I have always said that what a team does is more powerful than what a team says, and I think it holds true with the Yankees. The player that doesn’t get called up, the player on or off the trade block, or the player given a starting spot speaks volumes about internal evaluations about said player.
This makes the conversation about Gary Sanchez pretty simple. When Sanchez seized the starting role last season while going on a historic tear, there really wasn’t a debate. Brian McCann lost the job promptly, and he was traded in the offseason. That’s pretty much unprecedented in recent Yankees history; this is partially to do with the fact the Yankees haven’t had many good prospects, but even when they have, they’re not just giving a guaranteed spot to them indefinitely.
So Sanchez coming into this year and following up with a decent campaign was pretty important, I’d say. It’s “only” a rebuild so it’s house money at this point, but the Yankees traded a viable starting catcher in McCann, and Sanchez somehow flopping would raise the concern that trading McCann was rushed or misguided.
It wasn’t. Sanchez missed the early going of the season with a right biceps injury, and he returned on May 5th with just 21 plate appearances on the season. Would he return with a vengeance? That was the question. I think he’s answered.
Sanchez, despite not looking quite the same as last year (for obvious reasons), still looks pretty great. Let’s break this down. As of May 17th, he’s hitting a more-than-respectable .278/.381/.463 (136 wRC+) with three home runs in 63 plate appearances.
Are these, on the surface, merely “small sample size” numbers. I don’t think so. His BABIP is currently .324, as opposed to last season’s .317 (projections think that’ll fall to about .290), and his batted ball triple slash (soft%/medium%/hard%) is 17.5%/45.0%/37.5% as opposed to last year’s 18.5%/39.7%/41.8%, which looks remarkably similar. His swing-and-miss rate has gone down (11.1% vs. 13.1%) from last year, and he has swung at a lower percentage of pitches outside the zone by a factor of nearly ten points (23.5% vs. 32.8%).
The league has made adjustments, of course. Take a look at Pitch% from 2016...
Pitchers are clearly trying to pound him lower in the zone, mostly because his heat map does not look favorably on pitchers who miss up high:
Even despite the adjustments, Sanchez has managed to lay off of pitches outside the strike zone and avoid excess strikeouts.
It’s still early, as I am forced to say in any article before July. But early indications show that Sanchez is basically the same player we saw last year, but with a league less likely to throw him a meatball. Steamer says he’s something like a 120 wRC+ hitter moving forward, and I buy that (and I might even take the over). Sanchez is here to stay, but we were told that a while ago.