Mailbag: Gary Sánchez’s defense, Matt Blake’s performance, Miguel Andújar, and Tyler Wade’s hitting

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Labor Day weekend is here. Hope you all are able to take some time off and enjoy yourselves. Maybe the Yankees can win a few games this weekend for us, too. That’d be nice after last night’s atrocity. Anyway, it’s mailbag day and we have a few questions to respond to. As always, send yours to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We answer our favorites each week. Let’s get to it.

Todd asks: Is it safe to say that Sánchez’s one-knee down experiment this year is a bust? Especially with RISP? The dude isn’t the most agile of backstops, and limiting his mobility while in this position does not seem to be optimal. With his arm strength and pop time, he should easily be able to make the throw on any steal attempt. But he has to get better at stopping those pitches in the dirt and holding runners. The one-knee down set up is simply not working, and IMHO, it’s time to move on.

I think it’s far too soon to throw in the towel. Has Gary’s blocking been frustrating this season? Yes, without a doubt. He’s already recorded 4 passed balls and 16 wild pitches this season. Baseball Prospectus’ EPAA ranks him the worst blocker in the game at the moment. Remember, Sánchez had just 7 passed balls and 30 wild pitches in 2019. That came after 18 and 45 a year prior and 16 and 53 in 2017. So it feels like he’s taken a step back. Here are all four of his passed balls this season:

Those are just flat out whiffs. They don’t have anything to do with actually blocking a pitch. That doesn’t excuse anything, of course.

As for the wild pitches allowed, I wonder if the knee-down position does make it more difficult to move laterally and get in position to block pitches in the dirt from side-to-side. For example:

It’s like he’s stuck and has no chance to save some of those pitches from getting passed him. Look, I’m the last person to ask for catching defense advice, but maybe Todd is on to something with regard to this stance while runners are on base. Does the benefit of a few extra framed strikes outweigh the greater risk of wild pitches? My instinct is that the framing is not necessarily worth it in these situations.

By the way, I should note that Sánchez’s framing has improved compared to last year. Per Statcast, his strike rate is up nearly 2 percent from last year. At 48.3 percent, his strike rate is also the second highest of his career (2018, 50.0 percent). He’s exhibited his biggest gains just below the zone, as I think was expected with this new stance.

To bring this full circle, the hope was that bringing in catching guru Tanner Swanson would allow Gary to be good at blocking and receiving at the same time. We haven’t quite seen that happen just yet. Maybe he can’t have the best of both worlds, but I wouldn’t give up on it after just 36 regular season games.

Now, for all the talk about catcher defense, the most frustrating part of Sánchez’s season has been his hitting. We can talk about Gary’s difficulties behind the plate until we’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t matter if he’s going to hit .130/.245/.337 (59 wRC+). I can’t help but wonder if the constant emphasis on tweaking his catching style has taken away from his offensive development. Maybe just let him play without giving him too much to think about? I don’t know.

Jack asks: I know it’s one of the most difficult things in baseball to quantify, but how do you think Matt Blake has done as pitching coach? For me, this was one of the thing I was most interested to follow during the season (back when we thought this was going to be a normal season). It feels like basically all of the pitchers on the team have either regressed or gotten worse. Paxton was the perfect case – can a pitching coach come in and help a star pitcher fix his mechanical problems? The small sample size results are not inspiring.

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It’s way too soon to evaluate Blake. Yes, it’s been frustrating to watch James Paxton struggle, but his missing velocity can’t be pinned on Blake. Paxton’s on the injured list now, after all. Has Gerrit Cole struggled of late? For sure, and Blake is undoubtedly working to get him back on track. By the way, Cole has nothing but good things to say about working with the team’s new pitching coach:

“I think (Blake’s) got a large tool belt,” Cole said Tuesday before the Yankees’ 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. “He’s been around enough people to be able to talk simple pitching like stay back or get to the baseball. And he’s also there to say how or why a pitch is breaking a certain way, or how or why a pitch has a predictive value, or why you would put more weight on this pitch in this situation or not.

“He touches kind of all atmospheres to the realm, I guess. Maybe he might be a bit behind in terms of mound visits and time one-on-one with the pitchers and game management and kind of reading how his guys are operating through the game, but of course (manager) Aaron (Boone) is there to lend his set of eyes during that, too.

“But (Blake’s) going get that experience sooner or later, and he’s getting that experience at a premium level. So he’s getting premium knowledge, and I think by and large when it’s all said and done, he’ll have a really unique tool belt in the sense that he can really kind of do everything.”

Aaron Boone basically confirmed what Cole said:

“Everything I’ve seen suggests makes me think he’s gonna be really good at this,’’ Boone said. “I think he gets tagged with the analytical, new-age stuff, but there’s a lot of old-school in him, too, with how he looks at things and approaches things.

