Gary Sanchez exploded onto the scene in 2016 as a 23-year-old early-August call-up. The Kraken put on a dazzling display of power, clubbing 20 home runs in just 53 games en route to a second-place finish in the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting. His 3.0 WAR in less than one-third of a season was easily one of the greatest late-season rookie campaigns in baseball history.
Sanchez followed with an injury-shortened 2017 season that saw him win the Silver Slugger Award, earn an All-Star nod, and break the Yankees’ single-season home-run record by a catcher with 33. Expectations for Sanchez heading into 2018 were high, and he fell well short of meeting them.
2018 Statistics: 89 games, 374 plate appearances, .186/.291/.406, 18 home runs, 53 RBI, 51 runs, 35 extra-base hits, 1.2 WAR, 89 wRC+
2019 Contract Status: Pre-arbitration; (arbitration eligible: 2020, free agent: 2023)
Despite logging only 653 innings behind the dish, Sanchez led the majors with 18 passed balls in 2018. 24 backstops caught more frames while allowing fewer. Since his blocking issue was well known, heading into the season we hoped that Sanchez would work on it and consequently show some improvement in this area. Unfortunately, he regressed, having allowed 16 passed balls over 881 frames during the 2017 campaign.
Even so, Sanchez has proven to be a strong defensive catcher overall. He compiled six DRS in 2018, good for sixth in MLB. That just demonstrates how good Sanchez is in every area besides blocking. He has a laser for an arm, quality framing skills, and pitchers love the way he calls games. His prowess in these areas makes his lack of progress with blocking even more frustrating.
The consternation over his defense was matched by the dismay with his offensive performance. Of the 232 players with as many plate appearances, only 30 produced a lower on-base percentage, while just Chris Davis hit for a worse batting average. Even Sanchez’s slugging percentage was well below league average — not what we expect from hitter with his kind of power. Among catchers, Sanchez ranked 14th out of 18 in OPS.
The man who Alex Rodriguez once called the best overall hitter on the Yankees was anything but. Sanchez batted .197 on balls in play, a sharp contrast to Aaron Judge’s team-leading .368. Consistently coming up short in clutch situations, Sanchez slashed only .125/.256/.319 in 86 high-leverage plate appearances.
It’s perplexing, considering the tremendous power Sanchez has exhibited. He cracked the second-hardest hit ball of 2018, and crushed a trio of home runs that traveled at least 460 feet. His 480-foot bomb off Eduardo Rodriguez during ALDS Game Two was the fifth-longest homer of the year in MLB.
The sad part about having to write this report is knowing the incredible natural talent that Sanchez possesses, but that his true potential has yet to be truly fulfilled. My hope is that Sanchez seeks some guidance in the offseason so he can get back on track next year. Perhaps A-Rod will oblige?