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More Thoughts on Baseball and Race

Remember last week when I said baseball is political? Well, it still is! And since there’s nothing else to talk about regarding baseball, we’re going to keep that discussion going. You know what, though? That last sentence…I don’t really like it. As I said last week, not talking about these things in baseball isn’t helpful. While I may prefer to be talking about actual on-field stuff in this space every week, it’s important to acknowledge these things as they come, rather than letting them boil over later on.

Former Yankee–and guy who should be in the Hall of Fame–Gary Sheffield wrote a piece for the Players’ Tribune, detailing a harrowing experience he and his uncle, Dwight Gooden, had with police in South Florida. The title of the piece–Do You Believe Me Now?–got me thinking about another racially-charged incident from Sheffield’s pace that involved the Yankees.

In http://2007, Sheff did an interview with Andrea Kremer for HBO in which he said Joe Torre treated black players differently than he treated other players.

Sheffield, who was traded to the Detroit Tigers during the offseason, claimed that black and white players in the Yankees clubhouse were treated differently, specifically how players Tony Womack and Kenny Lofton were handled by Torre. In the interview with HBO, Sheffield says the black players on the Yankees’ roster would be “called out” in the clubhouse by Torre, while the white players would be called into Torre’s office to discuss matters.

“They weren’t treated like everybody else. I got called out in a couple of meetings that I thought were unfair,” Sheffield told Kremer.

Sheffield later added: “He had a message to get across to the whole team, so he used me to get the message across.” Sheffield said Torre didn’t use the same method with white players.

“No … I’d see a lot of white players get called in the office and treated like a man. That’s the difference.”

When asked Saturday to respond to Sheffield’s comments, Lofton said: “All I can say is, Sheffield knows what he’s talking about. That’s all I’m going to say,” Lofton told the AP in the Texas Rangers’ dugout just before the team took batting practice.

Sheffield said he doesn’t consider Torre a racist. “No. I think it’s the way they do things around there,” he said. “Since I was there I just saw that they run their ship different.”

At that point, Kremer says to Sheffield that the Yankees most high-profile player is black. “Who?” Sheffield says.

Told Jeter, Sheffield says: “Derek Jeter is black and white.”

First, a question: If Sheffield–or any player with any manager–made these comments today, how much more weight would they carry? The answer is a lot. From what I remember back then, these comments were largely derided and swept away. They definitely disappeared as the 2007 season came and went, as did Torre’s tenure with the Yankees. But in our climate today, hell, even in the one just a few years after these comments, this would get a lot more attention. I’ll admit to brushing these comments off at the time, chalking them up to Sheffield’s attitude and the fact that Womack and Lofton didn’t do well with the Yankees and were frustrated. But is it possible that a lack of comfort led to them not performing well? Yes. It’s not necessarily the reason, but it’s worth mentioning. As Sheffield says, it’s not likely that Joe Torre is/was a racist, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t implicit, unconscious biases in his head–like there are in all of us–that influenced his decision making.

The comment about Derek Jeter, followed later by “[i]t’s just [Jeter] ain’t all the way black,” doesn’t feel great, but we also have to acknowledge that colorism is a thing and that Sheffield, Womack, and Lofton all having darker skin could play into the aforementioned implicit biases.

Gary Sheffield was one of my favorite players on the team in his brief time with the Yankees. Maybe he wore out his welcome–as he did in lots of places–but that doesn’t mean we should’ve so easily brushed off his comments about the Yankees and race. While he may have been a prickly dude, when a Black man speaks up about mistreatment because of his race, no matter how big or small, we should pay more attention and give it more respect than we did to Sheff in 2007.

Expanding on this discussion, let’s jump to the Boston Globe and Alex Speier’s article about biases in scouting. This relates to what Sheffield said about Torre. The scouts in here are likely not racists. That doesn’t mean, though, that there aren’t certain things that influence or leverage the way they talk about players or categorize players.

Public statements from MLB lately show they’re at least aware of the problem. And those statements talked about uncomfortable conversations, introspection, all that. So here are some questions for MLB that need answers in something beyond platitudes.