I know that Cole nor Boone are going to throw him under the bus in public, but at the same time, it’s especially good to hear Cole elaborate on why Blake has potential to be good at this gig. There may be some things that he’s still adjusting to, such as mound visits as Cole suggests. But to this point, there’s not much else we can do other than take the team’s word on Blake.

Iron Mike asks: Are we reaching the point where we should consider accepting Andújar’s defensive liability for his offensive upside in LF? The Gardner/Tauchman showing has been abysmal offensively.

I’ll make this one quick: yes, but he also doesn’t have to play left field right now either. Andújar can be the full-time designated hitter while we wait for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton to return. Mike Ford (.169/.265/.339) is really struggling and has played almost everyday of late. Truck Month was fun last September, but I’m concerned that a lot of his production last year came against inferior pitching during expanded rosters. Maybe that’s worth investigating separately. Now, I know Miggy looked dreadful in his limited time with the Yankees this season, but we also know how good he can be at this level. Remember when he hit .297/.328/.527 as a rookie? Good times.

Of course, Tauchman nor Gardner should be in the lineup everyday either. Gardner’s age may finally be catching up to him, whereas Tauchman is probably just flat-out bad:

Gross. There’s a big risk in putting Miggy in left field though. Remember this?

Eek. That’s me just cherry-picking one really bad play out there, of course. He really hasn’t gotten a ton of run out there, though I assume he’s been working on his outfield play at the Alternate Site.

Considering how the offense is sputtering, it could be worth playing Andújar in left field. You’d still have to run Ford out at DH, but at least Ford is still hitting the ball hard this year in terms of exit velocity. Come the sixth or seventh inning, Tauchman or Gardner can replace Miggy in the field. Whatever the case may be, I want to see Andújar get regular at-bats at this point. I’m over watching other guys fail.

Andrew asks: I’ll preface this by saying I have no illusions of Wade ever becoming a starting caliber player and I’m very much looking forward to Torres coming back and pushing him back to the bench. However, my naked eye assessment and memory (albeit spotty) have led me to believe that Wade has suffered from some bad luck this season and his slash line may look a bit worse than he’s actually fared at the plate. Can you examine some of his underlying metrics (Hard Hit %, BABIP, etc.) and see if there’s actually something to my theory or if I’m just talking nonsense?

Unfortunate timing to discuss this one after Wade’s brutal and inexplicable baserunning mistake last night. But yes, Wade has actually hit into some bad luck this season even with a .167/.255/.271 triple-slash to date. Per Statcast, his expected batting average is .276 and xwOBA is .325 (vs. .234 actual wOBA). It just so happens that we tweeted about this yesterday before the game:

So yeah, his .200 BABIP appears to be a product of bad luck. Maybe he wasn’t wrong in saying that he feels “unbelievable” at the plate (lol). Regardless, I can’t wait for Gleyber Torres to return this weekend and get Wade out of the lineup.

No matter how unlucky Wade has been, he can’t afford to make a gaffe like he did last night. He was given a role on this team based on his speed and reputed defensive chops. Without making the most of either of those two, Wade could be gone regardless of good or bad fortune with the bat.


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  1. Doug Hudgins

    “Maybe just let him play without giving him too much to think about? I don’t know.”
    Maybe let him ride the bench and don’t give it a second thought.

  2. Alan Baumohl

    As much work a pitching coach puts in off on the side, does it really matter if he has no clue how to handle in-game situations? I’ve been sick to my stomach watching guys left out there obviously struggling and he just sits in the dugout.

    I was once thrown out of a Little League game because the stupid coach forced upon us by the league, I called time from LF, walked to the mound and just told him to stop and breathe and just play catch with the catcher. Ump took all 4’9″ and 72lbs of me, literally picked me up and carried me off too. But I did the job.

    P.S. He got the next 2 guys out.

  3. Sanchez has been terrible behind the plate this year and even worse at the plate. A long term replacement is needed because he isn’t going to get better defensively and is offensive skills have really deteriorated over time. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist on the mound to throw him a fastball that is taken for strike one, have him foul off a meatball, and throw a slider down, away,and way out of the strike zone for swinging strike 3. This is the 3rd season in a row he has been bad at the plate (except for small samples sizes) and hitting prodigious home runs 1X a week while doing nothing else is worthless.

    As for Blake, my opinion is that he isn’t qualified to be a major league pitching coach-the Yankees aren’t a small market team, go hire someone with enough clout so that the pitching staff will listen to him. I don’t see a single pitcher on the staff showing any evidence of improvement this year and plenty of them have gone backwards. So much of pitching is confidence and having a coach with no experience in helping someone work through confidence issues is a huge negative.

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