Greg Bird, Gary Sanchez, and Luke Voit all had great two-month stints early in their Yankees careers. Who could forget seeing Bird’s sweet swing and thinking he was the first baseman of the future? What about Sanchez almost winning the A.L. Rookie of the Year despite only playing in 53 games? Or how about how Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos turned into our actual first baseman of the future?
Well, two months is two months. It takes much longer than that to establish yourself as a quality major-league player. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that two of the aforementioned players have kept it up, while one certain avian creature has not.
A Look Back
Below are the stats for Bird, Sanchez, and Voit in their first real stints with the Yankees.
It is clear that all three had a profound impact on the team. Bird and Sanchez were at least somewhat known to Yankees fans before their breakouts. Bird was the team’s 11th-rated prospect by MLB.com in 2014; Sanchez was number five in 2015. However, practically no one knew who Voit was. He was drafted in the 22ndround of the 2013 draft. He had played in only 70 major-league games prior to the trade. He wasn’t seen as anyone special. However, Brian Cashman did Cashman things and once again acquired an undervalued player who has blossomed in the pinstripes.
What have these hitters done since their first tastes in the big leagues? I think at this moment it is safe to say that two of the three have continued to mash while one…well, not so much.
Since I’m going chronologically, we’ll start with Bird. To put it lightly, he has not been everything the Yankees had envisioned after his two-month stint in 2015. He has played in just 140 games over the last three seasons, amassing 522 PA. Those numbers reflect approximately one full season for a healthy starter.
“Healthy” is the keyword with Bird. Here’s the rundown:
2016: missed entire season with a torn right labrum
2017: missed 114 games due to surgery to remove a bone in his right foot
2018: missed 80 games due to a bone spur in his right ankle
2019: missed 41 games (so far) due to torn plantar fascia in his left foot
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s a right shoulder, a right foot, a right ankle, and a left foot. So it is not exactly one nagging injury that is keeping him out.
Overall, unfortunately, I don’t think anyone really expects Bird to recapture his 2015 magic. Since that year, he’s been below the Mendoza line and his OPS has steadily dropped each year (a mere .550 this year) as has his wRC+. This year especially has been frustrating, as many hoped that after some bad luck and improving mentality in the offseason, Bird might finally be healthy an asset. He typically has a good HR/FB (home runs per fly ball) of around 16 percent. The problem is that this year is that he is hitting 47.4 percent of his batted balls as groundballs (26.7 percent in 2015) and 31.6 percent as fly balls (51.4 percent in 2015).
Hopefully he can prove me wrong, but it’s safe to say Greg Bird is a bust.
Even with his anemic 2018, Gary Sanchez has clubbed 68 homers in 934 AB, which would translate to roughly 36 home runs per 500 AB. In 2019, he is hitting the ball very hard: at a 50.5 percent clip. That marks eclipses the one from 2016, which was 41.8 percent.
This year his wRC+ is 155; it was 89 in 2017 and 129 in 2016. The 2017 value is subpar, but Sanchez was riddled with injuries along with just seeming lost at the plate. However, his strikeout rate is up this year and his walk rate is down.
In terms of fielding, the eye test shows that he has been much better behind the plate. He has allowed only four passed balls this year in 256.2 innings played compared to 18 last season in 653.0 innings. That translates to about one every 64 innings this year versus one every 36 innings last year. In terms of defensive runs saved, however, he is viewed as having his worst season this year at -4. Even last year he was in the green with a mark of 6.
All in all, I would say despite one bad year, Gary Sanchez has proven that his rookie campaign was no fluke and that he is the best hitting catcher in all of baseball.
First off, who saw Luke Voit performing at the level he did in 2018? Probably not many. Since that was only one season ago, there is not a very large sample size to judge his work since then. However, the early results are very promising. The 28-year-old is on pace for 41 homers and 112 RBI. Like some of his teammates, he does strike out a lot, with a strikeout rate that is rated as below average. However, he has cut down this year: the rate is at 22.4 percent in comparison to 26.7 percent last year. In contrast, he has a very good 13.3 percent walk rate.
His wRC+ still stands strong at 137, and he has been above replacement level with a WAR of 1.1. His batting average of .333 and OPS of 1.095 with the Yankees last season were expected to be unsustainable; however, his OPS of .892 this year is still very good, with an OPS+ of 134.
He has shown that he has strong power to the opposite field, yet he is pulling more balls this year than last: 49.7 percent versus 41.0. This has taken away from his batted balls up the middle rather than those going the opposite way.
As aforementioned, Voit wasn’t expected to maintain his 2018 pace; fans wanted him to solidify the first base position that has been in flux since Mark Teixeira retired. And as of now, Voit is proving that he was not simply a two-month wonder and that while his defense is not the best, he is the Yankees first base option for the foreseeable future.