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Gary Sanchez doesn’t have far to go to be an elite catcher again

Last year was disappointing because we know how high Sanchez’s ceiling is, but there’s every reason to believe he’ll rebound.

Divisional Round - Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Usually the source for my posts is whatever random baseball thought is kicking around at a particular time. Lately, it’s positional relativity - the fact that we have to adjust our expectations for a player depending on what position he plays. One of the reasons the Yankees’ lack of production from first base over the past couple of years is so concerning is because first base tends to be a pretty offense-heavy position.

Conversely, Gary Sanchez plays a position that’s actually not very good, relatively speaking. I think as Yankee fans we’ve been spoiled, having Jorge Posada hit so proficiently behind the plate, and even Brian McCann was better than most during his brief stint in the Bronx. And of course, Gary has rewritten the book on the offensive ceiling of the modern catcher.

That ceiling was what made his 2018 so disappointing. Last year Sanchez had injury problems and just wasn’t very good when he was on the field. Still, he posted an 89 wRC+, virtually identical to the 91 wRC+ Austin Romine put up, and we were all pretty pleased with Romine’s season. That’s the power of expectations.

There’s already a lot of reason to be excited about Sanchez’s 2019, based on the fact that so much of his batted ball data screams bad luck. The other thing about a bounceback for Sanchez is, even though he wasn’t close to being a top 5 catcher in baseball last year, he doesn’t have to rebound by much to be back there again:

Gary really is that much better than other catchers over the last decade or so. Even in his bad year, he produced better on a per-PA rate and produced more power than the baseline of the field.

The good news is the projections tend to agree with that true talent assessment. Steamer pegs him for a 116 wRC+ and a three and a half win season, and PECOTA right around the same mark, although a bit more optimistic. If Gary managed 400 PAs with those kind of numbers in 2018, he would have tied Yasmani Grandal as the second best catcher in the game.

Of course, one of the things that made - and still makes - Gary so valuable is that he hit so well as a catcher. We’re right back to adjusting expectations relative to position. A great hitting catcher is rare in baseball for very obvious reasons, but it looks like most of the data points to Gary being back in that rarefied air.