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Examining the slump of Yankees star catcher Gary Sanchez

The Kraken has struggled badly in the outset of the season. What’s behind his sluggish start?

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees have played, until Monday night, nine games, and they hold an MLB-best 8-1 record. Gary Sanchez has played in eight of those games, and while his poor performance hasn’t stopped the Bombers from dominating the league, it is evident that the Kraken is struggling badly.

Yes, the sample size is extremely small, but he has only two hits and one walk in 27 plate appearances. His .080/.148/.120 line jumps at the eye, but not so much as his negative wRC+: -22!

One of the hits was a double, but it wasn’t a trademark Gary Sanchez well-struck, pulled drive. It was a fly to the opposite field:

Despite the look of that hit, the problem is not so much the quality of contact. When he does hit the ball, Gary Sanchez’ exit velocity looks like his normal self: his 93.1 mph mark would actually be his higher mark ever. His sweet-spot percentage, hard-hit rate and launch angle are not abnormal. However, he has no barrels this years after leading the league last year in Barrel % with 19.1. That certainly is an issue, but they will most likely come eventually.

The biggest issue with Sanchez this year comes down to plate discipline. His current 18.3% swinging-strike rate is, per FanGraphs, by far the worst mark of his big-league tenure. His whiff percentage is in the bottom one percent of the league, too. No one has swung and missed more than Sanchez. His contact rate is way down at 56.3%, when his career mark is 71.8%.

For his career, he has a 21.7 K% and a 8.3 BB%. Last year, he had 28% and 9%, respectively. In the small sample size of the 2020 season, he is at 51.9 K% and 3.7 BB%. Yikes. That means he has struck out in more than half of his plate appearances.

Balls and strikes: the root of the issue?

Is he letting too many strikes go by? From 2016 to 2019, Sanchez’s first-pitch strike percentage ranged between 55.1% and 58.1%. This year, it is at 63%. Overall, his swing rate on the year is ten percentage points lower than his career number (53.8% in 2020, 63.0% in total).

I am no batting coach, and I haven’t seen every Sanchez at-bat this season. But it would appear that pitchers have decided to attack him early knowing that he can be vulnerable when the count is against him, especially with breaking pitches low and away of the zone:

The end result of his at-bats has been nothing short of terrifying. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t light at the end of the tunnel.

The Yankees have talented professionals that are surely helping Sanchez make the necessary adjustments in the batters’ box. History suggests that he will get going eventually.

Do you know why I think Sanchez will wake up soon enough? Because he is a hard worker that isn’t afraid to get better if he sets his mind on it. For example, he has already improved his framing (he is in the 61st percentile in 2020) after developing a new stance. Here is Sanchez stealing a strike:

And, of course, there is the .243/.325/.511 line and the 120 wRC+ from the catcher position in his career. The adjustments could take a little while, but history is in Sanchez’s side. We can’t ignore what he has done so far, and he’s still young, at 27. He hasn’t lost it, he’s just going through an ugly slump.