The Gary Sánchez era is over in New York

Gary Sánchez ushered in a new era for the Yankees. While Aaron Judge ultimately and deservedly became the face of the Baby Bombers, The Kraken is the one who excited many about the team’s future after a dreary few years. His unbelievable late summer performance in 2016 jump started what was expected to be a return to glory for this franchise.

In retrospect, Sánchez torrid start may have done him in over the long run. Posting a .299/.376/.657 (170 wRC+) batting line with 20 homers in merely 229 plate appearances as a 23 year old rookie was simply too high of a bar to set. Granted, he was pretty terrific offensively in ’17 (131 wRC+, 33 homers), his first full season as a the club’s backstop, but that was also the year folks really started to scrutinize Sánchez’s defense behind the plate. The easy explanation for what happened next is that things snowballed and the criticism and/or pressure got to him.

Sánchez’s glove was never great, but it was very easy to live with as long as he raked. He was a below average framer, and as you well know, he struggled to block pitches. His throwing arm was a saving grace, but in an analytically inclined era where stolen bases were devalued, he did not get to show it off all that often (though his throws were very fun to watch). All that said, I don’t remember anyone really caring about the defensive woes through his sophomore season in 2017. Sure, he allowed 16 passed balls during the regular season, but he also was the league’s leading catcher in wRC+ and home runs.

Then the postseason came around. Sánchez struggled, posting a .633 OPS, though he did have one huge moment that I will get to. But first, there was the ending of Game 2 of the ALCS in Houston.

Didi Gregorius’ relay throw wasn’t necessarily an easy pick, but also one that a catcher should handle in the context of the series. Had Sánchez caught it, a good tag gets José Altuve at the plate to preserve the tie. That play is etched in every Yankees fans memory, unfortunately. The scrutiny of Gary’s glovework only intensified from there.

Fortunately, Sánchez redeemed himself later in the series:

What a friggin’ moment, to say the least. Had the Astros not cheated, Gary would be considered one of the heroes of that series. Maybe his entire career goes in a different direction. That’s a big leap perhaps, but it’s hard not to wonder what could have happened sans trash can banging.

Following elimination in 2017, the Yankees moved on from Joe Girardi at the helm and inserted Aaron Boone. There were numerous reports that Girardi, along with coach Tony Peña, had difficulties with Sánchez. Whatever the case may have been, those reports didn’t cast a very good light on Sánchez.

I’ve seen some folks try to tie Girardi/Peña’s departure to Sánchez’s downturn post-2018, but to me, that’s a huge stretch. The coaching staff doesn’t swing the bat or squat behind the plate for a catcher, and ultimately, a good chunk responsibility lies on the player. Anyway, for whatever reason, Sánchez was dreadful in 2018. He hit .186/.291/.406 (90 wRC+) and spent 63 days on the injured list in two stints (both groin strains). He also allowed a career higher 18 passed balls.

Sánchez was oh so close to a postseason redemption in 2018. He blasted two homers and drove in four runs in Game 2 of the ALDS against Boston at Fenway Park, helping level that series at one a piece. And in Game 4, he just missed hitting a walkoff grand slam against Craig Kimbrel to force a Game 5. Instead, it was a sacrifice fly, and the Yankees were knocked out the very next batter. Alas.

The Kraken bounced back during the regular season in 2019, to an extent. While his .232/.316/.525 (116 wRC+) triple-slash wasn’t necessarily a thing of beauty, it was terrific for a catcher in the grand scheme of things. That said, a lot of that production came in June, when he posted a torrid 173 wRC+ and hit 8 dingers. His second half (78 wRC+) was quite dreadful. He also posted a rough .476 OPS in the playoffs. At least he only allowed 7 passed balls, a significant improvement.

Enter Tanner Swanson and the knee-down catching stance. The Yankees hired him from Minnesota after the 2019 campaign, and his work with Mitch Garver was lauded. There was hope Gary’s defense, particularly his lackluster framing, would improve.

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Obviously, 2020 was not a normal year, but yet again, Sánchez couldn’t find semblance of his 2016-2017 self, or even what he was a year before. He had a career worst .147/.253/.365 (69 wRC+) and lost playing time to Kyle Higashioka. Higgy became Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher, which was yet another ding against Sánchez. Then, he started just two of the team’s seven postseason games. Oof. The Yankees clearly lost faith in him, and not just because of the offense or Cole’s desire. His defense suffered too, with the new stance causing significant trouble blocking pitches. It seemed inevitable that the Yankees would part ways with Sánchez after the season, particularly after Higgy essentially took the reigns in the playoffs.

