In last night's blowout of the Red Sox, Gary Sanchez recorded his 14th passed ball. It tied him with Yasmani Grandal for the league lead despite Sanchez missing about a month of the season. It's not fun to focus on perhaps the only big negative of a player's game, but in this case, the frustration with Sanchez' ability to handle certain pitches is palpable.
There's no question that Sanchez needs to get better at holding on to catchable pitches. All players have certain facets of their games that they need to improve upon, and Sanchez is no different. Fortunately, receiving seems like something a catcher can learn. Unlike something like running speed, blocking or holding on to pitches is a technical skill.
It doesn't hurt that the Yankees have Joe Girardi and Tony Pena on the staff, two former catchers known for their defensive chops in their playing careers and good reputations for working with catchers. Their tutelage can certainly help Sanchez, and for what it's worth, Girardi has liked what he's seen from Sanchez in recent weeks.
Though it's vexing to see Sanchez miss a pitch that doesn't even hit the dirt, he's doing so much else to make up for it. His throwing arm is ridiculous:
He's now caught 37.5% of potential basestealers this year, 4th-best in baseball. Sanchez is also a very good pitch framer, 9th in framing runs above average. It seems a little odd that Sanchez could be a good receiver when it comes to framing when he's a poor receiver when it comes to allowing catchable pitches by him, but Gary has a history of being a very good framer:
Over at Baseball Prospectus, they have pitch-framing information for both the major and the minor leagues. The information for the minors is worse, simply because the supporting data is more limited, but there is real signal there. Let me now show you how Sanchez has ranked as a receiver:
2015, Double-A: 82nd percentile
2015, Triple-A: 83rd
2016, Triple-A: 88th
2016, Majors: 85th
All this goes without mentioning Sanchez' hitting. Since last season, no catcher is close to his production with the bat. Sanchez owns a 143 wRC+ since last year, well ahead of Willson Contreras (123) and Buster Posey (122). Again, it's not even close.
While it's easy to get caught up with each pitch that Sanchez let's by, not all hope is lost. His receiving seems like something that he can improve upon, and even if he's always going to be below average with that part of his game, Sanchez has so much else going for him that it won't really matter. As long as he's showing off his cannon behind the plate, his pitchers like throwing to him, and he hits plenty of home runs, the passed balls won't be a deal breaker. Sure, we'll probably throw our hands up in the air when the next passed ball comes, but the bigger picture quite rosy for the Yankees' catcher.