Even though the Yankees weren’t able to add pieces at the trade deadline to improve their chance for home-field advantage, the team will not go without reinforcements. The injured list will offer a plethora of options for the organization as they look to achieve this goal.
Gary Sanchez represents the latest player to return from the IL, where he has been sidelined since July 23 with a groin injury. When players landed on the injured list left and right earlier this season, Sanchez consistently hit in the middle of the lineup, carrying the team’s offense. From the beginning of the season until June 21, Sanchez hit for the highest wRC+ on the team at 148, combined with a ridiculous isolated power mark of .368.
Unfortunately, from June 22 through the day he landed on the injured list, Sanchez became the least productive Bomber.
Gary Sanchez Slump
Somehow Sanchez’s ability to put balls in the air just disappeared. In his first 235 plate appearances of the season, Sanchez was able to hit about half his batted balls for fly balls. During his slump, however, that figure dropped to about 35%.
Not only has Sanchez lost the ability to put the balls in the air, but when he does, the production isn’t as dominant as it was before. Considering Sanchez was able to hit fly balls with an exit velocity of 98 mph during his tear, he then slashed that mark to 88.8 mph since June 23.
Secondly, his inability to hit for power has a strong correlation with concerning plate discipline trends. With a 42.1 O-swing percentage, Sanchez was hunting for pitches outside of the zone more than any other Bomber in this span. He placed percentage points in front of Gio Ursehla, but the difference is Urshela was swinging at pitches inside the zone about 20% more often than Sanchez.
Organizations and their pitchers started to realize that Sanchez was trending towards one of the most power-filled individual seasons of this decade, and they simply just stopped throwing the ball in the zone. Not only does Sanchez have the lowest zone percentage compared to all Yankees with more than 200 plate appearances this season, it’s the lowest in the league entirely.
Furthermore, during his slump, opposing pitcher threw a pitch in the zone about 30% of the time. Usually power hitters are pitched to carefully, and that’s understandable, but allow me to offer some context. Out of all the current qualified hitters in the major leagues, Pete Alonso has the lowest zone percentage in at 36%. Considering the league average is 42%, both these slugger weren’t getting much to offer at, but opposing pitchers took it a step further against Sanchez. The plan worked by consistently increasing his outside swing percentage.
Since June 23, there have been other slight changes with the approach pitchers have had against Sanchez. Hurlers are throwing a bit higher in the strike zone, and their breaking-ball usage against him has increased by about six percent. Nevertheless, the most glaring change has been the approach pitchers have presented by avoiding the strike zone, and the lack of discipline Sanchez has shown during these at-bats.
We might never know whether a groin issue was lingering during his slump considering he has landed on the injured list with a similar injury before. After fulfilling his rehab assignment, hopefully the Yankees get to witness the return of the Kraken.
The good thing is that fans have seen Sanchez bounce back and become the hitter the whole league fears. Right now would be the best time for him to unleash an August tear, helping the team achieve the goal of home-field advantage. Luke Voit and Edwin Encarnacion look like they won’t be back for a while, leaving the Yankees with a power shortage as Giancarlo Stanton is on the road to recovery as well. Sanchez doesn’t need to be the hitter with a .368 ISO mark he was earlier, but anything close to it would give the Yankees an extra boost in having the best record in the league at seasons end.