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Breaking down Gary Sanchez’s nine home runs

Gary Sanchez’s home run barrage has certainly been fun to watch, but there’s also a lot we can learn from his impressive show of power.

New York Yankees v Seattle Mariners Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Although Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin set the standard with literally the best major league debut a hitter can possibly have, Gary Sanchez is on his way to one of the best first months from a rookie in years. The catcher has terrorized pitchers in his first 19 games, launching nine home runs and five doubles. He’s impossibly hot at the moment—a force to be reckoned with at the plate. At this point, pitchers are giving up as Sanchez was intentionally walked in his final two at-bats on Wednesday, after going 2-3 with a double and a home run earlier in the game.

There are a myriad of ways to laude Sanchez for his fantastic start—such as the fact that he’s already won one Player of the Week and could be on his way to another, or that he’s thrown out five of the eight runners who have run on him (including Mike Trout), or that he’s in elite company among hot starts for rookies—but the best way to appreciate the 23-year-old is through his nine moonshots. To make it better, watching the balls fly may provide some interesting information on the hot rookie.

#1: August 8th

To the chants of “Yankees suck!” from Red Sox fans at Fenway Park, Sanchez unleashed his first career major league home run. If you don’t remember this game, his home run came in the eighth inning after a huge, five-run seventh that brought the Yankees from a three-run deficit to a two-run lead. The home run finally quieted Boston’s fans for the night, and the size of the home run may have been a big part of that.

Junichi Tazawa’s 91 mph four-seamer was easily turned around by Sanchez, sent 426 feet and almost dead center into the seats. The middle-high pitch was right in Sanchez’s wheelhouse, so it’s not all that surprising he put good wood on it.

#2: August 14th

Sanchez’s streak of home runs didn’t start with his first one, though. After that, the backstop endured a quiet period where he went 1-8 (including a day off), before reigniting. His second homer came off a solid pitcher in Jake Odorizzi, who also threw him a four-seam fastball that was hammered 407 feet to left field. You’ll notice a trend here—five of Sanchez nine home runs have come off a four-seamer, and he has a .737 slugging percentage on the pitch this season (albeit in a limited sample size). He’s seen the pitch extremely well, not missing a chance to punish it when thrown in the strike zone, as he has a .409 batting average (9-22) on the pitch when it’s in the zone.

#3: August 16th

The Kraken took a day off from hitting dingers on the 15th, merely going 2-3, but hit three home runs in the two days to follow. The first was a Marco Estrada changeup that he drilled into the left field stands. Another trend for Sanchez has been the location of his home runs: all on the left half of the field. On a related note, all but four of his hits have been on the pull side, giving him an extreme 53.7% pull percentage on the season (compared to just 9.3% to the opposite field).

Obviously, this extreme trend will regress some, but Sanchez’s minor league spray chart from the past two seasons also supports a pull-heavy approach. Power hitters can survive like this (Edwin Encarnacion has 35 home runs and a 141 wRC+ with a higher pull rate than Sanchez this season), but it should still be something to monitor in case things get too extreme.

#4: August 16th

On his second of the day, Sanchez drilled another Estrada changeup into the seats. This home run happened to have a 32.67-degree launch angle, which sounds awfully mundane but has an interesting implication. This was Sanchez’s highest launch angle on a home run, and it showed in the trajectory of the ball. Most of his home runs are of the line drive variety, but this one was lifted much higher. The height and launch angle of this home run makes it stand out from the others, an important point that I’ll get to on home run number seven.

#5: August 17th

Gary wasn’t done terrorizing the Blue Jays, as he hit his third home run of the series against J.A. Happ. Another four-seamer, Sanchez absolutely crushed this pitch—it was his furthest-hit home run at 437 feet. To make this dinger even better, it was driven to almost dead center (not pulled, believe it or not). It was also thrown on the outside-middle of the strikezone, a particularly favorite place for Sanchez to hit home runs. In fact, four of his nine home runs were thrown in that location.

#6: August 20th

After two horrible, homer-less days from Sanchez (an off day and a 3-4 with two doubles), he returned in a big way with a shot against a Ricky Nolasco slider. It was another solo home run, and if it seems like that’s been commonplace for Gary, you’re right. All but three of his home runs have been solo shots, despite the fact that Sanchez has been hitting in the middle of the lineup for most of his short big league career. Unfortunately, the Yankees haven’t been getting on base often, meaning most of Sanchez’s (and his teammates’) home runs have been with the bases empty.

#7: August 22nd

Sanchez terrified everyone with an 0-3 showing on the 21st, but returned with a vengeance the following day. He began the game with a laser of a home run, complete with a launch angle of just 17.78 degrees. This is the 40th lowest of all home runs this season, which is remarkable, considering there have been over 4,300 round trippers. It also highlights Sanchez’s tendency to hit the line-drive-type home run.

Given this knowledge, it isn’t surprising to hear that Sanchez’s average launch angle on home runs sits at 26.2-degrees, about two degrees less than the MLB average. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—line drives are good—but a lower launch angle on the whole could make a few potential home runs end up staying in the park. It will be interesting to see if this trend changes, and how it effects his numbers down the road.

#8: August 22nd

Another at-bat, another home run for The Sanchize (sorry). Sanchez seems to have found a couple sweet spots in the strike zone for home runs—middle-up and waist-high outside. It’s been just two games, so I can’t say this will become a long term trend, but for now these two regions are by far the worst places for a pitcher to go against Sanchez. Then again, he’s not particularly vulnerable anywhere at this point, especially when it comes to hard stuff.

#9: August 24th

After a 1-4 showing on the 23rd, Sanchez came back with a big home run on Wednesday. There’s not a whole lot left to say about Sanchez’s home runs at this point, so admiring his impressive talent will have to do. Teams are already realizing that the rookie’s power is very real, and it started with the Mariners throwing in the white flag and intentionally walking Sanchez. This may also be a reflection on how much of a non-factor the .196 hitting Mark Teixeira has become (he hit behind Sanchez in the lineup), but it’s still a unique showing of respect/fear from Seattle to walk a rookie back-to-back.