What a nightmare. Not only did Gary Sánchez have the worst season of his career, but he was also one of the worst players in the league in 2020’s 60 game sprint. His once potent bat vanished and his catching left a lot to be desired. By postseason’s end, he wasn’t even number one on the depth chart. Let’s try to sort out the mess that was Gary’s disappointing campaign.
Power, but almost nothing else offensively
There’s simply no way to sugar coat a batting line of .147/.253/.365 (69 wRC+). That’s what Sánchez did in 178 plate appearances this season. After showing so much potency with the bat in 2016, 2017, and even last year, this is now two out of the last three years where Gary has been downright bad offensively. Remember, he hit under the Mendoza line in 2018 as well, though he did muster a 91 wRC+ that season.
As dreadful as Sánchez was this season, he still hit for power and drew a decent amount of free passes. Sánchez hit 10 homers, posted a .218 isolated power, and recorded a 10.1 percent walk rate. The problem? He struck out 36 percent of plate appearances and had a .159 BABIP. Just terrible.
That strikeout rate was easily the highest of Gary’s career, with last year’s 28 percent mark the previous high. It’s actually a bit of an alarming trend, as he’s gone from 22.9 percent in 2017, 25.1 percent in ’18, 28 percent last year, and now 36 percent. Sure, Sánchez is still crushing the ball when he makes contact, as evidenced by the exit velocity, hard hit percentage, and barrel percentage marks. But the key phrase is when he makes contact, of course.
Perhaps most troubling is that Gary’s getting beat on fastballs a whole lot more than he used to. Pitchers exploited him by increasing fastball usage against the backstop by more than four percent year-over-year. By the way, his whiff rates against other pitch types are pretty high but nothing abnormal for him even when things are going good.
I don’t know if he’s lost bat speed or his mechanics are out of whack, but something’s really wrong with Gary at the plate (obviously). He shouldn’t struggle against fastballs, but here we are.
We have to talk about his defense
This is everyone’s favorite subject when it comes to Sánchez. In particular, folks love to pile on him when he surrenders a passed ball or wild pitch, which in fairness, he does allow more often than anyone would like. But aside from throwing, blocking pitches is the most apparent thing for an observer to see. What’s next to impossible to evaluate from the naked eye is framing.
We didn’t talk much about Sánchez’s blocking in 2019 because he took a big step forward. Don’t believe me? Take a look:
|Year||Innings Caught||Wild Pitches||Passed Balls|
Unfortunately, he took a step back this year and allowed 19 wild pitches and 5 passed balls in 321.2 innings. It’s quite possible that it’s related to adopting the one-knee stance promoted by new catching coach Tanner Swanson. The hope was the stance would help Gary’s (and all Yankees’ catchers) defense, particularly pitch framing. And it actually did per FanGraphs and Statcast.
Still, Gary wasn’t a plus-framer. He was below average per both FanGraphs’ and Statcast’s metrics, albeit slightly. He was much worse a year ago, so there was improvement. That said, it’s almost impossible for us to observe that improvement, so it’s easy for the overall takeaway to be that Gary regressed defensively.
I’m not going to argue against anyone who believes that Sánchez was worse all-around behind the dish. The framing metrics are a tad murky, and it’s not like he’s some elite framer per them anyway. There’s no question that pitch blocking was a real problem again. One thing’s for sure: if he hit like he was expected to, much less would be made about his glovework.
Gerrit Cole and the postseason
By season’s end, Sánchez no longer paired with Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole. Instead, Kyle Higashioka became Cole’s personal catcher from September through the playoffs. We all know that Cole’s numbers were far better with Higgy behind the plate, and considering Gary’s lack of offense, it was difficult to complain too much about the situation.
It turned into more than just a personal catcher thing, though. Gary started just two games in the playoffs, Higgy the other five. At least Sánchez had a couple of good offensive moments in Game 2 against Cleveland.
That homer against Triston McKenzie gave the Yankees an 8-6 lead in a wacky game and the sacrifice fly tied it against Brad Hand in the 9th.
Gary returned to the lineup for Game 2 against the Rays, but it was the final straw. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and didn’t hit again. He came in late in Game 5 after Mike Ford pinch hit for Higashioka, but Gary didn’t come to the plate.
Trading Sánchez seems more likely than ever, right? Still, the Yankees should proceed with caution if so. I just wrote about the dearth of catchers in baseball and the likelihood of finding a certain upgrade.
For what it’s worth, in his end of season press conference, Aaron Boone said that he liked Sánchez’s at-bats later in the season. That same day, Brian Cashman noted that Gary’s still extremely talented and that his numbers were better than they appeared, but that they do have to evaluate the position for 2021 because of the results.
If Gary stays, hopefully he can unleash the Kraken in 2021. Sure would behoove him as free agency comes closer. He’s under team control through 2022. Would help the Yankees a good deal too, of course.