By Andy Singer
Taking 7 out of 10 has a way of taking people off the ledge a bit. Does the Yankee offense still have moments of maddening ineptitude, particularly with runners in scoring position? Yes. Am I worried about over-working the pitching staff through July? Yes. Right now though, all of that takes a back seat. The Yankees have fumbled around enough with the first 74 games that they need to have a really strong 25-30 game stretch here. Starting this weekend against Boston would go a long way towards making an AL East pennant a realistic goal again. I am one of the people who has preached patience this season. At the end of the day, I really never believed that the Rays were going to continue to play .600 ball all season, even before Glasnow went down, and we all knew that the Red Sox’s pitching staff was due for negative regression. By the same token, the Yankee offense, flawed though it may be as a collection, is too talented to not get at least some positive regression. I think we’re seeing the start of that regression to the mean. With an established, veteran team like the Yankees have, it was only a matter of time until guys started playing to the back of their baseball cards, and we’re seeing the beginning of that now. I’m ready to sit back and enjoy the overcorrection.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll revisit the Sanchez topic, discuss Hoy Jun Park’s possible fit on the current roster, dissect Jameson Taillon’s last start, and project the Yankee offense’s performance for the rest of the season! Let’s get at it:
Al asks: Is it reasonable to start asking whether Gary Sanchez is an All Star in the AL? Paul O’Neill was talking about a bunch of mechanical changes that Gary made so he might be ready for a long hot streak.
There are two separate points here, and both are really interesting to dig into. I’ll start with the first, core question: is Gary an All-Star? As of today, I don’t think so because Gary has a ton of ground to cover to catch-up to some of the leaders due to his early season struggles. Let’s dig a little deeper, though.
Right now, Gary is 5th in the AL among catchers in fWAR with a minimum of 170 plate appearances. That’s actually pretty incredible considering his ice cold start and his lack of early season playing time. For an All-Star game though, I don’t view WAR as the be-all-end-all, and I think we have some other things to consider. Gary Sanchez is 2nd in the AL among catchers with a minimum of 170 plate appearances in ISO, trailing just Mike Zunino, who is a one trick pony offensively. He also has the 2nd highest walk rate, behind Yasmani Grandal who is having one of the strangest three true outcomes seasons I’ve ever seen (seriously, 215 plate appearances with a 25.1% BB rate, 26% K rate, a .172 batting average and 11 HR…somewhere, even Adam Dunn is blushing). Gary also is 3rd in homers and batting average, of all things.
Right now, I have Gary in 3rd place behind Sean Murphy (OAK) and Sal Perez (KC). Murphy has been the best catcher in the AL by a lot this year, with solid offense and a fantastic defensive profile, while Perez has had an offensive resurgence with passable defense. My eye tells me Gary has been passable defensively, but none of the metrics like his work this year, particularly Baseball Prospectus, who compiles the most detailed publicly available assessment of catcher defense, who views Gary as one of the worst defensive catchers in the sport. Despite that, we’re still talking about a miniscule sample size defensively, so I don’t give that a ton of weight. If Gary keeps hitting like he’s hitting for the next 2-3 weeks, he could easily surpass Perez on this list, and then I think he’s a definite All-Star.
If Gary makes the All-Star team, I won’t lie that I’ll be grinning ear-to-ear. This is where I want to address Al’s second point. The Yankees’ YES broadcasters have correctly noted that Gary Sanchez has made some significant mechanical adjustments at the plate this year. I’m going to gloat a little bit: Gary has made basically the exact mechanical adjustment I called for last October. I may re-post the article with a post-script for this year, but in essentials, I wanted Gary to either eliminate or greatly decrease his pronounced leg kick as he had done intermittently between 2017 and 2018. The big leg kick requires absolutely perfect timing, and I believed (and still believe) it was largely responsible for Gary’s issues against even easy fastballs in the zone. If the leg touches down late, it’s impossible to catch up to fastballs; if it’s a breaking ball when Gary was looking for a fastball, the leg comes down early which takes the legs out of the swing, and Gary could only weakly flip his wrists at the ball. I also believed that diminishing the leg kick would create less lower body noise in the swing, allowing Gary’s mechanics to be more repeatable. Lastly, I thought that mechanical adjustments would make Gary a less streaky hitter.
