One of the things I hated about the NFL last season was this saying about Dak Prescott. It was repeated time and time again during an extremely inconsistent Cowboys season:
“The analytics love Dak Prescott.”
I know what a saying like that actually means. The translation is: “Dak’s numbers are really pretty. Just ignore what your eye tells you like when the team he leads implodes to the point where the Eagles steal the NFC East.”
Now here I am doing the same thing about Gary Sanchez. As it turns out…
The analytics kind of like Gary Sanchez
The perception around Gary is he’s a bad defensive catcher. Reasons for this range from the “eye test” to overreactions to singular moments such as the game in Oakland where he and Sevy were at each other’s throats. There was also the overreaction to that game in Tampa in which Gary had a base running gaffe.
That gaffe somehow also morphed into the “Gary Sanchez is bad at defense” mantra that’s out there even though that had nothing to do with defense. The guy was running the bases hurt and went on the IL the next day.
It’s easy to remember the bad moments but you don’t build a career off of singular moments. Those moments don’t define whether a player is great or a bust. That’s the thing about baseball. The season is a long grind.
In this long baseball grind that has been Gary Sanchez’s career as a catcher, it turns out the numbers are in favor of him. Gary has actually been a plus defender his whole career.
For his career Gary has 8 Defensive Runs Saved. The only time Fangraphs says he was a negative defender was actually this year.
There were a lot who wanted Gary Sanchez replaced by JT Realmuto last year but in terms of DRS since 2016, Gary has blown him out of the water. Realmuto has a -14 DRS in this time. (So yeah enjoy your narrative built on lies, WFAN callers.)
Among catchers since 2016, Realmuto is ranked 113th in DRS. Gary is ranked 26th.
One of my favorite segments of the Bronx Pinstripes Show came when Andrew explained to Scott a Ringer article about pitch framing. Scott was visibly disgusted at the thought of putting a numerical value to something like framing and now here we are. (I was also in that same camp. Well. Now here I am.) We’re now going to talk about Gary’s framing on a Bronx Pinstripes blog.
Other than 2018 where Gary was a plus framer, for the most part, he’s been a little below average in terms of the runs he saved framing. Nothing great but also nothing terrible by any means. In 2019 though, his framing sunk to lows that are three times as bad as his previous worst year as a framer.
If you’re reading this and wondering why something like framing is more important than, let’s say, passed balls, then consider this. Gary lead the league in passed balls in 2017 and 2018. On the outset that looks ugly because of how the ball rolling through his legs are but 18 passed balls out of the 700 or so innings is inconsequential.
Eighteen for 700 in terms of batting average is a .026 AVG. Kendrys Morales’ tenure as a Yankee would even find that to be repulsive.
Framing is something that touches each and every inning for a catcher. If a pitcher throws 15 pitches and Gary frames one ball for a strike, that could be the difference between an inning ending and the potential for a rally igniting.
Gary’s arm is his biggest strength as a catcher. Even those Gary haters who sludge out of the sewers would agree on that. According to Statcast he was in the top 86% of the league in 2019 in terms of his pop time to second. He has never dipped below top 6th of the league in this category.
2016: 1.92 seconds (3rd in the league)
2017: 1.95 seconds (6th)
2018: 1.95 (5th)
2019: 1.95 (6th)
A New Form
Working with Gary Sanchez is the new catching coach Tanner Swanson. Swanson was previously with the Twins and worked with their young slugging backstop Mitch Garver.
Swanson actually did an excellent job in helping Garver go from bad to serviceable. In 2018 Garver had -16 Defensive Runs saved and -9.2 Framed Runs. (These are numbers that Twitter would predict Gary has had in his career.) In 2019 he improved to a 0 DRS and 0.8 FRM. He basically went from hurting the Twins behind the dish to just staying at baseline and allowing his offense to shine.
The most important thing
I would love for Swanson to really bring out the best in Gary defensively. It’s what we all want. More important than that though, I truly do hope that this is the season where Gary stays on the field. Defense isn’t the issue with Gary as much as people want to say it is. Health is the only issue to worry about here.
Gary played in 106 games in 2019. He hit over 30 home runs, became the third quickest to 100 home runs by a player behind Ryan Howard and Aaron Judge and had a 2.3 fWAR. Imagine what a healthy Gary Sanchez could provide the Yankees? We all love Aaron Judge but the potential for his offensive production would split the fanbase for sure.
Yankee fans love consistent mashers and that’s what Gary Sanchez would be if he stayed on the field. A healthy Gary leaves Howard and Judge in the dust, probably hits 40 to 50 home runs and is potentially a 4 WAR and MAYBE 5 WAR player every year.
There are those out there who say the Yankees need to take Gary out of the catching position and while I do agree with them, our reasons don’t align. Gary’s catching isn’t his problem. It’s his health. If you can get that elite hitting production out of Gary in a DH slot or putting him at first like the Twins did with Joe Mauer, I think you do it. Especially if it helps Gary stay on the field.