Yet, Gary was back in 2021, and it was a better campaign as a whole. Sánchez hit .204/.307/.423 (99 wRC+), which I understand looks ugly, but was undeniably better than your average big league catcher (89 wRC+). Still, he lost playing time to Higgy in spurts, including the continued battery mate situation with Cole. Moreover, Sánchez’s framing took a step back, which was yet another indication that the knee down stance simply wasn’t taking.

Before the lockout, it seemed like Sánchez would be back for one more season before hitting free agency. There were rumors that the team would non-tender him, but instead, they kept him aboard. And with no obvious upgrades available in free agency or trade, it seemed like he’d get one last stand in the Bronx. Instead, the Yankees dealt him to the Twins just a couple of days ago. It was an unceremonious end to a career in New York that once showed so much promise.

A lot of people are relieved that Sánchez is gone. Predictably, there have already been clickbait articles from certain media members who have quoted scouts saying that the pitching staff must have thrown a party. Go find it yourselves, I’m not linking to it. Sánchez was dragged through the mud in the Bronx, constantly had his techniques tweaked and adjusted, and simply was never going to be able to live up to his ridiculous 2016-2017 run. It was never fair to have those expectations, and ultimately, that may have been the death knell.

I know we defended Sánchez like hell on this blog. It wasn’t always easy, admittedly. His long stretches of ice cold offense and defensive struggles were incredibly frustrating. Still, it’s hard for me to believe that the Yankees are better off right now behind the plate without him. That said, I also think the Yankees did the right thing for The Kraken. A change of scenery could do him good, and if he has a big walk year, he’ll be in for a nice payday. I’ll be rooting for him from afar.

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22 Comments

  1. Kevin

    Sanchez gave off the worst, don’t give a good damn vibe that can remember going back a long time. I really believe that it was infectious at times. I will always wonder, was he worn out from banging strippers till an hour past dawn, or did he just not care? Like most of you, I defended him long after he deserved him. Then, suddenly, the agita from seeing him was blistering….. I hope he does well against everyone, but the Yankees.

  2. Randy J Fan

    Well we lost Gary, now we’re going to lose Judge because of the vaccine rules. The union couldn’t even protect its members’ right to choose. What good are unions. ESPN saying he will miss 93 games…I hope we know the full list soon so I can cancel my MLB resub.

    • Richard Kulek

      Maybe the union is more concerned with protecting the majority of the players who decided to get vaccinated. This to protect them from those who are not. Let me guess-You’re not vaccinated

      • Randy J Fan

        I am vaccinated, sir. I did not get the booster though. I got the omicron instead.

      • This+Year

        Judge has had the virus. Thus, he has natural immunity which even the politicized “health” leaders say is > than vax immunity which wanes within a couple of months. And it does not in the least protect against infection. At the very least, a person with natural immunity has the right to choose. And before you ask, I got the jabs long ago.

        • It seems to me that if you have antibodies against the virus, you should be able to play regardless of whether you got the vaccine or the virus. But until the rule changes, Judge should get the vaccine in order to play. What’s the harm? I don’t understand all the anti-vax sentiment.

          • This+Year

            Because there are real risks, even if rare, and especially for younger men, which they are shamefully only beginning to disclose well after people decided to get jabbed or not. Judge’s stance, having already acquired natural immunity, is wholly rational. We should defend him against the anti-science policies of idiot politicians, not say “take one for the team”. Myocarditis is real and can be debilitating long term. Kudos Aaron.

  3. Red

    It Sanchez ever turns his career around, I’ll be comforted by the knowledge it was never going to happen as a Yankee.

  4. They sent the Kraken packin’. Good riddance.

  5. It’s quite remarkable how much Sanchez regressed. Has anyone done a study on why a subset of young players regress instead of improve?

    • HenryKrinkle

      What of the league adjusting to them, and how some fail to make an adjustment to league’s adjustment? Some just won’t change the approach that led to their initial success. The league is great at figuring out how to neutralize you, so you need to answer back.

  6. HenryKrinkle

    He’ll press trying to get off to a good start with his new team. The new environment and the walk year will get to him. Just watch.

