In many ways, this season should be considered a success for Gary Sánchez. Despite it being a typical up and down season for the Yankee backstop, he has certainly rebounded from his dismal 2020 shortened season where he slashed .147/.253/.365 and the fanbase drowned in doubts about his future with the team. He ranks 12th in fWAR and eighth in wRC+ among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances.
I mentioned that Sánchez has had an up and down season thus far. He started the season with a bang, hitting homeruns in the first two games. After that, he struggled a bit and ended up with an 86 wRC+ in the first month. To put it bluntly, he was open to changes. He needed to be! His struggles lasted long enough without him making any concrete adjustments at the plate.
After consulting with Marcus Thames, they came about a conclusion. He quieted down his load a ton, mainly through his leg kick. I wrote about this back in early July, following one of the best months of his career where he killed it for a 173 wRC+. Basically, the adjustment was in the leg kick. His leg lift and descension had become too hitchy — it was segmented and throwing off his energy transfer in his body. Let’s take a look. The first swing was pre-adjustment and the second is post-adjustment.
The second swing is amazing (and of course looks who it’s off). He got rid of the wasted movement in the previous gather and began his internal rotation with his lead hip earlier in the process. Since he was struggling with fastballs in general, this adjustment was needed. As an extremely powerful rotator, Sánchez needs to give himself ample time to make swing decisions. The new leg lift lets him do exactly that.
Unfortunately, the rhythm and success did not last very long. He followed up his amazing month with a 67 wRC+ in July and has been about the same hitter in terms of production in August. His power has completely disappeared. Four home runs in July and August combined after eight home runs in June is mind boggling. This may be the longest power slump in his career.
What could possibly happen to a swing so suddenly that would lead to this? It’s confusing really. I’d expect him to have a gradual slow down as pitchers figured him out, but it happened so abruptly. Is the swing different? Perhaps. But he’s also had a rough month and a half when it comes to health. After suffering from back spasms in late July he contracted COVID-19 — that’s a tough stretch for a player coming off a stellar month.
That being said, it’s necessary to look at the swing to see if the injury and illness had negative effects. Here is a single to left on August 28th against Yusmeiro Petit:
And another single against Charlie Morton from August 24th:
Both of these swings went for hits because of the shift, but neither are particularly aesthetically pleasing. Remember before when I said his old, big leg kick was segmented? His entire lead up to the lift is now segmented. It’s so weird to see this version of the former All-Star catcher. I know he has always had extremely loud movements, but I’ve always believed those movements to be fluid. His upper and lower body used to be connected, even during the struggles. Now, it almost looks robotic.
He abruptly raises his barrel in preparation for the pitch, then combs the barrel, then rotates his hips too early and in the wrong direction. Combine all that and it looks like a hitter who is thinking way too internally. What does that mean? It means the player is worried too much about their body movements and not enough about what he wants to do with the ball. For example, thinking externally means you want to hit the ball hard in the air, or hit the ball hard to right field.
Sánchez is not doing this. Instead, he looks too worried about making contact and is very passive. The charts below back up that story:
Ah! So many groundballs and decreased aggression on pitches in the zone. I want to see the new toned down leg kick with the aggression that is Sánchez’s natural self. He is more than capable of hitting just about any pitch, especially with the mechanics we saw from June. He has an extremely quick trigger when he has the correct posture and is hunting for anything in the zone. I’m going to take you back to that swing against Heaney in June.
The comb is a little more aggressive and he creates better depth with his hips. The leg lift is more aggressive too! He’s barely picking up his leg anymore in some swings. To get into his hips, he needs to create the separation with his barrel comb and create more momentum with his leg lift. It’s tough to tell how this June swing is much more athletic in still-shot photos, so watch the videos a few times to pick up on what I’m saying. The swing has more movement, but it’s as fluid as it can be.
All that being said, Gary has definitely shown signs of improvement in recent games, especially in this home run against Jaime Barria from just a few nights ago:
This is obviously a good swing. It’s almost identical to the singles he hit in previous days except for one thing. If you lock in on his stride foot, you can see slight internal rotation. The ground balls were mostly foot up and foot down without much internal rotation of the hip. He needs this rotation to make sure he rotates in the right direction as he unloads his hips.
Gary has been criticized for being overly aggressive at times and getting very pull happy. This is helping him calm his swing down and let his power do the talking. But that’s the thing — it has sapped his power too much! To get back to where he was in June, he needs to be more aggressive with his internal rotation and bat comb to maintain his athleticism in his posture. The swing against Barria is a step in the right direction, but I’d like to see even more aggression from one of the strongest hitters in the league. He’s got some time down the stretch to get fully healthy and hone in on his mechanics. Let’s hope a hot streak is coming.