The 2017 season was a big year for the Yankees organization. Not only did we see the team’s prospects come up big, but their arrival rocketed the team into contention far sooner than anyone could have expected. It was also a big year for Gary Sanchez, who played his first full year in the majors. It’s too bad we weren’t able to fully appreciate it as much as we all should have.
Gary arrived in 2016, with a remarkable run that should have netted him the Rookie of the Year Award. In just 53 games, he compiled a .299/.376/.657 batting line, slugged 20 home runs, and caught 41% of all base runners. It was enough to convince Brian Cashman to trade Brian McCann away and give the job to Gary for the 2017 season, and it worked perfectly for everyone involved.
For the year, Sanchez hit .278/.345/.531 with a grand total of 33 home runs in 525 plate appearances. He hit the ball well in every regard, and did so consistently, with the month of July being the only part of the season where he struggled for a prolonged amount of time. In the end, he got an All-Star appearance and a Silver Slugger out of it, which is pretty good, you know?
This is the kind of season that fans should have been praising and celebrating, but unforeseen circumstances got in the way. The success of Gary’s 2017 season was drowned out by two different narratives. The first was the fact that, as good as he was, Aaron Judge was so much better. A season where your catcher is worth 4.4 WAR and has a 130 wRC+ should have been the talk of the town, but when you’re six-foot-seven and hit over 50 home runs, you tend to steal the show.
This is not Gary’s fault, though. What can be blamed on him are his defensive shortcomings. He threw out 38% of would-be base stealers, had no trouble calling a game, and seemed to be fine with framing pitches. What got him in trouble was his uncanny ability to let the ball get by him. In 2017, he led the league with 16 passed balls because, as everyone came to realize, he could not get in front of pitches in the dirt. Instead of blocking them with his body, he would try to back hand them and the ball would ricochet off his equipment, or he would miss completely.
While normal fans would have hopefully seen this as a place where a 24-year-old could improve for next year, Yankees fans somehow declared this to be evidence that Gary Sanchez cannot catch. This, of course, led to the second, more damning narrative of the season, declaring that somehow it was a good idea to make “defensive whiz” Austin Romine the everyday catcher and stick Gary at DH.
This obviously ignores the fact that you would be forcing Romine’s miserable bat into the lineup on purpose, but even worse it shows a lack of faith in Sanchez. He managed to hit a few well-times home runs in the playoffs, but it’s unfortunate that he couldn’t have any late-game heroics to drown out the narrative that practically dominated newspaper headlines entering postseason play. Otherwise maybe we wouldn’t have wondered about his role on the playoff roster.
In the end, Gary had a great season. If he has an identical one next year, we should all be happy. The thing about young players, though, is that they can learn as they age. Gary Sanchez already has the bat of a franchise player and most of the pieces of a competent major league catcher. He just needs the time to fix his mistakes.