Why are there so few Black American/Canadian players in the game?

Why are there so few Black coaches and managers and executives?

Why are Black American/Canadian players being shut out of positions, almost entirely? From the article:

Moreover, Black players are drastically underrepresented as starting pitchers and catchers because of what Huntington and others see as the same sort of bias that for years limited opportunities for Black quarterbacks in the NFL.

That’s from Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington, and something Randy, Bobby, and I touched on during the last week’s podcast.

I used this article as a conversation-starter with some friends at work–all fellow white men who also love baseball. Their reaction was positive; they said it made them think in ways they hadn’t before, which is a step in the right direction. It also started two spinoff conversations, one about Brett Gardner and one about Gary Sanchez.

In the former, one colleague asked if Brett Gardner fits the term “grinder.” I said yes, but that’s really the default for short white guys. Were Gardner black, I posited, scouts and media probably would’ve focused on his speed. I brought up Dustin Pedroia (who I realize is one of my least favorite players ever) and how even he, unfairly, got the ‘grinder’ tag placed upon him. Pedroia was a second round pick from a NCAA baseball powerhouse, not some diamond in the rough. He was an immensely talented (if annoying) baseball player and compared to Gardner–a walk-on at his college–nothing like a grinder. I also mentioned that rare is the time when a black player is called a grinder.

The Gary Sanchez conversation started from a place it often does with Sanchez–at least from more ‘mainstream’ fans: Sanchez is lazy because he doesn’t run out ground balls. I retorted that Sanchez is just slow and that players like Jason Giambi and Mark Teixiera–also fellow piano-draggers, but very white–were never criticized for lack of hustle on grounders. What I forgot to say was, yes, there was a time when Sanchez not busting it down the line cost the Yankees a win in Tampa…but he was already playing through pain at that point and then injured himself later on while ‘hustling’ down the line. I did, however, remember to say that hustle down the line is often eyewash, etc. My colleague–a different one than the one who brought up Gardner/grinder–saw a brown player not hustling due to lack of speed, but chalked it up to laziness. He didn’t do the same thing for white players. Does this make him racist? No, but it showed a bias, even for just a moment. That bias is (part of) what baseball needs to reckon with.

Baseball alone is not going to cure the ills of racism in American society. It’s too deeply ingrained in our systems to be undone by one relatively frivolous (in the grand scheme of things) business/whatever baseball is or is supposed to be. But it still has a responsibility to be the best it can be. I’m glad baseball is starting to reckon with this, even in a surface-level way. Hopefully they start coming up with answers to the tough questions.

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News & Notes: 2020 Season Negotiations, the Yankees and MLBPA, Yankee Injury Updates

Is there another “Spring Training” in the future?

It feels like a lot has changed since I wrote a roundup of baseball news last week, but it also feels like we’re in exactly the same position: there is no plan for a season, and the two sides are still bickering. Still, though, I am as confident as I’ve ever been that we’ll get baseball in 2020 – and that we’ll find out about an agreement soon. Maybe I’m the sucker.

I sure hope we do, anyway. It would be nice to get some good news these days. I am looking forward to the MLB Amateur Draft (June 10 at 7 pm EDT) though. It’s being broadcast on MLB Network and, hilariously, ESPN. Real sports! Live action! We’ll be covering that, and running down who we think the Yankees might select, next week. So stay tuned for that.

Yesterday, I was thinking about Giancarlo’s 2018 walk-off against the Mariners. Today, I’m thinking about this one from Gleyber, which came amid that torrid stretch where it felt like the Yanks couldn’t lose:

Just fantastic stuff. Anyway, onto today’s news & notes.

