Despite having one of the best offensive starts for a catcher — or anyone — in baseball history, Gary Sanchez carries around a target on his back when it comes to harsh criticism. It started last season when Sanchez struggled with passed balls, leading many to unfairly overlook his incredible offensive production. This season, Sanchez has struggled at the plate, not just behind it, and his recent groin injury has only caused the anti-Sanchez community to turn up the volume. Some even rejoiced at the thought of seeing Austin Romine behind the dish on a nightly basis.
As Sanchez begins his journey back to health, now’s a good time to reflect on the early seasons of his career, and just how valuable he has been to the Yankees. To do that, it helps to take a look back at the early years of the last universally praised Yankees catcher.
Jorge Posada, whose number proudly hangs in Monument Park along with other Yankee legends of the late nineties, had some defensive problems of his own. He was a natural second baseman learning a new position at catcher. Much like Sanchez, his arm was a weapon behind the plate, but he struggled to keep the ball in front of his body. Those are just the beginning of Posada’s ties to Sanchez.
Another eerily similar situation was Posada’s offensive output through the first three months of his third season, when he struggled heavily through the first half of the 1999 campaign. At the end of June, after he had assumed regular duties behind the plate as Joe Girardi wore down, Posada was batting just .210 with seven home runs and a .377 slugging percentage.
Sanchez, now in his third season, has almost the same amount of plate appearances from 2016-18 as Posada did from 1997-99. We’ll exclude 2015 for Sanchez and 1996 for Posada, given their incredibly brief major league workload, so let’s compare the two:
Not surprisingly, Sanchez has the clear edge in power numbers, and even holds a higher batting average than Posada did through three seasons. Posada caught more games and allowed just one more passed ball than Sanchez, but the Kraken nabbed runners at a higher rate thanks to his elite arm. Despite the outrage over his passed balls, Sanchez is still slightly above league average in defensive runs, while Posada was three full runs below it, hence Sanchez’s WAR being almost twice as high as Posada’s. Had Twitter been around in the late nineties, there might have been a similar outcry against Posada.
Fortunately, Joe Torre stuck with his young catcher back in 1999, and Posada responded with four-straight All-Star appearances beginning in 2000. He also helped the Yankees to three more World Series titles. His offensive output landed him on the fringes of the Hall of Fame conversation, and his part in one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history will never be forgotten in Yankees Universe.
Who knows, had the Yankees completed their unexpected run last season and won it all, the attacks on Sanchez may be much more subdued today. Winning seems to make everyone more forgiving, for better or worse. At this point for Sanchez, it’s worse and unwarranted.
It’s time for Yankees fans to appreciate what they are able to witness in Sanchez. He is a generational talent and arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball. He has shown that for two seasons, and one extended slump shouldn’t change opinions.
Sure, some kinks need to be ironed out behind the plate, but Posada was no different. He ran into plenty of problems of his own, whether it be with coaches or teammates, and even refused to play late in his career when Girardi slotted him ninth in the order. Nobody is perfect. Posada is beloved for his part in one of the most successful runs in Yankees’ history, but his own flaws shouldn’t be forgotten, especially when looking at Sanchez and where he currently stands.
Sanchez will be out for the next month, but his return could line up with the beginning of August. That happens to be the month he took the league by storm two seasons ago. In the meantime, let’s remember that even the most treasured Yankee icons endured significant bumps in the road, and a player like Sanchez, who boasts more talent than Posada ever had, should be appreciated a lot more.