposed to be. This came the day after the first one, the second of his four straight starts with a throwing error.

I put this one more on Torres than Sanchez. Unlike the first one, this is thrown at a lower velocity and should have been caught by Gleyber, who let’s it go into center field. The circumstances (a wild pitch instead of a steal attempt) make this a unique one for Sanchez.

The last of the four straight errors. He again leaves this one short and Tyler Wade doesn’t have much recourse to block it. These early errors follow a pattern: Thrown short and hard, making someone without catcher’s gear loathe to block it.

Sanchez seems to have corrected this: He has just four throwing errors in his last 33 starts and those have primarily been of the airmail variety. Furthermore, Sanchez has looked comfortable enough to start attempting pickoffs, a sign of an elite catcher that was missing from his game in previous years.

Classic Eduardo Nunez. Sanchez caught him sleeping and Torres puts on a perfect tag. You can only pickoff a player at second base with a tremendous throwing arm or a bad baserunner and this play has the perfect combination.

Xander Bogaerts doesn’t stray quite as far as Nunez did the night before, so he gets in safely. Still, I’m showing this because it was a perfect strike again and Sanchez has thrown a few more attempts since this one just a week and a half ago.

This one is stolen off Ottavino. Sanchez’s exchange may be a little slow, but he still gets off a representative hurl from his knees.

He had him! If Gleyber holds on, this goes down as a caught stealing.

Now let’s get to some actual caught stealings.

Austin Meadows isn’t exactly Rickey Henderson, but he is 76 percent on steals this season. Sanchez catches him easily. I could watch this one all day.

Ah, to have Didi back in the fold. This was a strong tag from Gregorius and Sanchez put it right on the money to make it happen.


Opposing teams have attempted a few more stolen bases per inning against Sanchez this season. That may be because the Yankees have faced some running-heavy teams. Sanchez was healthy for one series against the Royals, a series with the Mariners, two with the Rays and this weekend with the Indians. All four of those teams are in the top six in stolen bases. The Orioles, who ran heavy on Sanchez, are 12th in steals.

Any way you slice it, teams have had more success stealing on Sanchez. However, when looking at his pop time, pickoff attempts and the video itself, he doesn’t appear like a lesser player at throwing out runners outside of his anomalous start to the year.

With this three-part series as a whole, I tried to narrow down why Sanchez was all of a sudden strong where he was previously weak and vice versa and the results are ultimately muddled and unclear. On Sunday, he allowed a stolen base and a wild pitch but also caught Aroldis Chapman with aplomb and saved the game in a low-key manner.

Sanchez isn’t all of a sudden a completely different catcher. His throws are just about the same. His blocking is improved but is more average than good. Still, even if he’s about the same as before, the results have changed and are worth monitoring throughout the season.

If Sanchez can bring his throwing and framing more in line with previous years, he could finally become the complete package as a player and turn into more than just an offensive powerhouse.

*All images via MLB.tv

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2 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    Curious, Steven. Is there data on if teams are running more or less on him now? I know at one point not only was he throwing runners out a high rate, there was also clear evidence that his existence behind the plate caused teams to run less than league average and less than when other Yankee catches (i.e. Romine) were in..

    With his throwing errors, has that changed?

  2. Love all these clips in one place.

    Great work Steven.

    Gary rules, that is all.

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