One of the most consistent performers of the 2018 Yankees has been Gary Sanchez. The 25-year-old catcher is having another excellent season in the batter’s box and continues to add to his resume as one of the most impressive youngsters in the MLB.
However, questions continue to persist about Sanchez on the defensive side of things. Does he allow too many balls to get by him? How well does he work with the pitchers? Should he be benched for the more steady Austin Romine in a crucial game?
These questions are fair to ask, but when you look at the big picture, Sanchez, in just his third season, is already the American League’s top catcher by far.
Offensively, Gary Sanchez is leaps and bounds above the rest of the MLB’s catchers. In 2017, Sanchez led catchers in home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, extra-base hits and slugging percentage. He is leading all catchers in all of the above categories this year, plus walks. Sanchez is earning more respect around the league, and is becoming a better hitter.
In a lineup that includes Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius and Gleyber Torres, some are saying Sanchez is the most feared hitter of the bunch. He has a 1.070 OPS with runners in scoring position, and is punishing lefties to the tune of a .278/.409/.639 triple slash. Some point to his low batting average and high number of strikeouts as a detractor, but he is no different from any of the other hitters in the majors during a time when strikeouts are at an all-time high.
No one is debating the impact Sanchez can have with the bat. While Sanchez is undoubtedly the best offensive catcher in the game though, his defense seems to always be under scrutiny. David Cone recently went on a so-called “rant” about Sanchez’s defense, in which he defended the catcher and said that the debate about his league-leading passed balls is “overblown.”
The fact right now is that no catcher has allowed more wild pitches or passed balls than Sanchez these past two years. But Sanchez is just 25! Growing pains happen, especially for catchers. He is taking steps to improve as a blocker, and he has other value as a catcher in his plus throwing arm and ability to frame pitches.
Sanchez is said to be crouching lower in the zone, allowing him to get down and block those breaking pitches in the dirt that the Yankees love to throw so much. While that adjustment is hard to see, Sanchez, with the exception of some recent hiccups, has looked better behind the plate this year. At the very least, no Yankee pitcher is scared to bounce a two-strike curveball with a runner on third anymore.
One redeeming factor for Sanchez on defense is his throwing arm. Opponents have learned not to run on Gary Sanchez. As a rookie in 2016, opponents attempted about .89 stolen bases per game caught for Sanchez. He threw out over 40 percent of would-be thieves. Since then, runners are only attempting to steal .56 bases per game, and while his caught-stealing percentage has dropped slightly, it is still well above league average.
Another area where Sanchez excels is in pitch framing. Among a sample of catchers who have caught at least 500 pitches, Sanchez is among the ten best catchers in terms of catching balls in the zone for strikes. While this seems easy, every umpire has a different read of the zone and sometimes pitches that look like strikes are ruled as balls. This human error can sometimes turn a game around. But with Sanchez, he won’t let his pitcher down; if it’s in the zone, it’ll be a strike with Gary behind the plate.
Sanchez is also able to help his pitcher out by stealing strikes. He is slightly above league average in getting strikes called on pitches outside the zone, ahead of stars like Buster Posey and Salvador Perez, and old friends Russell Martin and Brian McCann. These are all catchers well-respected for their defensive ability, and Sanchez is ahead of them in some key metrics. Sanchez’s pitch-framing numbers have improved every year he’s been in the league too.
Sanchez is becoming a big league catcher, not just a backstop who crouches behind the plate and catches the pitches. He has worked very hard at his growth as a receiver over his career, from the minors through the big leagues, and the results are noticeable.
Gary Sanchez is the first starting catcher the Yankees have developed since Jorge Posada. Posada was a fan favorite, and was also a bat-first catcher, like Sanchez. Posada though, did not receive the criticism that Sanchez has for his defense.
Posada was always among the league leaders in passed balls, and his throwing arm was clutch, but statistically below-average. Posada’s legacy however, is as one of the great Yankee catchers, and deservedly so! His consistent offense, clubhouse leadership, and late-game clutch covered up his average defense and made him a 5-time All-Star who is immortalized in Monument Park.
This is the same pattern to success for Gary Sanchez. History is repeating itself 20 years later, as Sanchez has become the heir apparent to Posada. They are very similar types of players, and Sanchez is even more gifted offensively and with his throwing arm. Historically, Sanchez is on track to rank among the Yankee greats behind the plate.
It’s a no-brainer that Gary Sanchez will start for the American League in the All-Star Game this year and for many years to come. Other than Buster Posey, who is on his way to the Hall of Fame, no other contemporary catcher even comes close to Sanchez’s skill level.
It’s about time that the baseball world opens its eyes and acknowledges it.