2020 Season Roundup

As we all know by now, ownership and the players are still divided. Updates are pouring through social media, with many players speaking out. It can be hard to follow. The good news – if you want to call it that – is that most of this activity doesn’t really matter. Publicly airing laundry is a useful tactic, as it helps clarify positions and signal to the other side, but it’s not really worth following the nitty-gritty in this case. Both sides are negotiating. However, there have been a few important developments. Let’s run through them:

  • MLB Proposes New Framework (May 26): This is what everyone was talking about last week, and which I covered here. I won’t go into any more detail here, but it’s the one with the sliding scale of pay reductions and a reduced number of games. This was formally offered to MLBPA on May 26.
  • MLBPA Extends a Counteroffer (May 31): We heard rumors of this one last week. The union rejected the league’s new offer and instead proposed a 114-game schedule with no additional pay cuts for players. Just as the league went back on the original March agreement with pay reductions, the union went back on the number of games. Politics!
  • MLB Rejects MLBPA’s Offer (June 3): This week, MLB rejected that offer and informed the MLBPA that it would not extend another counteroffer.
  • MLBPA Stands Firm (June 4): Then, last night, we got word that the union “resoundingly rejected” the league’s latest offer. Union chief Tony Clark’s full statement is here.

That, my friends, is what we could call an impasse. Jeff Passan over at ESPN actually dove into all of this a bit more this morning, reporting that what the league wants is actually a 48-game season. His report goes into significant financial detail, so check that out if you want the full picture.

I don’t think any of that stuff really matters right now, though. The details are the details. The 30,000-foot view is more important. The foundational facts here are that both sides are losing (a lot) of money right now and that it’s in both parties short- and long-term interest to resume a season. The key issue is the number of games that season will be. That seems to be the pivotal point of discussion. Everything else – roster size, playoff structure, etc. – is comparatively small potatoes.

That’s why I’m actually optimistic. I know that there are a ton of structural problems with baseball economics and that the pending CBA expiration is a complicating factor. I also know that, because the season never started in the first place, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison with leagues like the NBA or NHL, who have generated 2020 revenue already. But I’m confident that this is all posturing and negotiation. When push comes to shove, both sides will concede on the number of games – my money is on 82, right where all of this started – and all the rest will fall into place. After all, if the owners’ losses really are “biblical”, as Cubs owner Tom Ricketts says, then they’ll have no choice but to get back on the field sooner rather than later.

Yankee Labor Presence

As all of these negotiations swirl, several Yankees are at the forefront of these discussions. (H/t Lindsey Adler, as always.) I was actually pretty surprised to see it. The union has an eight-player executive subcommittee.

Here is that committee:

  • Association Representatives: Andrew Miller, Daniel Murphy, Max Scherzer, and Elvis Andrus
  • Pension Representatives: Cody Gearrin, Chris Iannetta, James Paxton, and Colin McHugh

Half of the executive subcommittee has recent ties to the Yankee organization. Obviously, Paxton and Iannetta are on the team now, and Miller was a big part of the Bronx bullpen just a few years ago. Gearrin, you might recall, was in the Yanks’ clubhouse a bit last year. Paxton and Iannetta alone mean that the Yanks’ players are more represented than their peers. Miller and Gearrin is just an additional connection.

Moreover, like every team, the Yankees are represented by a player to the union. Right now, that’s Zack Britton. As Lindsey notes, Gerrit Cole (the Yankees signed him, remember?) and Adam Ottavino have been player reps in the past for other teams. It’s a pretty union-heavy locker room on 161st and River these days.

(Relatedly, Paxton is no stranger to labor fights, as his time as a college student at the University of Kentucky shows. A dispute over the role of agent Scott Boras resulted in Paxton leaving school before the drat. He didn’t finish his final season. Read more on that here.)

Yankee Injury Updates

Finally, let’s cover some on-the-field-stuff, shall we? It’s a good reminder of The Before Times™ when I was able to do that multiple times a day. When we last left the Yankees, they were a hurt and hobbled mess. It was a continuation of the 2019 season, really. If there’s one good thing about this delay, it’s that the team should be healthy when the season does resume.

