I have long defended Gary Sánchez and the value he brings to the Yankees.
Sure, he’s in a season-long slump, but all it takes is one swing. Maybe last night’s game tying-home run was that swing. If you criticized his ability to block balls in the dirt, I’d contend Sánchez’s passed ball numbers have improved—they’re on par with the league average. If you called Sánchez lazy, I’d call you racist. And my apologies to those who dared complain about his defense in nonspecific terms. To those poor souls I’d rattle off catcher framing metrics I’d memorized for the express purpose of defending Sánchez.
Which is why it pains me to say: Gary Sánchez should not be the Yankees’ starting catcher in the postseason. I don’t care how far his home runs travel. A guy with a sub-80 wRC+ shouldn’t start a playoff game when there are better options available.
Considering our starting pitchers give up fewer runs when Sánchez is not catching, and given that good starting pitching is key to postseason success, I’d argue that starting Kyle Higashioka or Erik Kratz behind the dish gives the Yankees the best chance to win.
Except for Deivi García—whose ERA numbers are roughly the same whether he’s paired up with Sánchez or Kratz—Yankee starters give up fewer earned runs when their battery-mate is Kratz or Higgy.
Stats of Yankees’ starting pitcher-catcher batteries in 2020
Gerrit Cole’s superior outings with Higgy, for example, have led to the general assumption that Higgy will be Cole’s personal catcher. Tanaka’s earned run average this year has been significantly lower when pitching to Kratz (ERA 1.74) and Higgy (ERA 3.0) than it’s been when pitching to Gary (ERA 3.9). And although the sample size is small, Happ pitched seven scoreless innings with Kratz behind the plate in the game against the Mets on August 29. The small sample size is also bigger than it looks, as Kratz caught Happ while both were on the Blue Jays a few years ago. The two are probably used to working together.
1️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ career MLB wins for Gerrit Cole pic.twitter.com/BWbTOnWUZa— YES Network (@YESNetwork) September 17, 2020
The depth of the Yankees’ starting rotation is now being tested. With no off days for travel during the ALDS, it’s possible the Yankees will start the postseason playing five games in a row. The Yankees will need their starters to give them length in those outings.
Without that length from their starters, the Yankees will find it hard to reduce the strain and workload on their relievers. Bullpen overuse spelled the Yankees’ downfall against the Astros in the 2019 ALCS; prioritizing stellar starting pitching performances could prevent them from making the same mistake twice.
Don’t get me wrong—I love watching Sánchez hit bombs. What he can do is special and really fun to watch. His power is impressive, but what good does it do when he’s batting .154? His framing ability and arm strength aren’t elite enough to make up for his strikeout rate. And his ability to hit home runs seems a little beside the point if the Yankees fall behind and need to pull their starter in the third inning.
All five of the Yankees’ probable starting pitchers tend to give up fewer earned runs when Sánchez is not behind the plate. That alone is reason enough to start Higgy in the ALDS. Factor in Sánchez’s weak bat and it becomes harder to substantiate starting him. It’s true that he is always a home run threat, but there are a number of Yankee hitters who can pick up the slack in that regard.
Sánchez is supremely talented. His power is so special. But he’s not the guy I want up in a high-pressure situation. He looks extremely lost and off balance in so many of his at-bats in 2020. He deserves credit for hitting a dinger over the Green Monster in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game on Friday night, but his heroics would carry more weight if the Red Sox weren’t so bad.