The 2019 Yankees season has been marred by injuries. Players have gone down left and right to the point where Triple-A veterans like Mike Ford, Mike Tauchman and Gio Urshela are batting in the middle of the order.
It’s not an ideal look for the Yankees, who came into the season with World Series expectations and are now just 13-10 and clinging to a wild card playoff spot. While the team has persevered, it was never in the cards for this team at any point to be chasing the Tampa Bay Rays.
Luckily, reinforcements are on the way. Gary Sanchez is back, and the Yankees need him to keep hitting like he did before his injury to go from a team “staying afloat” to a team that closer resembles expectations.
Now, Sanchez alone is not going to will the Yankees back to a 100-win pace. However, he goes a long way in giving the lineup some much-needed thump. Consider the lineup that the Yankees ran out against Kansas City on Sunday:
I don’t know what’s worse: Brett Gardner batting third, Mike Tauchman batting fifth, or Gio Urshela batting sixth. Yet, that lineup has done better than expected! The Yankees have gotten exceptional production from the bottom of the order, and have unlocked something out of Tauchman and Urshela. The replacements have done the job, as the Yankees have won seven of their last eight contests.
Of course though, this should not be expected to last. As great as it is to see Tauchman and Urshela drive in runs, that is not a sustainable business model. Guys like DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres, who got off to fast starts, are falling back to earth, and those are quality MLB players. The falls of the Fords, Tauchmans and Urshelas are likely coming soon.
Here’s where Sanchez comes in. The Yankees’ lineup without him features maybe one legitimate power threat in Luke Voit, with very little protection around him. Now that Sanchez is back, the Yankees are starting to re-assemble a middle of the order.
If LeMahieu or Gardner leads off, Voit bats second (a spot he has taken kindly to in place of Aaron Judge), then Sanchez bats third. Gleyber Torres and the one of LeMahieu/Gardner who isn’t leading off provide middle of the order protection.
That’s certainly not the best top-six lineup in the MLB, but it’s one that at least tops the Rays by a long shot:
After that top six for the Yankees, it’s a mishmash of Tauchman, Urshela, Ford, Austin Romine and Tyler Wade for the bottom three spots. Whereas the Yankees couldn’t legitimately compete with all five of those guys in the lineup, they can deal with fielding three of them on any given day, and slotting them deep in the lineup where they’ll receive less plate appearances.
All of this sounds great, but it’s all contingent on Sanchez being an impact player at the plate. Fortunately, all the signs point to Sanchez being his old self after a disappointing 2018. Through an 11-game sample size, Sanchez’s strikeout rate is down (20%), and his power is absolutely through the roof. His hard contact percentage (53.1%) and fly ball percentage (62.5%) are way up, resulting in more extra-base hits.
Other elements of Sanchez’s offensive profile make it seem like these improvements are real, and not just small-sample size luck. He’s done all of this damage while posting a minuscule walk rate (4.4%), a very poor BABIP (.192) and swing data (chase rate, contact rate) very similar to his career averages. Imagine what he can do if the walk rate and BABIP climb higher to his career norms. Maybe health really was all that was wrong with Sanchez last year, after all.
For all the concern that fans have about the Yankees’ depth, they will only go as far as their stars will take them. Gary Sanchez is one of the Yankees’ biggest stars, and he’s the first one to come back from the IL. If he can continue hitting the way he did before the injury, he will restore some balance and fear in the order. He won’t have his usual cadre of lineup protection behind him, but Sanchez has carried the Yankees’ offense before.
Gary Sanchez re-establishing himself as one of the Yankees’ top bats and the team getting back on pace in the division race go hand in hand. It’s time for Gary Sanchez to shine.