Mailbag: Sánchez’s defense, injuries, Medina, Cole

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Four good questions to address in this week’s mailbag. As a reminder, send yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com for a chance to be included in a future mailbag. Let’s get to it:

Midwest Yankee asks: The NY Post has a story questioning Sánchez’s D and pointing out he has bad numbers vs base stealers. But obviously Sánchez rakes. So how much so-so D is acceptable if your catcher can really hit?

Teams don’t really tolerate abysmal defense behind the plate anymore. The days of Ryan Doumit catching regularly are long gone. There’s simply too much information available now, particularly with the growth of framing metrics, for teams not to realize someone is untenable behind the dish.

So, I don’t think it’s a matter of tolerating so-so or bad defense anymore. Rather, it’s more about finding a catcher whose offense is passable. League-wide, catchers have an 85 wRC+ this season and have hovered around there since 2015. In the years before that, the average catcher had a low-90s wRC+. Priorities seem to have shifted.

Considering that Sánchez has a 111 wRC+, he’s already one step ahead of the rest. Let’s take a look at how much he gives back in the field, if anything. Assuming that this is the article this question referenced, the main concern raised is indeed Sánchez’s caught stealing percentage. But as manager Aaron Boone pointed out, it’s really not all Gary’s fault. From Baseball Savant:

  • Pop time: 1.95 seconds (T-4th)
  • Arm strength: 87.9 MPH (3rd)

In other words, the 26 year-old is doing everything right. The Yankees’ staff has a number of pitchers who are slow to the plate, which makes things harder for Sánchez.

Of course, throwing is just one facet of catcher defense. Receiving is an important aspect as well, and it’s historically been the larger concern with Sánchez. Funny how we haven’t heard about him struggling to block balls this year, right? That’s because he has only six passed balls in 621.1 innings this season. He led the league with 18 in 653 innings last year.

Then there’s framing, where he’s previously thrived per metrics on Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant. This year, the consensus is that Sánchez has been below average. As Steven wrote about earlier this season, it’s quite possible that improved blocking has come at the expense of framing.

One other odd thing about Sánchez’s defensive season is that he leads the league with 14 errors. However, he already had 8 before the calendar turned to June, so that problem has settled down. As you may recall, he had a bunch of un-Gary-like throwing errors early in 2019.

With all this in mind, I don’t think Sánchez’s defense is anywhere near the point of offsetting his bat. I wouldn’t say he’s a good defensive catcher, but I don’t think he’s actively hurting the team whatsoever. In reality, he’s probably an average-ish defender in an era full of good glovework behind the plate. Meanwhile, he’s the rare elite bat at the position. Ultimately, the fact that his defense hasn’t been a constant topic this season tells us all we need to know.

AJ asks: [Steven’s] piece this week on injuries to the Yankee core raises an important question: when a team suffers so many injuries to so many players in a single season, should we question the training staff and the team’s training practices? Although each injury is individual, at a certain point they add up to a pattern. And if a player is prone to a particular kind of injury, it seems reasonable to rethink his particular training regimen. Is there any sign the Yankees themselves are asking these questions?  

At the minimum, there’s no question that the optics are bad for the team’s training staff. I don’t think its unreasonable to question what’s going on under the hood.

Now, some injuries are certainly either bad luck or not the fault of anyone on the training staff. For instance, CC Sabathia’s knee has been a long-running issue. Edwin Encarnación’s fractured wrist was a freak thing. However, there have been a number of muscle strains and pulls this season, too. Those sort of injuries make me worry about conditioning.

Aside from the frequency of injuries, the handling of timetables and rehab work has been troubling as well. Luis Severino suffered significant setback when he strained his lat while rehabbing from shoulder inflammation in April. As Randy wrote, the vagaries around Giancarlo Stanton’s maladies has been bizarre too. Going back further, the Yankees overpromised and underdelivered when Aaron Judge fractured his wrist last summer.

Our concerns are good and fine, but all we can do is speculate from the outside. The good news is that yes, the Yankees are looking inward. Brian Cashman made it clear that they tried to figure out what went awry with Severino:

With Severino asserting that this condition was connected to the shoulder problem and Cashman contending it was an entirely new injury, Cashman promised an internal investigation.

“I have gone through that process,” Cashman said on Sunday. “I’ve engaged with the player. I’ve engaged with all of our team. And I called it ‘CSI: The Bronx.’ But I’m not going to go through our process. I (said) back then, I’m not going to have a Robert Mueller report that I’m going to be revealing from that.”

Asked if he was satisfied with what he learned, Cashman tap danced: “I’ve gone through the process and I’ll leave it at that. We always evaluate our processes. If there (are) gaps or problems or mistakes made by us, then they are dealt with.”

Eric asks: I have a question about the 40 man crunch after the season. Do you see the Yankees adding Luis Medina after the season after his recent run? Although the overall results are poor and he’s still really young, it’s not hard to see a tanking team like the Orioles take him and stash him in the pen for a year.

It would really surprise me if the Yankees left Medina exposed to the Rule 5 draft. Though he’s just been promoted to Tampa (High-A), his ability and recent hot stretch almost certainly will land him a spot on the Yankees 40-man this winter. In his last 40 innings, Medina has a 2.03 ERA, 59 strikeouts, and just 13 walks. As Eric noted, some team with no shot next year certainly would take a flyer and stash the 20 year-old Medina on the roster all season.

This just happened with Blue Jays’ righty 19 year-old Elvis Luciano. To be fair, Luciano’s elbow issues have allowed Toronto to stash him on the injured list for most of the season, but it still seemed like they had no intention to waive him even if healthy.

Additionally, The Yankees lost catcher Luis Torrens in similar fashion in 2017. The Padres carried him as their backup catcher all season before. SInce then, Torrens has been in the minors the last two years and has begun to put things together in Double-A this season. The backstop owns a 132 wRC+ in 87 games at the level this season. I don’t think the Yankees want to take a chance like that again.

Mark asks: We all want Gerrit Cole this off-season, but given Hal’s fiscal discipline it could come down to a choice between signing Cole or Didi Gregorius. If getting Cole means letting Didi walk, would you do it?

I really hope this doesn’t come down to an either/or decision. But, considering how adamant ownership has been about winning without blowing past the luxury tax threshold, it’s possible. As Matt explored recently, the Yankees face the possibility of letting one or both of Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances go this winter.

As badly as I want Gregorius and Betances back in pinstripes next year, I do think this winter’s top priority has to be signing Cole. The Yankees need a starting pitcher of his caliber and shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to get one for just money. So yes, I’d sign Cole even if it means Didi would not return. Ugh, it pains me to say that, but we should be prepared for such a scenario.

My answer might have been different if the Yankees’ infield depth wasn’t already in good shape for next season. Gleyber Torres could slide over to short which would allow DJ LeMahieu to play at second full-time.

Ultimately, my belief is that the Yankees should go all-in and sign Cole, Didi, and Dellin. Doing so would be the optimal route for the 2020 squad. But, I think we’ve been preconditioned to not expect all three in the Bronx next year.

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1 Comment

  1. Saul Goodman, Esq.

    Most of Sanchez’s errors were on rushed throws early in the season where the pitcher was ignoring the runner. As the season progressed he calmed down and stopped rushing, either holding the ball or making a true throw late. As far as his low percentage of throwing out base stealers….nobody really runs on him anymore unless the pitcher is basically giving it to them. His pop time is excellent, but he essentially has no chance in these situations.

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