Last season was most certainly one to forget for Gary Sánchez. In 49 games, he hit .147/.253/.365 with a 68 wRC+ and -0.1 fWAR. As a result, it’s fair to say that a large group of fans were ready to wave the white flag on the now 28-year-old catcher, and possibly rightfully so. However, Sánchez has quietly worked his way back to a more than serviceable backstop — especially with his bat — and deserves to continue to remain in the lineup for the Bombers.
Looking at his numbers from Opening Day to May 1st, Sánchez’s .180 batting average and two homers weren’t enough for him to be stapled in there as the starting catcher everyday. Kyle Higashioka quickly jumped him to earn at least a split of the playing time, as Higgy owned a 192 wRC+ with four long balls through the first month of the year. However, that trend didn’t last for long. Since the first day of May, Higashioka is repping a 36 wRC+ and .222 OBP. On the flip side, Gary owns a 120 wRC+ and .333 OBP since then. For reference, Higgy’s 36 wRC+ is dead-last on the team since May 1st, while Sánchez’s 120 wRC+ is the fourth-best (min. 50 PA).
We know that Higashioka has been a “personal catcher” to some of the starting rotation — especially to the likes of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole. However, Sánchez has caught 10 of the last 14 games for New York, which is a recognition by the team of how Gary is back to being the starter behind the dish and slowly drifting away from personal catchers. Now, I’m not going to tell you that Sánchez is a better defender and calls a better game than Higashioka because we know that’s not necessarily true — Higgy sits in the 93rd percentile for pitch framing while Gary is in the 27th percentile. But the Yankees’ offense has been so stale outside of the most recent series against the Minnesota Twins that a respectable bat in the lineup is going to hold more weight than how a player performs in the field.
There’s also a notable difference in exit velocity between the two catchers. Using that same time span of May 1st-June 10th, Higashioka’s exit velo has dipped from 90.1 mph in May to 85.2 mph in June. On the other hand, Sánchez has gone from 89 mph to 95.7 mph. Gary is seeing the ball a lot better and getting much better wood on it than he had been last month.
All in all, Sánchez has really come around and has had a major bounce-back since his slow start and horrendous 2020 season. In an offense that is ranked 13th out of 15 American League teams in total runs scored this year, Gary’s bat needs to remain in the lineup in order to start making positive strides. Especially looking at the AL East, the Yanks are only three games above .500 and currently six games behind the Tampa Bay Rays for the top spot in the division.
Is it still early to look at standings? Probably. But we’re seven weeks away from the trade deadline and if the Hal Steinbrenner and Brian Cashman want to make an impact move, they’re going to need to pick up the pace over the next month and a half. More playing time for Sánchez should be key to that goal.