Ever since Gary Sanchez firmly established himself as an everyday player, we have been waiting for him to put together a magical season.
He was always a highly touted prospect in the Yankees system, but if you want to the place the blame for the fans having high hopes for Sanchez you don’t have to look any further than August and September of 2016.
Finishing second in Rookie of the Year voting (we all know he should have won), Sanchez ended the 2016 seasons hitting .299/.376/.657 with 20 bombs over 53 games. For the last three seasons we have been waiting for Sanchez to approach those numbers over a full season of plate appearances and he hasn’t really come all that close. If we were to adjust our expectations and imagine a season where it all goes right for Gary, here’s how he might do it and what it might look like.
The Problem: When to swing and when not to swing
Let’s start with the problem most fans notice a lot. Gary Sanchez needs to pick better pitches to swing at.
This problem manifests in dozens of at-bats each year where Sanchez will swing at a breaking ball that gets buried in the dirt in counts where he shouldn’t even have to think about offering at that pitch. I can remember a lot of first or second pitch curveballs that fell out of the zone at 55 feet where Sanchez decided it was a good time to go fishing for garbage.
Inevitably, he would fall behind in the count and the golden rule is you put yourself in a bind if you are constantly down 0-1 or 0-2 each at-bat. The other side of that coin are the at-bats where Sanchez decides to spit on the middle-middle meatball he is more than capable of crushing 450 feet. It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking when he lets a hittable pitch in the strike zone go. Since he doesn’t do it all the time, I believe its more of an over-adjustment in order to be more patient. It’s not a great approach to getting a pitch to drive when you commit to letting a fastball down the middle go for strike one. When Gary is on a hot-streak, both of these problems usually don’t show up. When he isn’t on a .333/.400/.650 heater it can get ugly.
If you want to see why he goes through streaks you will need to look at the advanced metrics. Sanchez’s O-Swing% (the rate at which he swings at pitches out of the strike zone) is about 34% while the league average is about 31.5%. That doesn’t mean all of Sanchez’s swings are at junk 34% of the time but it does show he chases out of the zone in general.
Looking at his Z-Swing% (The rate at which he swings at pitches in the strike zone) you see a bigger issue. He sits 11 percentage points lower than the league average (57% vs 68%) when it comes to swinging at strikes. His overall contact percentage correlates with his Z-Swing% too because that sits 10 points below the league average as well. When he does decide to swing at pitches in the zone, he is below average at making contact.
His Z-Contact% is at 79% while the league is right around 85%. All these statistics on swing rates and contact percentage show the problem for Gary Sanchez comes down to pitch recognition. He just needs to be more selective at the plate.
Making the adjustment
So what happens if we adjust all of the negatives discussed above to league average? It should cause a positive change in some of the basic outcomes.
Sanchez walks about 9.5% of his plate appearances. That’s above league average and if we adjust his swing and contact rates to league average it would be safe to assume his walk rate would go up as a result of not chasing. If he walks more, it means his average won’t tank as hard during those cold-streaks.
It makes sense that if he’s walking more he will also strikeout less. Sanchez’s strikeout rate has been trending up since 2017 (22.9%,25.1%, and 28%). If he puts the ball in play more, his average should jump up a bit. Being a career .246 hitter (and trending down), even an improvement in chase/swing rate isn’t going to magically make him a .300 hitter. It’s not out of the question that with better judgement of what a hittable pitch is, Sanchez could hit .270 with a decent walk rate/strikeout rate as a side-effect pushing his OBP to around .350. We aren’t even going to mess with his power numbers. We all know when he makes contact, Gary goes boom. If he plays a full season (and that’s a big if) you can pencil him in for at least 35 homeruns.
What does the final product look like?
Gary Sanchez plays in 120 games and gets 500+ plate appearances. He hits 35+ homeruns with 80+ RBIs. His final slash line? .270/.350/.520 would just about do it. There you have it. This would be the “perfect” season for Gary Sanchez if we all keep our expectations within the realm of possibility. However, these are just “What If Scenarios” and the only thing that matters is if El Kraken can go into the box with a plan and execute that plan the way we know he can.