Should We Be Ready to Give Up on Gary Sanchez? The Answer Should be, Absolutely Not
by Owen Hetherington
February 6, 2021
Yes, things were rough for Gary Sanchez last season. In 49 games during the 2020 season, Sanchez hit .147 (23-for-178) and struck out 64 times. It seemed like every time Gary stepped to the plate he was bound to walk back to the dugout with his bat on his shoulder. It wasn’t the same Gary that we saw in 2017 and 2019, where he made All-Star appearances and hit a combined 67 home runs.
As you likely noticed from the title of this article, I’m not quite ready to give up on ‘ol Gary just yet. As I get deeper into this article, I will highlight the reasons why I think Sanchez can still provide value to the Yankees. However, I would be lying if I said that Sanchez doesn’t deserve criticism for his performance last season.
Gary’s 2020 Season
Gary Sanchez had a nightmare of a season in 2020. There’s no way to put it lightly. His strikeout rate in 2020 was the highest of his career at 36%. It’s a small sample size to look at, however, those were the cards we were dealt with last season.
I think it’s pretty tough to judge the 2020 season as a whole. In a 162-game season, I think Gary could have turned things around.
The perception has always been that “Sanchez can’t hit a breaking ball”. However, after looking at this chart, Sanchez is getting beat pretty badly on fastballs. Since 2018, his swing and miss % on fastballs has increased. Keep in mind, 2020 was a shortened season and certainly has an asterisk next to it.
Gary Sanchez has been a streaky hitter for the majority of his career. He’ll go a month straight of mashing the baseball and then be ice cold the next. It’s just the way he’s been his entire career.
By the time October came around, the writing was on the wall for Sanchez. Backup catcher, Kyle Higashioka had the nod for the majority of the playoffs. He had 19 PA and started 5 out of 7 games in October. It was clear that Higgy would start any game with Gerrit Cole on the mound, however, the Yankees leaned on him for the majority of the postseason, leaving Sanchez on the pine.
What made matters funny was Gary calling out the front office and coaching staff for not having an explanation as to why he was being benched. In an interview with ESPN’s Marly Rivera, Sanchez said:
“But the reality is, they never told me why I was benched. I didn’t know why I wasn’t playing.”
I read this comment from Gary and I instantly begin to laugh. You struck out 36% of your at-bats. You were lost at the plate. You lost your confidence and just weren’t the same Gary. In my opinion, there was no need for an explanation to bench him.
At the same time, Higashioka was hot. In September of 2020, Higgy slashed .256/.590/.846. There’s no debate that Higgy deserved to win the starting job. He was the better option at the plate and was able to control the defense behind the dish.
Higgy vs. Gary Catching Cole
I don’t think Gary Sanchez will ever catch another game with Gerrit Cole on the mound for as long as Higgy is a Yankee. We saw last season how the relationship between Higashioka and Cole grew as the season progressed.
In 46 IP, Cole had a 3.91 ERA with batters slashing .224/.282/.494 with Gary Sanchez
In 27 IP, Cole had a 1.00 ERA with batters slashing .147/.190/.242 with Kyle Higashioka
Could this have been because Cole was stretched out at the end of the season? Very likely. In a shortened season, it would make sense for Cole to show progression as the season went on. However, Higgy will be behind the plate on Opening Day undoubtedly. The Cole-Higgy connection is real, and I think that Higgy will be here as long as Cole is.
Cashman’s Comments Toward Gary
In an interview with WFAN, Brian Cashman responded to Sanchez’s comments about his lack of play in the postseason. In short, he said:
Via The Short Porch Instagram
What a response to Gary’s comments. Cash laid it all on the line with his response. I think this lights a fire under Gary Sanchez for sure. Gary is one of those guys who needs a little push to showcase his full potential.
Why We Shouldn’t Give Up on Gary
There was speculation this offseason that the Yankees might move Sanchez. I never saw that as an option. For what we are paying him this year ($6.35M), there’s no way the Yankees would consider a trade, unless it was a deal they couldn’t pass up.
But there were no deals to be made. Gary Sanchez is the Yankees’ catcher for 2021. The ceiling is high for this guy and I can’t imagine a situation where the Yankees will kick themselves for signing him back. It’s a win-win situation. The Yankees get a power-hitting catcher for a reasonable price.
Gary Sanchez is an extremely talented catcher and has the potential to be one of the best hitting catchers the game has ever seen. His power is unmatched and just ran into some back luck last season.
In 2020, Sanchez ranked second among catchers in Hard hit% (50%). He squares the ball up better than any catcher in the league, with a barrel% of 17.4%. Gary just needs to find the holes to become one of the best catchers of our generation. With a MaxEV of 117.5 mph in 2020, Gary is not exactly a mediocre catcher. He hits the ball just as well as any MLB catcher and just needs another full season to show his capability.
Like I have previously stated, I think Gary Sanchez has the potential to be one of the game’s most respected hitters at the catcher position. With a full 162-game season, I think Sanchez gets it done and puts up good numbers.
If that doesn’t happen, I think the Yankees could look to move him. But as much as I like Higgy, he is not a starting catcher. New York has prided itself on breeding backup catchers (Romine, JR Murphy, Higgy) and I don’t see Sanchez fitting into that category.
I think this year Gary Sanchez proves the haters wrong. He’s going to have a big year at the plate and his criticized defense will polish up. 2021 will be a big test for Sanchez, let’s see if he can prove the haters wrong.