To Keep Gary Sanchez… (Part 1 of 2)
It’s hard to say how I truly feel about the Yankees backstop since mid-2016. On one-hand has incredible upside for his position with his bat and slowly improving defense. However, potential isn’t performance and we’ve seen it slip. So today I answer the question: Why keep Gary Sanchez?
The Good of Gary: OPS+
There is one important thing to note before diving into any normal catchers offensive statistics: they aren’t going to look pretty. Obviously the greats like Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza, and Yogi Berra (etc.) are the exceptions to this rule, but across the game catchers are favored more for defense and game calling. A great offensive catcher is an added benefit to that rule and is typically what makes one a star.
To try an evaluate offense I like using OPS+, because it truly takes the hitting side of the game and brings it to an easy-to-understand number. I saw somewhere recently (unfortunately I cannot remember exactly where) that the typical catcher will hit to a 90 OPS+ each season. That’s the benchmark. Anything above and you’re typically looking at a bat-first catcher, anything below and the catcher should hopefully be good with his glove.
Luckily, Gary Sanchez hits this mark over his career from 2015-2020 (116 OPS+), even without counting his unmatchable 2016 rookie season (108 OPS+), and over the past three seasons (99 OPS+). If you want to call 2020 a fluke year where small sample size rules the game (see: Baez, Javier and his 59 OPS+), then Gary Sanchez churned out a 113 OPS+ from 2017 to 2019. That’s a lot of numbers that essentially say Gary Sanchez is above-average with the bat. Truthfully, any way you cut it across multiple consecutive seasons and Gary Sanchez is a plus-bat for a catcher. That’s a good benefit to any team.
However, numbers don’t always paint the best picture and I think discrediting 2020 is the wrong thing to do during an evaluation. So let’s consider the Gary Sanchez from 2017-2020 and his cumulative 108 OPS+. What does this look like with players from last year?
That difference between a 108 OPS+ catcher and a 90 OPS+ catcher is Willson Contreras (106) and Wilson Ramos (88). The later being a player Mets fans are hoping to get as far away from as possible and the former being a player the Cubs have built around. Consider this a win, based on precedent, for Gary Sanchez.
The Good of Gary: (Some) Advanced Metrics
Looking at the advanced metrics should also give fans a good reason to be hopeful on Gary Sanchez even after a horrific 48 game stretch last season. This is because these numbers show that Sanchez was not only incredibly unlucky but he was also trending back up at the end of the year.
At the end of the year, Gary Sanchez’s numbers did not look good. There is no great way to defend a .147/.253/.365 triple-slash because these numbers explain what we saw last year and the “eye-test” would say that something was wrong. However, even with those numbers we saw that Gary was still near the top of the league in Barrel% (97th percentile), Hard Hit% (92nd percentile), and Exit Velocity (89th percentile) according to MLB Statcast. What these numbers show is that Sanchez- when he was hitting the ball- didn’t lose his power.
So, what went wrong? The first thing to note is that Gary Sanchez had a .159 BABIP (batting average of balls in play). Unfortunately for Sanchez, BABIP does not include home runs, so he’ll tend to have a lower BABIP because he averages about 25 home runs per season. However, his 10 HR’s last season would not explain why he was falling so low with his BABIP. So, how did Gary hit to a .193 XBA (expected batting average; 4th percentile) and a .266 XOBA (9th percentile)?
Honestly, it’s hard to determine. Trying to look at his game, one may think he must’ve hit more groundballs and his slow speed meant many easy outs. While a 38 GB% is high, it’s below his career norm at 40.7%. Maybe he hit too many easy fly balls? However, a 23.9 FB% was also below his career norm at 25.6%. Likely, it appears as though 2020 was really just a fluke year with getting the ball to land right.
These numbers also don’t go to show that Gary Sanchez was trending back up at the end of the year across many of these poor looking metrics. Just a simple look at the following charts to show his XBA (left) and wOBA (right) were trending above the MLB average towards the later-half of the season:
To Keep Gary Sanchez:
So, if I was to keep Gary Sanchez what would my plan be for him? Turns out the answer is likely very simple: give him a potential hall-of-fame mentor. Bring in Yadier Molina. As much as I love Kyle Higashioka, he’d find himself a back-up with no position again and it’d be hard to keep 3 catchers around.
Think about the New York Yankees of the 2010’s and tell me how this move doesn’t fit the bill that Cashman & Co. have loved to do in recent times: bring in an old veteran for a final hurrah. It has been rumored that Yadi is looking for a multi-year deal and with 2 years left of control on Sanchez, the timeline works perfectly.
But why Yadi? Again, the answer is simple: defense. I think we can reasonably expect that Sanchez will return to form with the bat and bringing in a player who has made himself a national name because of his defense is just too obvious.
Now, obviously it may not work and Sanchez may not be receptive to his help. But even in the worst case scenario that Sanchez’s bat doesn’t return and his defense still falls short, then you can rest easy with a dependable catcher in Yadi to play as well. The Yankees line-up is good enough that they were able to bring a catcher with a .147/.253/.365 to the postseason, so incredible offense is simply an extra bonus.
The Yankees have already been doing their due diligence with looking into him as an option, and Yadier would have a great person to ask about New York and playing with the Yankees: his brother Jose (who spent 2007 to 2009 with the Yankees).
Future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina has received calls with interest from both the Yankees and Mets plus 3-4 other teams in addition to the #STLCards as I just said on @MLBNetwork St. Louis is the likely favorite but in free agency you never know. Seeks a 2-year deal. — Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 12, 2020