As a teacher, I deal with failure just about every day. From one angle, it’s if a student doesn’t turn in an assignment or whatever. From another, maybe I didn’t deliver my lesson in the best way. Either way, there’s room for improvement. The same goes for baseball, which is, more or less, a game of failure, at least from the hitter’s perspective. There is always going to be something to improve on. For Gary Sanchez in 2021, there is going to be a lot to improve on.
2020 was nothing short of an offensive disaster for Sanchez, despite some decent underlying peripherals. He hit just .147/.253/.365, good for a .271/63 wOBA/wRC+ split. There were some positives, like a 10% walk rate and a .218 ISO, but those weren’t enough to salvage 2020 for him. The season ended with a playoff benching and many questions about his future with the Yankees.
The main culprit, however, behind Sanchez’s failure of a 2020 season was (aside from ‘everything’) his strikeout rate. Whether an issue of timing, of mechanics, of pitch recognition, whatever it was led to a 36% strikeout rate, far too high even with a good walk rate and strong power numbers. When he did make contact, it was loud. Per Statcast, Sanchez was in the 89th percentile for exit velocity, the 92nd percentile for hard hit percentage, and the 97th percentile for barrel percentage. Those are encouraging! But, making so little contact so often sucked the value out of the times he did make contact. As a contrast to those batted ball numbers, he was in the 2nd percentile for strikeout rate and the 11th percentile for whiff rate. As a certain ad exec might say, not great, Bob.
Striking out less is a good broad goal for Gary in 2021, but there does need to be some focus to it. And the biggest focus I can find is the slider. Many times, time after time, we saw Sanchez whiff on sliders. The numbers also bear out what the eye test showed us.
Per Statcast, Gary whiffed on 42.1% of sliders he saw. That’s almost a 50/50 proposition and that’s a big problem when it’s the pitch you see the second most (21.7%) behind fastballs (31.1%). He whiffed even more on fastballs (45%), but at least he hit them reasonably well (.481 SLG, .323 wOBA, 66.7% hard hit). When he did manage to make contact with sliders, the results were ruinous: .086 average, .171 slugging, .125 wOBA, 17.6% hard hit–the only pitch on which he had a hard hit percentage under 40.
For success in 2021, Gary Sanchez needs to strike out less (and maybe find a few more holes on his hard hit balls). He’s never going to be a low-strikeout hitter, of course, but he can’t run strikeout percentages so high and be productive. I’ll take the power and I’ll take the walks, of course, and I’m not nearly ready to give up on him yet, but he needs to whiff less. Whether that means shortening up his swing every so often, doing something with timing, or just recognizing pitches better (or some combo of all these things), I’m not sure, but I’m not a scout or a coach. Given his level of talent, though, and his hard work, I’m sure Sanchez can do this.