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Jarrell: Making Sense of Sánchez’s Rough Start

While the first nine games of the chaotic 2020 baseball season have solidified the Yankees’ claim to the title of team to beat in the American League, they have not been kind to Gary Sánchez. There’s no reason to sugarcoat it: the two-time All-Star, fastest player to 100 home runs in AL history, and people’s choice for 2016 Rookie of the Year has been flat-out awful. He’s been arguably the Yankees’ worst hitter and one of the worst players in the game, sporting a batting average below .100 and a ludicrous .172 expected wOBA, in the bottom 1% of all qualifying hitters. Sánchez has become known for lengthy, brutal slumps, so this isn’t anything new, but I don’t think it’s ever been less fun to watch him work.

The problems plaguing Sánchez so far aren’t surprising; the areas of his offensive profile that writers have chronicled and criticized for years are still there. We know he’s going to whiff, and he’s doing that a lot. We also know he’s going to chase pitches out of the zone, and he’s doing that too. But his swing rate and zone swing rate are the lowest figures he’s ever posted. So not only is he chasing and whiffing at his normal clip, but he’s also generally swinging the bat less. If you’re going to be selective, you better make your swings count. Sánchez is emphatically doing the opposite.

But to reiterate, we’re used to this. From time to time, Gary is afflicted with timing issues. Those who have watched him closely for many seasons can identify the symptoms right away. It looks like he’s trying to guess the pitch instead of reading the spin. His hips fly open early. He swings through hittable pitches. He looks at strike three. This is a strange year and many players are out of sorts, plus we’re talking about a single-digit sample of games, so the long layoff may be partially to blame. Whatever the cause, he’s been a black hole in the otherwise monstrously productive lineup.

Those who have read my work in the past know that I’ll defend Sánchez to the death, and that’s not about to change now. As bad as he’s looked so far – and he has looked very, very bad – there are reasons to believe he’ll turn it around. Out-of-sorts Sánchez is still demonstrating some of the attributes that make him an elite hitter and fueled his rise to the upper echelon of offensive catchers. He’s averaging over 93 MPH on his eleven batted balls, a mark that would actually be the highest in a career full of inflated exit velocity. He isn’t popping up much or hitting weak ground balls. We haven’t seen him barrel up a pitch yet, but the fact that even the most compromised version of Sánchez is still hitting the ball harder than all but 38 other qualified hitters is a powerful testament to his abilities. Once he tweaks his approach, he’s going to get back to mashing dingers. It’s a matter of when, not if.

There’s no more Austin Romine to shout for – Gary Sánchez is the team’s catcher of the present and the future. The organization has committed to its backstop, and the odd slump or two, no matter how brutal they may look, are not a reason to pull the plug on a guy who has set records for offensive achievement at his position. By the middle of this month, he’ll have rebounded and fans will have to go back to complaining about his defense. And don’t look now, fans, but that’s improving too. He’s boasting career-high framing statistics, particularly his strike rate below the zone, which at 63.8 percent is good for 12th in baseball. I want to live in a world in which Sánchez is universally recognized as one of the game’s top catchers. Painfully slow start to 2020 notwithstanding, we’re moving closer to that reality.

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