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What should the Yankees make of Gary Sánchez’s hot start?

Despite a couple of early-season bombs, El Gary has displayed some of the same tendencies at the plate that plagued him in 2020.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Gary Sanchez’s 2020 season was the kind of campaign that he’d surely like to erase from memory as quickly and fully as possible. He failed to clear the Mendoza line and posted a negative fWAR value for the first time in his career. He rarely put the ball in play, striking out more than ever, and was still terrible when he did make contact, posting the worst BABIP of his career.

As noted by my colleague Peter Brody, the biggest issue undermining Gary’s offensive production in 2020 was his inability to hammer fastballs up in the zone, something he’d been particularly skilled at in his best seasons. By starting his leg kick after the pitcher broke for the plate, Sánchez limited the amount of time he had to read the pitch and prepare his swing, leading to a career-high whiff-rate on fastballs of 33.3 percent, and a career-low wOBA against the pitch of .344. Unable to make pitchers pay for feeding him fastballs, Sánchez expanded his zone, chased offspeed offerings, and found himself on the bench through most of the playoffs.

Seeing Sánchez tee-off on the very first pitch he saw in 2021, a fastball no less, made it look like he might have figured something out — perhaps improving his timing, and therefore, his contact. Later that game, he roped a single into left, and mashed another homer the following day. While it would certainly be nice to infer a completely reversed course from the previous campaign’s struggles due to the pair of longballs he immediately delivered, Gary’s already displayed some of the qualitative issues with his approach that anchored his 2020 production.

While Sánchez did take Hyun Jin Ryu deep on a fastball, it was at the bottom of the zone, and was clocked at just 91.3 mph, not high or fast enough to catch the typically tardy Sanchez on his heels. Since then, he’s seen almost exclusively fastballs and been unable to do much with any of them. Of all 69 pitches Gary Sánchez has seen so far in the 2021 regular season, 50 of them have been some variation of a fastball: either a four-seamer, cutter, or sinker. In previous seasons, Gary’s only seen about 50 percent fastballs. This year’s outrageously high 72.5 percent of all offerings suggests that the scouting report on Sánchez is to blow him away with fastballs he won’t be able to hit. Of Sánchez’s 19 swings against fastballs, he’s missed 8 times for a 42.1 percent whiff rate, a mark that would easily be the worst of his career over a full season.

The most frustrating part about Sanchez’s squandering of his Herculean power is the high school level adjustment necessary to fix the problem. In August, Peter pointed out that Gary’s late-starting leg kick was central to his newfound struggle with heaters. Six months later, Trevor Plouffe made a video highlighting the same issue.

If Gary’s mechanical flaw is this obvious from the outside, surely the Yankees must know about it by now. If no coach has worked with him to fix it between last season and this one, they’re not doing their jobs. If they have, and Gary simply hasn’t been able to implement the adjustment, the far more likely scenario, his discretely increasing failure raises questions about any potential for a bounce-back season, with opposing pitchers continuing to increasingly exploit his glaring weakness.

If Gary wants to unleash the Kraken, like he has in each of the past two odd-numbered years, he’ll need to get his foot down on time to catch up to the baseball. Even though that seems like an incredibly simple solution, the likelihood of Sánchez’s improvement decreases with every passing day. Surely, by now he must know what he needs to do differently. If he hasn’t fixed it already, there’s not much evidence that points to it getting fixed any time soon.