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The Yankees are banking on Gary Sanchez improving behind the plate

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The Bombers’ starting catcher will be looking to excel at framing, blocking and throwing, all at the same time

New York Yankees v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

Framing is known as the art of stealing strikes. With guile, fluid movements and even a little bit of acting and psychology, the best catchers in the game can swing the balance of a count and greatly influence the outcome of an at-bat.

Gary Sanchez is among the best offensive performers at his position in the major leagues. Maybe even the best. Since making his debut with the New York Yankees five years ago, he has a .246/.328/.518 line with a 123 wRC+, 105 home runs and 262 RBI in 372 games.

His framing, however, has been all over the place during his still-short career. It plummeted to the 30th percentile in 2019 per Baseball Savant, after ranking in the 72nd percentile in 2018. It was in the 44th percentile in 2017 and in the 75th percentile in 2016. What are the takeaways of that part of his game? Well, he lacks consistency. That’s where new catching coach Tanner Swanson comes into play (you can learn more about Swanson here.)

Swanson has, among his many assignments, an interesting project: making framing a strong part of Gary Sanchez’s game. That could benefit the entire pitching staff.

Statcast had Sanchez generating a minus-4 rating in framing runs saved last year (49th overall) and a 47 percent called strike ratio on borderline pitches, below the league average. When the 2019 season ended, it was fair to say that his offensive game was way above his defense, at least according to the numbers.

Making adjustments

After spring training was halted due to concerns about the coronavirus, Swanson outlined a plan for Sanchez to follow at home in the Dominican Republic. The backstop frequently shared videos of his training with Swanson for him to see his progress.

So far, according to what Sanchez told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch, he has matured and learned the craft.

“I definitely feel the improvement. I want to say that I definitely have gotten better, especially with pitches low in the zone. At the same time, we still have a lot of work to be done ahead of us. But that’s why we’re here, to keep improving.”

Swanson and Sanchez would talk weekly during the stoppage. “He has a training facility back home that that he utilizes, so he would send me video and I’d provide feedback,” Swanson said. “Occasionally we’d jump on a Zoom call together and discuss certain variations of some of the positions and moves he was working through. Overall, the downtime was really positive, because it allowed Gary to explore some of the positions and figure out how he could adapt them to his own style.”

Part of the new recommendations for Sanchez have been learning to catch, throw and block with his right knee anchored to the ground.

Sanchez is facing a challenge, improving his framing while maintaining the gains he had in the passed balls department. He led the league in those in 2017 and 2018 with 34 in total, but cut the number to just seven in 2019. However, his framing eroded.

“I think it’s probably just getting used to something new, something that you’ve never done before and finding the way to find your comfort zone in a new stance of receiving,” Sánchez said. “It’s a matter of just making the adjustments, keep working and eventually getting to where you feel really comfortable.”

Will Sanchez be able to make the necessary adjustments to excel at framing, blocking and throwing? We are about to find out.