In his first full season in the majors, Gary Sanchez is hitting .293/.385/.552 with 13 home runs, even after missing about a month with an arm injury. That 160 wRC+ he has currently would be better than Yankees legends Jorge Posada, Yogi Berra, and Thurmon Munson ever did in a single season. It seems like we should be celebrating his season so far, and we probably would be, if it wasn’t for Aaron Judge.
However, there is growing discussion around the topic of Gary’s defense behind the plate. Because he allowed a few balls to get by him and sometimes his pitch framing doesn’t look as sexy, some are saying his defense is a problem, but it really isn’t.
If we need to compare him directly with Austin Romine—who is not nearly as valuable a player—so be it. According to Baseball Prospectus’ advanced metrics on catching, Gary has saved 1.0 framing runs in 2017. Romine, meanwhile, has saved 3.0 framing runs. There’s no denying who is the superior framer (you could probably determine that without these numbers), but it’s important to mention that Sanchez is not a liability behind the plate.
Keeping looking beyond this one stat, and you’ll see that both backstops have been just as valuable at blocking balls in the dirt this year. Bring in Fangraphs’ defensive rating, and Gary comes out on top 2.5 to 1.2. Also, if you remember from 2016, no one could run on Gary Sanchez and his arm. His 41% caught stealing rate over 26 games was impressive. That number has dropped to 32% this year in 40 games, but it’s important to consider two factors: 1) many young players go through growing pains on all sides of the ball, and 2) he missed time with a biceps injury in his throwing arm, so that may have affected his throwing this year.
Regardless of how they shake out as individual defenders, it seems useless to compare the two directly, because Gary Sanchez will always be a much better hitter than Austin Romine, and it should be considered no coincidence that he is also the far more valuable baseball player. Romine isn’t so much better than Gary that he somehow makes his -0.4 WAR more valuable than his teammate’s 3.2 WAR.
I’ve also seen people—at least one person—declare that Gary Sanchez is so bad behind the plate that Jorge Posada was actually better than him. Guy, if you’re reading this, or you’re someone who agrees with this sentiment, please know that you are wrong. Going by Posada’s yearly defensive rating, the 2003 season was his best year behind the plate. If we use BP’s retroactive pitching-framing values, Posada only saved 2.5 framing runs in his best season. Otherwise, in 2000—his best overall season, when he was three years younger—Posada had -10 framing runs for the year.
When Gary Sanchez is that bad, then we can talk about comparing the two. Until then, it’s important to remember that Gary is still learning, still improving, and his skills are probably going to fluctuate until he is 100% comfortable with the rhythm of major league games. Remember, this is his first full season in the majors and it’s already been interrupted. We’ve seen him do well before, and we will see him succeed again. This is not something to be worried about right now.