When Gary Sanchez went down with a groin strain, the Yankees lost a tremendous player. He has had a disappointing season — hitting just .191 — but his on-base skills, power, and strong arm and framing still make him extremely valuable behind the plate. Going forward, he is unquestionably one of the best backstops in the game.
Losing him stings. Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka cannot compare. That being said, Sanchez’s injury is probably not a huge short-term concern. If the Yankees stick to their plan and play things a little conservatively, they are positioned to deal with Sanchez’s loss without much trouble.
Sanchez has a grade-one groin strain, and has been given a three-to-four week timetable for recovery. Complications certainly could arise, but that time frame should be sufficient for Sanchez to heal.
I searched for other instances of players suffering grade-one groin strains, and the only time over the past three years that a player missed more than a few weeks was AJ Pollock last season. He missed six weeks. Khris Davis missed a couple weeks earlier this year with a grade-one strain. Lorenzo Cain just suffered a strain and expects to miss the minimum ten days after being place on the DL. A grade-one strain, the least severe grade, appears manageable over the course of just a couple weeks.
Waiting until after the All-Star Break would give Sanchez about four weeks, which, based on precedent, should be sufficient. That would leave the Yankees without Sanchez for 20 games, or an eighth of the season. The difference between Sanchez and his replacements, despite the massive gap in talent, is barely noticeable over the course of an eighth of a season.
Sanchez has been worth 8.8 fWAR since 2016, in 1018 plate appearances. That spits out a rate of nearly five WAR per 550 plate appearances. Sanchez is basically a five-win player, while Romine and Higashioka are essentially the definition of replacement level.
If this were a season-long injury, the drop from Sanchez to his backups would be huge. Over the course of 20 games, the difference is, in all likelihood, about a half of a win above replacement.
We can turn to playoff odds for further comfort. On Sunday, before Sanchez was injured, the Yankees had a 100% chance of making the playoffs, and a 69% of winning the AL East according to FanGraphs. After his injury? Their odds of making the playoffs remained at 100%. Their divisional odds fell to 68%.
This is because of the Yankees’ overwhelmingly talented roster. Before Sanchez got hurt, FanGraphs put the Yankees second in projected WAR for the rest of the season, just barely behind the Astros, with more than two WAR separating the Yankees from the third-place Red Sox. Even after the loss of Sanchez, the Yankees are just half a win behind Houston in projected WAR, and still two WAR clear of Boston.
That the drop from Sanchez to Romine and company over that period could be so little highlights fundamental truths about baseball. There is only so much influence one human can exert on the game, no matter how great (also see: Mike Trout and the Angels every season). There are nine players in a lineup, and all must bat in their turn. There is no putting the ball in the best player’s hands at the end of the game, no quarterback equivalent in terms of overwhelming value. It takes a team.
The Yankees are in a position to withstand this. Taking it slow with Sanchez is probably smart, since letting him rest through the All-Star Break would give him nearly a month while costing the Yankees only an eighth of his season. Minimizing the risk of re-occurrence should be the Yankees’ primary goal, since in the short term, they don’t stand to lose much. Sanchez’s injury is awful, but the Yankees should be able to move forward.