It’s no secret that Gary Sanchez hasn’t gotten off to the hottest of starts. As of the writing of this article, Sanchez owns a slash line of .140/.157/.400, which translates into a wRC+ of 46. I expected many things from Sanchez this year, but I have to admit, “being marginally better than Billy McKinney” wasn’t one of them.
Of course, it’s a long season, and Sanchez is bound to snap out of his current slump. At the same time, though, it’s still worth taking a deep dive into the numbers to figure out what’s causing this cold streak. I’ll examine contact quality and plate discipline numbers to find out what’s going on.
The first thing I look at when I’m researching a slumping player is BABIP and contact quality. If a player is getting unlucky on some hard hit balls, his contact quality numbers should be all right despite a low BABIP. f something is truly off with the player, it should show up in both his contact quality and his BABIP.
The numbers suggest that Sanchez falls into the latter category, as his abysmal .108 BABIP is accompanied by an increase in soft contact rate (22.5%, up 3.9 points from last year) and a decrease in hard contact rate (32.5%, down 4.4 points). In other words, Sanchez isn’t just getting unlucky; there’s something wrong under the hood.
Why the decline in contact quality? The answer, it seems, is that Sanchez is swinging at, and making more contact with, pitches out of the strike zone. According to Pitch Info Solutions’ data, Sanchez has experienced noticeable gains in his O-Swing rate (33.9%, up .2 from last year) and O-Contact rate (59.5%, up .5) Making more contact with balls rather than strikes isn’t exactly ideal, as those are generally harder to drive with authority. That’s unless, say, you’re Vladimir Guerrero. Sanchez isn’t picking good pitches to hit, and his contact quality is worse for it.
Swinging at junk instead of pouncing for the right offering is a sign of pressing too much at the plate. This is true in Sanchez’s case, too, as his other stats suggest that his approach is deteriorating. Though Sanchez’s overall swing rate hasn’t increased, he has yet to draw a walk this year, which is a telltale sign of a player desperate for results.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Sanchez’s slump isn’t entirely his own doing: pitchers are pitching him differently as well. To put it bluntly, pitchers have simply decided not to throw strikes to Sanchez. So far in 2018, only 40.4% of the pitches Sanchez has seen were in the strike zone, compared to 43.2% for his career.
From a pitcher’s perspective, this change makes too much sense. Given that Sanchez is one of the most powerful hitters in baseball, attacking him in the zone is a dangerous game to play. However, while Sanchez is far from an outright hacker, plate discipline has never been his strong suit. Even last year, he owned the 39th-highest O-Swing rate and 55th-highest swing rate in all of baseball. If Sanchez is prone to chasing balls, why not pitch around him and coax him into swinging at junk? So far this year, pitchers have taken this strategy to the extreme, and Sanchez hasn’t been able to adjust accordingly.
In sum, Sanchez’s slump can be seen as a confluence of two factors: him pressing at the plate, and pitchers not giving him strikes to hit. If Sanchez wants to break out of his slump, he has to show patience at the plate and force pitchers to throw strikes. The good news is that, even though Sanchez is pressing, he still knows what to do when a meatball finds its way down his pipe. I’m sure David Price agrees with that statement, too.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.com