Passed balls are frustrating. It’s deflating to offer a free base to runners, eliminate a potential double play, all of it. Gary Sanchez has allowed a number of balls to slip behind him during his sophomore season. It reached the point where Joe Girardi benched him last weekend, perhaps in an attempt to motivate Sanchez. Does it have to be anything more than that, though?
I’m not fuming at Sanchez serving as the designated hitter for a game or two to light a fire under him. There’s no denying that his defense has been an issue. It’s the cries for his job that have to stop. Do we really think Austin Romine has enough offensive production to be the starting Yankees catcher? He is a nice backup, but Sanchez is the catcher of the future. Some have even gone so far to use “one-hit wonder” in the same sentence as Sanchez, which is absurd.
The 24-year-old Sanchez has already surrendered 12 passed balls this year. Considering there’s less than two months left on the season and he spent nearly a month on the disabled list, that’s not a good mark. Still, he should be able to adjust to his weaknesses, much like Aaron Judge did heading into this season. Those adjustments paid off handsomely.
It is also important to remember that there is another aspect to Sanchez as a catcher. He has an exceptional arm. Sanchez has thrown out 35 percent of runners this season, which is just outside the top 10 in baseball. It also is higher than former Yankees catcher and fan favorite Jorge Posada’s career number of 28 percent. It exceeds any mark Posada had in each of his five All-Star seasons.
Posada is a good name to bring up considering Sanchez and the rest of the Baby Bombers draw frequent comparisons to the Core Four. Posada was never the best defensive catcher, but he was great for the Yankees because of the offensive output he had at the position. He still had problems catching during his career, and had a career caught stealing percentage of 28 percent. The point is he took time to develop and improve, which Sanchez will need as well.
Not everyone arrives at the professional level and immediately flashes sparkling leather. Derek Jeter had a nightmare of a time at shortstop in the minors, and worked tirelessly with Brian Butterfield to improve his game. He still wasn’t a great fielder, but he improved enough to the point where his terrific offensive abilities and other intangibles made him an enormous asset. Sanchez is a strong offensive talent himself who just needs time to improve certain areas of his game.
I mentioned Sanchez missed almost a month earlier, yet he has 18 home runs on the season. That’s the third most in baseball among catchers this season, despite having significantly fewer at-bats than the two players ahead of him. He also ranks sixth in baseball in slugging percentage among catchers, and fourth in RBI. Like Posada and Jeter, his offense can make his defensive struggles much more palatable.
So, is it rational to scream “one-hit wonder” during a bad stretch? Absolutely not, especially when you consider that Sanchez has a range factor per nine innings of 10.11 this season. That is considerably higher than the league average — and yes, better than any mark Posada put up during his entire career. Those numbers don’t reflect a player who has “bulked up too much” and lost flexibility. Maybe, like plenty of others in baseball, he is just going through a slump behind the plate.
We’ve seen it before. Dellin Betances has trouble throwing to bases, but his other strengths on the mound make him an All-Star. Sanchez is in just his second major league season, and has certainly not reached his peak. His manager was a solid defensive catcher, and his first base coach Tony Pena was even more respected behind the plate. The necessary people are there to help him, and they will. His current performance as a backstop is not acceptable right now, but that doesn’t mean his job should be on the line.