Is it way too early to write this? Hell yes. Do I care? Hell no.
As a long time fan–Stan, really–of Gary Sánchez, it’s been so satisfying to watch him get off to a hot start in the first two games of the 2021 season. And if Joel Sherman can write a piece that concern trolls about the Yankee offense after one game, I can write the polar opposite piece and be pumped about Gary’s two (clutch) dingers.
Context matters for these homers, so let’s dive into the context just a little bit. His first homer, on Opening Day off of Blue Jay lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, came in the second inning with a man aboard and gave the Yankees the lead. His second homer, yesterday off of righty Ross Stripling, came in the fourth inning and gave the Yankees the lead. It’s early, of course, but seeing Sánchez come up big in important spots–even if they were early in the game–is great. Last year, Gary was one of the guys you wouldn’t want to see in those spots, given his struggles.
The next bit of context is from where those home runs were hit. Both were in the low, outside portion of the strike zone.
In that spot last year, Gary hit just .158 with a meager .211 SLG, a meager .053 ISO. It’s just two swings, two pitches, two homers, but whatever, it’s encouraging and I’m running with it.
Lastly, there’s the pitch types. Against Ryu, Sánchez hit his homer on a fastball. Against Stripling, a slider. While he was still in the black against fastballs in 2020, a +1 run value per Statcast, he underperformed against them in terms of power, hitting to a .450 SLG with a .489 XLSG (.344 wOBA; .371 XWOBA). Seeing him lay into a fastball, turning on an outside one to hammer it to deep left, is encouraging.
The same goes for sliders as breaking balls totally owned Sánchez last year when he hit just .115 with a .213 SLG against them, good for a -8 run value. A slider down and away is killer to most batters, but especially Gary last year. How many flailing hacks at such a pitch did we see him take? Taking a low-and-away slider deep surely inspires confidence, even if it’s just for the moment, just in the second game of the year.
But for Sánchez, after last year, I don’t think we can understate the value of a hot start in helping him regain that confidence. We’ve all had our confidence shaken by struggles like Gary had last year. 2021 is a new page, a new chapter, and so far, it’s off to a great start.