Here’s all of the good news from significant injuries:

  • James Paxton: In early February, the Yankees announced that Paxton would miss 3-4 months following back surgery. The timeline was for him to come back in mid-May, which would have been about 6-8 weeks of season. For his part, Paxton is fully healthy now. He’s resumed a throwing program and is even tinkering with his fastball grip. I’m interested in the new grip (and will probably get to it next week), but the most important thing is that it seems like Big Maple will be ready to go.
  • Aaron Hicks: Hicks, who needed Tommy John surgery this offseason, was slated to miss several months of the season. Like Didi Gregorius before him, he was aiming for a mid-July return. (Didi made it back sooner, but let’s be conservative here.) According to Hicks’ Instagram, he has been swinging a bat. All of the news has been positive. If and when the season resumes, he should be ready to take part in most of it.

Here’s all the obvious stuff:

  • Gary Sánchez: Gary, who was struggling with back aches and a flu that was definitely not COVID-19, should be all set and ready to go for 2020. We’ve seen video and photos of him behind the plate recently, so one can only assume he’s healthy. This injury was just small stuff anyway.
  • Giancarlo Stanton: Stanton also got banged up in Spring Training, remember. The good news is that Boone called him “game ready” in late March even though there were no games. So he’s all recovered from his minor injury, which is good news.

Finally, the confounding/weird news:

  • Aaron Judge: Who the hell knows what’s going on with Aaron Judge these days. His broken rib/collapsed lung came to light in late March. The timeline was unclear then, with rumors swirling he might need surgery. He hasn’t, as far as we know, but he also hasn’t resumed swinging a bat. I don’t know, man. It’s the weirdest situation. Let’s just hope Judge recovers by the time the season starts. Losing him for 4 months would have sucked, so there’s a silver lining.

Anyway, it’s Friday and everything is depressing and bad these days. I don’t want to end on the Judge injury note, so I’m not going to. I am amazed by Aaron Hicks’ ALCS performance every time I think about him. Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible. Dude missed so much time and honestly had the best at-bats of anyone on the team against that nasty Astros staff. Incredible.

Here’s the first inning of Game 5 of the ALCS, capped by Hicks’ impossibly satisfying home run off Justin Verlander as a palate cleanser to [gestures wildly] all this:

The 2019 Yankees and RBI

If you’re reading this site, chances are you’ve at least dipped a toe into the waters of analytics, sabermetrics, whatever you want to call it. Even if you haven’t done more than that–or even that at all–you likely know that RBI isn’t exactly an ‘in vogue’ measure of a player’s performance. And, really, it shouldn’t be. While getting a hit with a man on base is great, that hitter didn’t do the work to put the men on base. At best, a high RBI total shows us a combination of skill–getting the hit–and chance–hitting while there happened to be men on in front of you. 

Stil, RBI tells us a story–who scored when and courtesy of whom. Without that story, the story of the game itself can’t be told. Earlier in the week, I saw a story about RBI that caught my attention. 

In a Facebook group, someone mentioned Luis Castillo’s 2000 season, in which he notched 17 RBI in 626 (!) plate appearances. Curious as to how that happened, I went to Castillo’s game logs page on Baseball Reference and looked up this handy chart:

Despite how shockingly low that is, especially when you see it compared to the average, it makes sense. Castillo was mostly a leadoff guy who was on a below average (79-82) team, so he routinely had bad hitters and the pitcher in front of him to drive in. The whole thing, though, got me curious about the Yankees. How good were they at driving in runners? Let’s take a look, using some charts. I included only those who had 300+ PA. 

Gary Sanchez

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44629677265426321+5

Luke Voit

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
51032062196130020+1

DJ LeMahieu

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
655343102307938620+10

Didi Gregorius

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
34421561284120220+8

Gio Urshela

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
47630474245728020+4

Gleyber Torres

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
60436890247335621+3

Brett Gardner

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
55030574246632420+4

Aaron Judge

PAROBRBIRBI %AVG RBIAVG ROBAVG RBI %+/- RBI%
44724955225426321+1

This isn’t too surprising, is it? The Yankees get a lot of men on base–not one player had fewer than expected runners–and drive a lot of them in–not one player had fewer than expected RBI. As such, all of them are above the average expected RBI% by at least 1%, with DJLM smoking everyone else at 10% above average. 

