After a historically awful 2020 season, Gary Sanchez’s name has headlined in both trade rumors and resurgence bandwagon twitters. Although much of the focus has been on his offensive production, his defense needs to improve if he has any hope of staying in the Bronx.
It’s obvious that Yankees pitchers are significantly more effective with backup catchers behind the plate. There’s a reason why Gerrit Cole prefers Kyle Higashioka and the stats prove it. Cole had a 3.91 ERA with Sanchez and a 1.00 ERA with Higashioka. Cole is a $324 million dollar investment. The Yankees can’t afford to have him be a slightly above average pitcher with a high 3 ERA. With that being said, Cole is more vital to this team’s success than Sanchez. If your ace can’t pitch to your starting catcher, then you have a big problem.
But wait, there’s more. If Sanchez is actually that much of a liability defensively, then Cole wouldn’t be the only pitcher effected. Due to small sample sizes in 2020, let’s look at the Yankees most consistent starting pitchers in 2019: Tanaka and German. Tanaka had a 4.87 ERA with Sanchez and a 2.70 ERA with Romine. German had a 4.97 ERA with Sanchez and a 3.54 ERA with Romine.
In 2020, the entire Yankees pitching staff had a 3.79 ERA with Higashioka and a 4.53 ERA with Sanchez. A team ERA of 3.79 would rank 6th in baseball. A team ERA of 4.53 would rank 16th. In other words, with Higgy behind the plate, your pitching staff is great. With Sanchez behind the plate your pitching staff is average.
This is not the only time an ace has come to New York and has struggled to work with Sanchez. Take a look at Sonny Gray in 2018. After getting shelled with Sanchez behind the plate, the Yankees went with Austin Romine and got much better results. Gray had a 4.54 ERA with Romine and a 12.96 ERA with Sanchez. Romine ended up becoming Gray’s personal catcher and when asked whether pitchers feel better pitching to certain catchers Gray said, “I think so. I think that’s a big thing.”
Gary’s improved pitch framing doesn’t mean much when every other area of his defense has regressed since entering the league. He averaged a passed ball every 55 innings in 2017, every 36 innings in 2018 and every 32 innings 2020. All three of those years he led the league in passed balls. So despite surrendering the most passed balls in 2017, he got worse and is now letting up passed balls 1.7 times more frequent than he was then. Every year his defensive runs saved gets lower and lower. In 2020 he averaged -15 defensive runs saved over 1200 innings. He’s also throwing runners out at a less frequent rate. When he first entered the league he was throwing out 41% of runners. In 2020 he threw out 26%.