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Breaking down Gary Sanchez’s recent slump

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The Yankees’ star catcher tends to run into ruts where he starts pressing, and once he relaxes will be back to normal.

New York Yankees v Boston Red Sox Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

I think it’s safe to say that Gary Sanchez didn’t care for the trip to London last weekend. In the midst of one of the most ludicrous offensive displays I’ve ever seen, the Best Catcher in Baseball reached base just three times, twice via walk. If I had told you ahead of time that the Yankees would score 29 runs in two days, you’d probably think that Sanchez had more of an impact than going 1-for-9, yet here we are.

This got me thinking about how Sanchez has played over the past few weeks, given the historic stretch he was on to begin the year. On June 15 he was riding high, with a 141 wRC+ being the best among his position, non-Twins class. Since then he’s been in a bit of a funk, all the way down to a 77 wRC+.

Slumps happen, and there’s no real point in getting too worked up about them, but I’ve always been fascinated by what drives them. Baseball is a sport where you can just run into bad luck for a week, but it’s also a sport where minor process changes can help or hurt you very quickly.

Gary’s problem hasn’t really been contact - his strikeout rate is up just one percentage point during his slump - but rather the kind of contact. His popup rate has doubled, his all-world hard hit rate has dropped 20%, and his GB/FB rate went from 0.51 on June 15 to 0.94 entering play Saturday.

But these are just numbers. It’s important to know what and why they’re being driven up. The answer lies in what Sanchez is swinging at:

Over this stretch of Gary’s slump, he has gone after far more pitches outside of the strike zone. He has done a fairly good job of making contact on those pitches, which is why his strikeout rate has stayed mostly stable, but this shows the problem with just “putting the ball in play.”

Here are two good examples of what I’m talking about. Gary chases two pitches out of the strike zone, one away and one inside. He makes contact with both of them, showing his bat-to-ball skills and reinforcing why that strikeout rate has remained constant. Still, both batted balls are just about the worst type, a weak ground ball the other way and a cheap popup, and Gary’s out easily both times.

Aggression at the plate is a good thing. As a hitter, you’re already reacting to what the pitcher is doing and you don’t want to take an even more passive role. Gary’s aggression has, I think, tripped him up over the past couple of weeks though. He was so ridiculously hot, it must be intoxicating to know you can basically stick your bat out and hit a ball 450 feet. I think that feeling has stuck with Gary and he’s just trying to do too much at the plate.

This is what we talk about when we talk about hitters adjusting. Gary was white-hot, got aggressive trying to maximize output, and that aggression has cooled him off. It’s up to him now to refocus on the strike zone, and if he does that, he shouldn’t have any problem getting back on that historic offensive pace we saw in May and June.