Are these players good because they have high RBI totals and percentages compared to the average? No. They have those things because they are good players and they play with good players who get on base. RBI don’t tell the whole story, but they tell part of it. In this case, it’s another way of telling us the the Yankees are good at hitting. Plain and simple.

Spring Training News & Notes: Gary Battles The Flu, Monty Remains Sharp, Injury Updates

We’ve hit the doldrums of Yankees spring training. We’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not yet close enough to feel its warmth. The pitchers continue to prepare for the season and the position players continue to get their reps in. The injuries have settled some potential position battles so the main focus is keeping the roster as healthy as possible heading into Opening Day. To that end, let’s jump into today’s news and notes.

Gary Sánchez Diagnosed With The Flu

Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez has missed the last few days of spring training with lower back issues. He was scheduled to resume batting practice activities this morning. Sánchez wasn’t seen with his assigned group during batting practice. It was announced later on that Sánchez was sent home with a “little fever.”

With the coronavirus global pandemic, there was immediate concern that Gary contracted the illness. After the game, the Yankees provided this update:

The Yankees avert a serious crisis for now. Can you imagine what would happen if a player contracted coronavirus? It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for that team to immediately halt their spring training camp. MLB has removed media from team locker rooms in a controversial step to curtail close interaction with the players. The flu isn’t a pleasant experience, but at least there are measures to treat it compared to the coronavirus.

To that end, Yankees players and personnel have met with the team doctor to address COVID-19. Zack Britton told reporters that the team has been in contact with the company in charge of their air travel to ensure their charter plane is properly sanitized. Britton, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gerrit Cole all agreed that precautions were necessary to help curtail the spread of the virus.

This is a problem that MLB will have to address in the immediate future. Multiple sporting events have been canceled, postponed or played in front of empty arenas. With Opening Day a couple weeks away, MLB is closing in on a potentially dangerous scenario. There is also the very real possibility of a player contracting the virus. We’ll be reading about this in the coming days. Hopefully, there were won’t be any significant bad news moving forward.

Jordan Montgomery Continues To Impress

Amidst all of the injury news, Jordan Montgomery is posting an impressive camp. We’ve covered the uptick in velocity, but today’s relief outing also showcased efficiency with a couple three up and three down innings. Yankees manager Aaron Boone is really happy with the tall lefty:

Been really excited from the git-go with him. Bullpens, to the uptick in velocity . . . He did a lot of things really good. The curveball was good. The changeup was really good. You saw even a couple of the at-bats where he was behind in the count, just not real comfortable swings even on his fastball, and he finished off the outing with that cutter on his last strikeout. There’s a lot there to be excited about.

Aaron Boone Courtesy of Anthony Reiber

Monty had a line of 4IP, 0H, 0BB, 0ER, 5Ks. He was effective in and around the zone all afternoon. Here is one example:

Montgomery is a crucial piece for the Yankees rotation. There should be a high level of confidence in Cole and Tanaka. J.A. Happ’s spring offers encouragement, but we need to see it translate into the season. The fifth rotation spot is going to an unproven young pitcher or an opener. The Yankees need a consistent and stable Jordan Montgomery. It will make a world of difference in navigating through the early part of the season. Montgomery entered this season as an interesting option for the team. Now, the Yankees will rely upon him to immediately deliver. His spring is very encouraging.

Finally Some Positive Injury Updates

The Yankees gave positive updates on two players currently out of action. James Paxton, who underwent back surgery last month, will play catch tomorrow. This is a relatively minor step forward, but a necessary one. The team has been hopeful that Paxton would return on the shorter end of his timeline. Obviously, the sooner he can get on the mound the better. The rotation certainly needs him.