    • Isiah Kiner Faleddardfa

      Nobody cares about baseball in Minnesota so it won’t matter when he flops and he will flop. Maybe it’ll help him to be somewhere that nobody cares when he strikes out or lazily plods to 1st. They won’t win either so there will be no pressure on him to do anything but eat Krispy Kremes drenched in butter.

      • HenryKrinkle

        It’ll matter to him b/c he’s a FA at the end of the year. This season will likely decide how he’s viewed in the market: a big year at the plate with slightly less awful defense as a f/t catcher aka productive, starting, bat-first catcher (who just needed to leave NY) vs another season of death spiral slumps and losing playing time at catcher b/c of his defense aka p/t DH/BUC (it wasn’t just NY). The difference in the money he’ll command is enormous.

      • Kevin

        I remember when the Twins drew over three million fans a year. The loudest sporting events that I have heard was in the Metrodome. I also remember when the Yankees were reviled by their ex-fans. If Hal doesn’t get off his ass and augment the team with the Right free agents you’ll get to see the game game the way that Twins’ fans have for decades…..

  7. Benjamin Goldberg

    You simultaneously say that blaming the coaching staff for Sanchez’ decline is unfair, but then you imply it was the fans and media who did him in. Really? I don’t know a single Yankee fan who expected him to repeat 2016 at any point. I don’t know a single fan who wasn’t thrilled with 2017 Gary. I wish him the best and I had high hopes for him too, but let’s not pretend the fans or media are the reason he was a trainwreck for 4 seasons. An absolute trainwreck. I understand he hit home runs. That’s great. He literally couldn’t do anything else on either side of the ball. It was like watching a character from Space Jam who lost his talent. I love this blog, but I will never understand the argument that anyone is responsible for Sanchez’ decline besides Sanchez himself, the coaches, and fate. Leave the fans out of it. Whatever penance we needed to pay for being too hard on Sanchez has surely been paid having endured his performances from 2018 on.

  8. Richard

    Sorry guys I know you’re given to defend him. I for one am not. The universal DH may have saved Mr. Sanchez’s career IF he hits this season. Lack of defense is one thing. Sauntering after passed balls another. Then there was the play where he jogged to first base ending the game. Yes, he was “injured” afterwards but yet another thing to throw on the pile of terrible optics. When your prized ace says no thanks to throwing to you and secretly other pitcher’s probably feel the same, it’s time to go. I don’t think we’ve seen the full time Yankee catcher appear yet, but my guess is they’ll be an Irishman. (Sean Murphy or Carson Kelly anyone?)

  9. RetroRob

    Gary arrived on the scene in an amazing fashion, and his full season in 2017 would have put him on a HOF path if he maintained that for a decade. Unfortunately, he immediately began a regression, both at the plate and defensively. Expectations were certainly part of it, but Gary’s lack of progression, indeed regression, frustrated fans. I’ll have fond memories of Sanchez, but it’s clear he was never going to hit his peak again wearing pinstripes. I hope he gets back on track away from the glare of the NY spotlight.

  10. The Original Drew

    Yo soy Gary now and forever

  11. mikenyc2007

    Simple test for any catcher… do you see him as either manager or leadership material? Do you sense he is controlling the game, or is the game spinning too fast for him…..so, once his hitting cratered, he has literally zero value to the team since a large proportion of his “value” comes from the position… and that position has just as much to do with OPS/actual defense/blocking as it does setting the tone and tempo for the game and team.

  12. Isiah Kiner Faleddardfa

    We’ve been waiting for this day for over 5 years, Derek. Our prayers were finally answered! He’s been the worst defensive catcher in the league for 5 years running and has really been an albatross around our necks during that time span. Once he stopped hitting he really became as useless as chewed sunflower seeds. Every year it seems like he got fatter and fatter. And lazier and lazier. The guy just never listened to Girardi or Pena when they were trying to help him. And then they tried that dog peeing stance that did nothing but make him even more immobile. It got to the point where Gary couldn’t even be bothered to bend down to make a tag. Guys were sliding right underneath him. He won’t be missed. Good riddance. Maybe the Twins can get through to him since they had Mauer all those years but my guess is he eventually turns into a DH and since he can’t hit he’ll be eating ice cream sandwiches with Jesus Montero by 2024.

    • dasit

      will always love the guy and hope he blossoms in minnesota. i will smile if he has a big moment against the yankees

      the trade makes sense on paper but is somehow discouraging and depressing. unlike some people, i don’t think this was a precursor to other moves

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