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The unique power of Gary Sanchez

Gary Sanchez is putting on an unprecedented display of power that is as distinct as it is historic.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Gary Sanchez's debut season has, obviously, been monumental. He is not quite producing at Greatest of All Time levels like he was last month, but the numbers are still staggering: a .346/.418/.765 line and a 210 wRC+ since being called up in August. At this rate, Sanchez could (should?) dislodge Michael Fulmer as rookie of the year, despite Fulmer’s three month head start.

The biggest part of Sanchez's success has been his power outburst. He leads MLB (minimum 180 plate appearances) in isolated slugging at a ridiculous .410. He has 19 home runs in 43 games this season, despite hitting only 10 dingers in 71 minor league games. However, the most remarkable part of Sanchez's slugging isn't even the raw numbers; it's the unique shape of his power production. The way Sanchez hits for power is unlike any other slugger in the league.

When one thinks of a pure power hitter, often the first thing that comes to mind is the long, high-arching home run. Teams like the division rival Orioles best embody this; Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo put on tremendous power displays with dozens of moon-shots.

That hasn't been Sanchez. He hasn't smashed 19 bombs and run a .750+ slugging percentage by continuously sending high fly balls in the air. Rather, Sanchez has put on a distinct kind of show. In the place of tall, graceful shots have been downright lasers that just happen to leave the building.

This isn't to say Sanchez isn't capable of smashing sky-scraping home runs. Sanchez’s first career homer came on a 426 foot blast that left the bat at a fairly steep 28.9 degrees according to Statcast. In Seattle on August 24th, he hit a 420 foot bomb that came off the bat at an even steeper 32.9 degree angle.

Yet more common for Sanchez have been bullet line drives that leave the park in an instant. Just this Wednesday in Tampa Bay, Sanchez sent out this three run shot, at an exit velocity of 111 mph:

That massive line drive left the bat at a 22 degree angle. This bomb against Seattle left the bat at a startlingly low angle of 17 degrees, but still traveled 386 feet:

Sanchez has made a habit of hitting home runs that are low and extremely fast. Overall, he simply has a different batted ball profile than the rest of baseball's power hitters. For one, he absolutely scalds the ball, at an average exit velocity of 94.7 mph per MLB.com. That places him alongside some of the game's best hitters, like Giancarlo Stanton (96.0 mph) and Miguel Cabrera (94.6 mph).

Still, what really makes Sanchez stand out is the trajectory of his batted balls. Those bullet home runs we saw earlier haven't been fluky one-offs; Sanchez truly has had a distinctive profile for a power hitter. Per MLB.com, Sanchez's average batted ball leaves at an angle of 5 degrees, far below the league average of 10 degrees.

No other slugger strikes batted balls at such a trajectory. Here's a handy graphic of Sanchez's launch angle on hits and batted balls, courtesy of Baseball Savant:

Compare that to other noted power hitters such as Kris Bryant:

Or the aforementioned Davis:

While Sanchez is lining bullet home runs down around 20 degree launch angles, most other power hitters are lofting balls in the thirty to forty degree range. To better visualize how much of an outlier Sanchez has been, I plotted the top 15 power hitters (by ISO, again minimum 180 PA) according to their ISO and their average launch angle:

That little dot way out in the bottom right corner is Sanchez. It’s worth noting that the two outliers in this tiny sample, Sanchez and Ryan Schimpf, are also the two players whose plate appearance totals were closest to the minimum I set. In other words, if Sanchez had more appearances, he would fall closer to the pack. Nonetheless, it is jarring to see just how far Sanchez’s average trajectory places him from the rest of MLB’s sluggers.

The only downside here is that there's probably no way Sanchez can sustain this in the future. Once big league pitchers make adjustments to him (as they have already begun to do), he might not be able to strike the ball with quite this level of velocity. That could make a big difference. According to Statcast, a ball struck at a 20 degree angle and 105 mph goes for a hit 77% of the time, compared to 30% of the time when struck at 20 degrees and 95 mph. If Sanchez stops hitting these balls on a line so hard, eventually, those homers might start to turn into doubles, and outs.

The inevitable regression should not take away from what Sanchez has already done, and what he has done has been incredible and memorable. Perhaps the most exciting thing to come out of this Yankee season has been the sight of a line drive off Sanchez's bat, and the sheer incredulity that results from watching that low liner somehow clear the wall. This level of performance won’t last forever (I think), but that doesn’t matter right now. For one summer, Sanchez has displayed a historic and downright unique exhibition of power.