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Yankees’ Brett Gardner, Gary Sanchez off to slow starts

Something I think we’re all trying to wrap our minds around is the true impact of the short season. The math is simple: there will (hopefully) be 60 games which is 37% of a full 162-game season, meaning each game has 2.7X the weight. We can round-up to say every game is equal to three in a normal year. That also magnifies things like slumps, and two Yankees are in the midst of horrendous ones.

Brett Gardner

Gardy is 0-for-11 to start the season and has been on base just one time, a walk against the Nationals on Saturday. More glaring is the fact that he has seven strikeouts, meaning he’s whiffed in 58% of his plate appearances.

To me Gardner is an enigma. Everyone likes to talk about his 28 home runs last year, but that was a product of the juiced baseballs. He slugged a career-high .503 (103-points above his career average, and 135-points above his 2018 season). The home runs are nice (duh) but not what he really is and, more importantly, not what the Yankees need him to be. Over the past two seasons he has a combined .324 on-base percentage. He’s making less contact and taking fewer walks. You can argue that is because he changed his approach to hit more home runs, but the Yankees have enough players who can do that. The Yankees simply need Gardner to get on base to turn the lineup over to LeMahieu and Judge.

Gary Sanchez

The only one who has looked worse than Gardner is Sanchez, who is 0-for-12 with 8 strikeouts (do you even need me to do that math on that one?). Gary is simply lost at the dish — he’s behind in every count and swinging from the rooftops.

Sanchez is frustrating. There are stretches when he is an unstoppable force, smashing 8 home runs in 15 games. Then there are stretches like we’re watching now when he couldn’t make contact if it were put on a tee (or thrown by Orioles pitchers!). The amazing thing is that those streaks wash-out to a very productive offensive catcher. Since his rookie 2016 season, here are Gary’s offensive ranks among catchers in baseball: 1st in home runs, 1st in slugging percentage (he’s the only catcher with a .500+ SLG), 1st in wRC+, and 5th in fWAR. I’d say the Yankees are pretty happy with those numbers, but fans are split, and I get it. The non-competitive at bats from Sanchez are infuriating.

The Hot Seat

If this were a normal-length season we’d chalk each up to a slow start and move on. But this isn’t a normal season. Using the math I laid out in the beginning, you can multiply everything by 2.7, meaning Gardy is about 0-for-30 and Sanchez 0-for-32. But, as we know, that’s not what they really are. Despite the short season baseball is still baseball. Players need time to shake off the rust just like they would had the season started March 26. But their negative impact on the team is magnified, so the real question is who is on the hot seat more?

I don’t think Sanchez is going anywhere because he’s far and away their best option at catcher. He also worked hard this off-season to change his stance to improve his framing skills, and the early results have been good (or is this just yet another bad call by Angel Hernandez?).

Gardner on the other hand has quality players behind him. Tauchman is the logical choice because he’s a great defender and left-handed bat, but even if he struggles the Yankees can continue the Andujar experiment in left field or recall Frazier. There’s also Stanton who might get a day or two in left. Gardner is currently the third outfielder on the depth chart but it’s not hard to envision a scenario where he’s fifth or sixth.

While Gary will have a long leash, I don’t expect Gardner to stick in the lineup much longer if he continues to struggle.