Giancarlo Stanton will begin running outside shortly. Here is an update from the man himself courtesy of Bryan Hoch:

Stanton is already resuming baseball activities. That is a great sign. The team didn’t announce any timeline for a return, but once Giancarlo begins running on the field a return to games shouldn’t be too far behind. The lineup depth is facing a real test early on. A Stanton return in early April would be a huge boost. Of course, we have to take these things one step at a time given the neverending injury bug. This recent Stanton news is a good sign though.

Leftovers

  • Gerrit Cole returned to his normal dominant self. He finished his start today with a line of 3 1/3IP, 2H, 1ER, 0BB, 6K, 1WP. Ho hum.
  • Aaron Boone told the media that both Miguel Andújar and Clint Frazier will each get work in left and right field in the next few games.
  • We launched the first episode of The Views From 314FT Podcast this morning. Bobby, Derek and I discussed all the injuries and potential roster machinations. Please give it a listen and share it with your networks. The podcast will be available on all podcast platforms once the approval process is complete.

Have a great night everyone!

Gary Sánchez, the Talented Backstop Searching for One Complete Year [2020 Season Preview]

More of this, please.

With Spring Training now a week underway and Opening Day about a month away, we’re going to start our season preview series. We’ll be taking an in-depth look at every player on the roster (or with a legitimate chance to be on the roster) with an eye toward 2020 and beyond. Today it kicks off with everyone’s favorite polarizing Yankee: Gary Sánchez.

No current Yankee is more polarizing than Gary Sánchez, save perhaps Giancarlo Stanton. Something about the Yankee backstop just gets people going. It’s not difficult to see why: he’s been in the system for a decade (since 2009!), always with a lot of promise, and he’s a very boom-or-bust type hitter at the plate. Moreover, his defense is controversial, to say the least. That, plus a huge 2016-17 followed by a 2018 campaign in which he really struggled, is a recipe for controversy.

Last season didn’t help matters much. It was yet another interesting one for Gary. He hit .232/.316/.525 (116 wRC+) with 34 home runs in 106 games for the Yanks. That was good for 2.6 fWAR or 3.1 bWAR, depending on your fancy. Unfortunately, it was an injury-filled campaign – he missed about eight weeks with various injuries – and those injuries came just as he was getting really hot. I’ll have more on this below, but his defensive season was also strange: he cut back on the passed balls but lost a lot of pitch framing value.

Sánchez, now in his fourth full season as the Yankees’ primary backstop, is entering into a critical stage of his career. He’s now in his arbitration years, finally earning above the league minimum, and will look to finally put together that one monster season that will earn him a huge payday – and perhaps even a contract extension with the only organization he’s ever known.

Doing so will require him to answer three big questions. Let’s get right into them.

Can He Avoid the Huge Slump?

Projected Distance: 481 ft. Prettay, prettay, good!

There is no doubt that Gary is one of baseball’s premier offensive backstops. As frustrating as he can be at the plate at times, the data is clear. There is no arguing with that data. Here are Gary’s ranks among the 22 catchers with at least 1,000 plate appearances from August 2, 2016 – August 2, 2019. (I chose that somewhat limited time frame because FanGraphs limits searches like this to three years, so we’re missing only September 2019 – a time when Sánchez was mostly hurt anyway.) So, while thats not ideal, it’s still a good illustration:

  • wRC+: 122 (1st)
  • wOBA: .353 (1st)
  • Slugging: .516 (1st, next closest is .475)
  • Isolated Power: .268 (1st, next closest .229)
  • Home Runs: 95 (1st, next closest 77)
  • fWAR: 10.6 (4th)

In other words, by many offensive metrics, the Kraken is one of the best in the game – and he is certainly the most powerful catcher. There’s no doubt about it. But he’s not without his flaws at the plate: he is prone to some serious slumps. Check this out:

And this:

Friends, those are some peaks and valleys right there. We all know this, though. When Sánchez is locked in, he’s not just one of the best offensive catchers in the game, he’s one of the best offensive players in the game writ large. When he’s not locked in, though, he can look really, really bad at the plate. This happened to him last year, too, when he cratered after getting hurt:

Avoiding slumps like this can help Sánchez put together the one consistent offensive year he really needs to silence his doubters. The good news? He certainly is capable. Even when slumping — and even during his frustrating 2018 campaign — he’s always hit the ball hard. Check it out:

In other words, Gary consistently smacks the ball. If he keeps that up in 2020 – and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t aside from health – then I have a really good feeling about the season.