Well, since Gary’s made these adjustments, he’s been one of the hottest and best hitters in baseball, with a 192 wRC+ in the month of June. We don’t know yet whether this will even out some of Gary’s maddening inconsistency, but I have very high hopes. I never left the Gary Sanchez train, and I firmly believe in Gary’s new mechanical approach, as it’s one for which I’ve advocated since last season.
Rob asks: Hoy Jun Park is ripping it up at AAA. Is he an option with the Yankees and can he really play cf?
Hoy Jun Park has always floated just behind some bigger named prospects since the Yankees signed him during the International Signing period in 2014. Park signed for $1 million, but was lost in the shuffle of what was supposed to be a monster class for the Yankees that included Wilkerman Garcia, Dermis Garcia, Nelson Gomez, and Miguel Flames (yeah…that didn’t pan out, and only one of these guys remains in the Yankee farm system). In 2014, Park was lauded for smooth fielding actions, good tools, and surprising pop despite a wiry frame. Many scouts believed that Park could add some legitimate power to his game and eventually be an MLB contributor.
Park has displayed good fielding actions all over the infield throughout his minor league career, as he has consistently moved around the diamond to accommodate higher profiled prospects. Prior to this season, while Park showed some feel for contact and plate discipline, the power came in spurts, and really never appeared with real consistency in games despite roughly average raw power. This year has been another story. In his first year at AAA, Park has continued to play great defense all over the diamond, has made a ton of contact with sterling plate discipline, and has finally showed the pop that scouts always said was there. We can quibble over the level of competition that Park has faced, but he’s still launched the ball to the gaps with authority this season, with a .265 ISO. Oh…and Park bats left-handed.
Despite this, I want to see another month or more of great hitting and more appearances in CF before I’m ready to bring him up. Park has always been an interesting prospect, and I’d be thrilled to see him make his debut this year, but for Park to fit, I think he needs to prove that CF is a real option. He’s only got 2 professional games there, so more experience out there is needed before he’s an MLB option out there. Park has all the tools to do it though, so I wouldn’t be shocked if we see Park sometime in July or August.
Brian asks: Taillon pitched more than 6 innings for the first time all year: should i be excited?
I’m going to say…maybe. Taillon was more aggressive against the Royals yesterday, and I really like the 5-pitch mix he’s using now. It’s working to keep hitters off-balance and pitch selection doesn’t look as formulaic and rigid as it did early in the year. Additionally, Taillon’s command was as good as it’s been all year. Check it out:
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That’s a great mix of four-seamers up, sliders and curveballs low, and just enough change-ups and sinkers to keep hitters honest.
Truthfully, it was always going to take Taillon time to get some feel back. He hadn’t pitched in two years because of Tommy John, he has entirely new mechanics, and he was working with a completely different pitch mix and attack strategy. He wasn’t plug-and-play in the same way Kluber was, and Yankee fans were wrong to expect it. I still believe in Taillon, and believe he will pitch to an ERA in the high 3’s when it’s all said and done, but we’ll continue to see some roller coaster performances along the way.
Yesterday was certainly encouraging, but I’m not quite ready to say Taillon’s all the way there yet. I like what I see, but let’s see him build on it next week before drawing any conclusions.
Lionel asks: The Yankee offense now has all the starters back, excepting Aaron Hicks, and is starting to plate runs and hit homers. in 2019, this offense averaged 5.8 runs/gm as well as 1.88 HRs/gm can the 2021 team do similar things if the players’ health holds up?
I mentioned it above that at some point, the Yankees’ offense was always going to show positive regression after it’s glacial start, because it is just too talented with too much established veteran talent to continue to sag as badly as we saw in April and May of this year. That being said, 5.8 runs per game with that many homers is a tall order in the current run scoring environment.
The key to this question is the word “similar,” so yes, I think that the Yankees’ offense can put up 5 runs per game for the rest of the season with an ample number of homers, particularly now that substance use on the mount is being strongly deterred. I think just a little more solid contact is going to lead to plenty of runs, as we’ve seen over the last week from this group. A middle of the order of Stanton, Judge, Voit, Sanchez, and Andujar is as formidable as any in baseball, and I look forward to watching that group rake for the rest of the year.