The New York Yankees had an uneven season. I’m not particularly fond of the phrase “World Series or bust,” because defining success in baseball is more complex than that. But since the Bombers couldn’t even advance to the American League Championship Series and finished seven games behind the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East (in a 60-game season!) tells me that there is a lot of work to be done to catch up.
And while the sample is small, the evidence shows that Gary Sánchez was the least valuable player on the Yankees. I’m not saying that he’s beyond repair, or that he shouldn’t be the starter long-term. I’m just pointing out that, from a performance and expectations standpoint, no Yankee disappointed more than the Kraken.
Among qualifiers, Sánchez placed dead last on the Yankees when it comes to expected wOBA, or xwOBA, with .297. I should point out that he was unlucky, since there is a -.031 differential between that number and his actual wOBA (.266) but that doesn’t take away the fact that he finished in the cellar in both categories.
If we expand the criteria a little and include those who had a minimum of 50 plate appearances, Sánchez’s .297 xwOBA only surpasses that of Mike Tauchman, Miguel Andújar, and Thairo Estrada. Tauchman and Andújar were considered for the “dishonorable” mention, but Sánchez’s offensive struggles were too much to overcome even if he managed to hit ten homers in 178 plate appearances. The catcher had significantly more plate appearances than all of them.
Yes, Sánchez hit the ball really hard. He ranked in the 87th percentile in average exit velocity, in the 91st percentile in hard-hit rate, and in the 97th percentile in barrel percentage. The primary issue, however, was making consistent contact.
Sánchez had career-worst marks in swinging-strike percentage (SwStr%) with 13.8; contact percentage at 68.4; and K% at 36.0. His 69 wRC+ was also, by far, a career-low, as is his -0.1 fWAR, a mark that was only better than Tauchman, Estrada, Andújar and Mike Ford (all part-time players) on the team.
Overall, Sánchez slashed .147/.253/.365 with a .271 wOBA in 49 games and 178 plate appearances. He hit the 10 dingers, scored 19 runs and drove in 24. He was even worse in the playoffs, with a .125/.111/.500 line, a .220 wOBA, a 34 wRC+, and an ugly 44.4 K%.
For all the work that Sánchez put in the offseason to be a better defensive catcher (he did manage to put a positive 2.2 defense value, per FanGraphs), he was still a liability in the framing department (finishing in the 37th percentile, according to Baseball Savant). Kyle Higashioka’s blocking prowess, coupled with Sánchez’s offensive struggles, prompted the Yankees to bench the latter in favor of the former for most of the playoffs.
Of course, a 60-game season isn’t enough sample to conclude that Sánchez is finished. After all, he still has a 117 career wRC+. But for all intents and purposes, he was the least valuable Yankee in 2020.