Can He Put His Defense Together?

Now That’s What I Call Framing!

Sánchez’s defense, of course, is frequently discussed. That came to a head in 2018, when he led the league in passed balls but also was a very good pitch framer (22nd out of 66, per Baseball Savant). Last year, he cut down on the passed balls but got worse at framing (49th out of 66). That’s not an ideal setup, because experts view framing as a more valuable skill set.

In other words, it is going to be crucial for Gary to combine his 2018 framing prowess with his 2019 blocking ability. Fortunately, that’s exactly what he is working on with new catching coordinator Tanner Swanson. As I wrote yesterday, they’re working on a new stance that would allow Gary to focus on being in position to block balls in the dirt without compromising his framing. There is a general sense in the league that a focus on framing tends to result in more passed balls and vice versa.

That’s because a catcher will get out of framing position to get into blocking position if stopping passed balls is his priority. On the other hand, prioritize framing, and a player drops into the blocking position too late. Makes sense, right? Correcting that involves some tweaks to a catcher’s stance – and that’s exactly what Gary is doing. The change is obvious.

Here is a screengrab of Gary in the first series of the 2019 season (the ball was targeting the lower outside quadrant):

And here’s what he’s working on this Spring Training:

Via Lindsey Adler

Noticeable! It makes a lot of sense to a layman like me it certainly worked for other Swanson acolytes like Mitch Garver. It should especially help with balls at the bottom of the zone which is also an area where Sánchez has struggled historically. In fact, even in 2016 and 2018 — his two best defensive seasons by framing — he was below average at framing pitches at the bottom of the zone. That trend was also true last year, for what it’s worth, when he was not as prolific a framer.

In other words, this new stance could be a way for Sánchez to be more adept at blocking balls, therefore quieting his most vocal critics, while also providing the maximum value to the team defensively. I personally find this the most interesting question facing Sánchez entering the new year. It’s the thing to watch this Spring.

Can He Stay Healthy?

Finally, there is the question of health. Gary is a catcher, and catchers are always brittle. It’s a physically demanding position and that’s why catchers often get days off. Still, even with those caveats, Gary has not been on the field enough recently. He became the full-time catcher at the start of the 2017 season. Over that period, the Yankees have played 486 games. Sánchez has been on the field for only 317 (65%) of them.

Even with the understanding that this percentage is always going to be lower for a catcher, it would be nice for Sánchez to avoid the injury bug and stay healthy for the entire season. Or, at the very least, limit his time on the IL. Gary is so valuable because he’s an offensive monster playing a weak position. Staying on the field is obviously crucial, though, and he hasn’t done it yet. Taking the next step in his career will require him to stay healthy – and it will probably help him avoid those slumps, too. I’m crossing my fingers for a clean bill of health in 2020.

2020 Outlook: What They’re Saying

Here is what the projections are saying going into the season:

  • ZiPS: .244/.323/.524 (121 wRC+) for 2.6 fWAR in 467 PA
  • Steamer: .242/.324/.516 (117 wRC+) for 2.6 fWAR in 459 PA
  • PECOTA: .236/.311/.488 (111 DRC+) for 2.6 WARP in 473 PA

Obviously, the projections find Gary poised for a big offensive season. There is no reason to believe he is not. Each also projects limited action on the field. That’s a fair assumption given his career to date — but hopefully a concern he can put to bed in 2020. Finally, while I’d take each of these seasons in a heartbeat, he can be better by staying on the field and improving his defense. Good news is that’s exactly the priority for now.


Those are the three big questions as Gary heads into 2020. I have always been a huge fan of Sánchez and I have the utmost faith in him. (That was true last year, too.) In other words, I believe that Gary Sánchez will remind fans just why he’s one of baseball’s premier backstops.

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