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Gary Sánchez’s latest adjustment has him in a slightly better place

While imperfect, the Yankee catcher’s addition of a pre-pitch toe-tap has marginally improved his awful timing.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

After being one of the best fastball hitters in the majors in his breakout 2017 campaign, Gary Sánchez has devolved into one of the league’s worst. Despite having slightly more success this season than in last year’s putrid campaign, it’s not due to his improvement against fastballs. In fact, to date Gary’s yet again had the worst performance of his career against four-seamers.

Gary Sanchez

Year wOBA vs. Four-seam fastballs
Year wOBA vs. Four-seam fastballs
2017 0.41
2018 0.382
2019 0.342
2020 0.323
2021 0.286

Far too often, Sánchez finds himself so late to fastballs, in fastball counts, that he ends up fouling them off or swinging and missing entirely. I’ve discussed the mechanical culprit for Sánchez’s tardiness before this season, and I don’t intend to do so again, especially considering that he’s made an adjustment over the past week.

Before his recent change, Gary would often take swings like these:

Here’s a 1-0 fastball at a meager 92.1 mph, but still Sánchez is eons late. By the time he gets his front foot down after that massive leg kick, the ball’s already by him. Without an earlier plant, he just doesn’t have enough time to get his barrel into the zone on time to meet the ball out in front of his body.

On May 11th against the Rays, Sánchez added a toe-tap precipitating his leg kick for the first time this season. While the sample since the adjustment is still incredibly small, the early returns at first appear relatively promising. In eight plate appearances, Sánchez has reached base four times, with three hits, a homer, and three strikeouts. His .750 BABIP and .614 wOBA reek of unsustainability, but the xwOBA of .425 seems to suggest there’s at least a little something there.

On his first day with the toe-tap, Sánchez went 1-for-4 with a homer, his first against a fastball since Opening Day:

While a 91.9 mph sinker on a 2-0, fastball count isn’t exactly the kind of pitch built to beat a batter to the zone, taking advantage of Sánchez’s tardy tendencies, the swing he put on this pitch was a heck of a lot better than the whiff featured above. The toe-tap forces Sánchez to start his rhythm earlier than the straight leg kick, and the lower lift of the leg allows him to put it down quicker than he previously could have. This minor adjustment seems to have built in a little bit more breathing room than Sánchez previously had in his swing.

However, he’s still been beat on the inner-third in a way that simply wouldn’t happen to a better-timed hitter:

Here, Sánchez lucks into a 62.8 mph fisted flare-job against the shift that Brandon Lowe was unable to cleanly corral. At 41 years old, Rich Hill’s offerings simply shouldn’t beat Sánchez to the inner half of the plate under any circumstances. However, Sánchez was late on an even slower one right down the middle two pitches prior, and another earlier in the game despite each pitch failing to crack 90 mph.

While Sánchez’s new toe-tap may have improved his timing to a certain degree, he’s still not where he needs to be to remain a consistently effective cornerstone of the Yankees’ lineup. To offset his precipitous decline in production against opponents’ heaters, Sánchez has been better-than-average against breaking pitches, especially hanging sliders. In order to regain the overall offensive effectiveness he has showed in the past, he needs to implement mechanical adjustments that will allow for improved rhythm to be on time for fastballs, and still let him hammer off-speed mistakes the way he has.

For a counter-example of how Sánchez should look, check out the way a peak-roided Alex Rodriguez is able to set his foot and just wait until it’s time for him to swing.

A-Rod gets his heel down in time for a fastball, but simply holds his stretched, post-stride position until it’s time to swing as the eephus enters the hitting zone. The eephus is a bit of an extreme example for an offspeed offering, but the mechanics are clearly on display. While this takes preternatural strength and coordination that most people simply don’t have, Sánchez has proven more than capable of the former half of that equation.

Even in his worst seasons, Sánchez’s max exit velocity has been among the league’s very best. He’s got ample power to forfeit some in favor of a slightly stretched out biomechanical chain. If he were to plant his foot earlier, he’d no longer preclude himself from being on-time to fastballs the way he so often does now. If he were able to separate his plant from the firing of his swing some more, the way A-Rod does in the above example, he’d still be able to do plenty of damage against off-speed pitches he’d have to wait a bit longer on.