Gary Sanchez

Yankees’ Gary Sanchez Swinging the Bat like the Sanchez of Old

By Scott Mandel

Whatever one thinks of Yankees catcher, Gary Sanchez’ career ups and downs, his statistical averages, taken over a 162-game season, are comparable to the numbers put up by the greatest catchers in baseball history.

Sanchez’s career productivity has had as many ups and downs as the Yankee Stadium VIP elevator, except with that elevator, you know what floor you’re going to by pushing the buttons. With Sanchez, over his seven year career, no one in American League history has reached 100 home runs for a career as fast as Sanchez did, reaching that spectacular achievement in his 355th career game. He has hit over 30 home runs twice, made two All-Star teams before his 26th birthday, and is considered to have the best throwing arm among catchers in the sport.

More so, let’s look at how Sanchez compares to the game’s greatest offensive catchers over the past 75 years or so. Johnny Bench, considered the benchmark at the position over the past 50 years and a Hall of Famer, averaged 29 home runs, 103 runs batted in, and had an OPS of .817 over a 162-game schedule, a full season ofmajor league baseball. Yogi Berra, another great Hall of Fame receiver from the 1940s through 1965, averaged 27 homeres. and 109 rbi’s over 162 games, with an OPS of .830. These two players were the cream of the crop, at the catching position. How does Gary Sanchez compare? Over 162 games, Sanchez is averaging 43 home runs, 106 runs batted in, and has an OPS of .822. His production with a bat in his hand not only is equal to the greatest offensive catchers in the game’s history, it is exceeding those who came before him.

But, Sanchez has not had a perfect career, as his seasons hitting under .200 have also been marked by more strikeouts than hits in a given season as well as inconsistent defensive deficiencies behind the plate, struggling to block pitches in the dirt, frame strikes for his pitching staff, and lacking the “soft hands” found in the skill-set of top of the line defensive catchers, who tend to save more runs which leads to more wins.

His struggles have been so obvious that Yankee manager, Aaron Boone, inserted career backup, Kyle Higashioka, into the starting lineup during the playoffs last year, essentially taking Sanchez’s job during the most important time of the year, the post-season.

It has also led Yankee brass to wonder privately if it is time to move on from Gary Sanchez, especially the “bad” version of the player. The problem is, when Sanchez goes on one of his offensive tears, it can last a month or two and, he can literally carry this team on his shoulders with his offensive firepower.

Then, there are the times when his sheer talent teases Yankees brass and fans, alike, with majestic 450-foot home runs, solid defense and great throws down to second base catching runners trying to steal the base. The contrast between the two Sanchez’s is stark but, when he is performing at his optimal levels, he produces in a manner most long-time observers have not seen from baseball catchers over the last century or so.

After starting out this season, over the first month batting well below .200, the Yankees catcher has morphed into the younger Sanchez, who terrorized American League pitchers with his perfect home run swing and his ability to
“barrel-up” pitches with solid contact. Over the past 25 games, dating back to the end of May, Sanchez is slashing .294/.345/.667 for an OPS of a whopping 1.012. And his .333/.391/.905 slash line in the last week has been crucial to the Yankees’ 5-1 record against the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics. Especially considering that both Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres are slumping.

There is constant chatter on sports talk radio and in the print media about the 28-year old Sanchez never reaching his full potential. Many have suggested, at this moment of his latest hitting streak, now is the time to trade him when his value is rising high, once again. That is a debate Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has been having with himself and with his staff for three years, since Sanchez began to falter badly, both offensively and defensively.

But, make no mistake, among major league catchers, past or present, very few have come close to the sort of offensive output Gary Sanchez has shown, over a full season.

All players tend to be a little streaky but the Yankees would love to see Gary even out or shorten some of those down periods during a typical season. The inside word has been about trying to get him to focus a little more, pitch by pitch (on both sides of the ball) than he has in the past.

And he’s only 28 years old. So, the debate rages on whether to stick with him or cut bait. It says here, Sanchez will hit 40 homers for another team if he’s traded. Why not let him do it in the Bronx.

Mandel’s Musings: Mets’ Wheeler and Yankees’ Sanchez Are THE KEYS to 2019 Success

There are certain players on certain teams that are considered bellweather perfomers. On the Yankees, players like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Luis Severino are needed and expected to play up to the backs of their baseball cards for the Bombers to have any chance of winning a championship. On the Mets, the expectations of excellence falls on the shoulders of Michael Conforto, Robinson Cano, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. Without those four achieving at high levels. the Mets have no chance to compete for a division title, let alone a World Series championship.

Which brings us to the other key players on the major league roster. The ones who are unpredictable, yet, so talented that if all of their bio-rhythms were in place, their mental and physical health were steady, and they played up to their talent, it would put both of these teams squarely in the race for the big trophy at the end of the season.

Sanchez banged out three homers for Yanks, yesterday

For the Mets, one of the keys, perhaps, THE key to their success in 2019 is Zack Wheeler, currently the number three guy in their pitching rotation.

For the Yankees, it is Gary Sanchez, the sometimes moody catcher with Hall of Fame skills but not always Hall of Fame focus and concentration.

Yesterday’s games showed us just how crucial these two players are to the fortunes of these teams.

The Mets know what they will be getting from deGrom and Syndergaard when they start games every fifth day. The question mark remains Wheeler, who was the second best pitcher in baseball from the All-Star break through October in 2018.

Wheeler, who was a number one draft choice, sixth overall pick, by the San Francisco Giants in 2009, has always been viewed as a potential ace, with a 98 mph fastball with movement, sharp breaking ball, and a flexible, live arm that could take the mound every scheduled outing and dominate opposing teams.

Sanchez, who broke into the majors and made himself an immediate Hall of Fame candidate after his first half season in 2015, has had more ups and downs in his still-young career than any future Hall of Famer should go through. Most of those downs have been of his own making, through not being able to understand or accept the tough love former manager, Joe Girardi, the old catcher, tried to impart to Sanchez the finer points of the game, especially, defensively.

Girardi was fired, some say, because of his relationship with Sanchez, in an era of players having more power than a manager.

But yesterday, we saw what Sanchez, still only 26, can do with a bat in his hand. In an era when any offense from a catcher is welcome but not necessarily expected by major league teams, the “San-chize” hit not one, not two, but three home runs in Baltimore. He drove in six runs. And, the Yankees had another cakewalk against the sad Orioles, 15-3.

He now has six homers in the season’s first 10 games, and looks to be a happy player.

Oddly, after the game, no one expressed shock at yesterday’s output from the young slugger. His teammates have seen him do this before, in bunches, as a rookie and in his second year. Last year, he hit .188. Nobody seems to know why yet, most baseball observers still consider his hitting talent to be the best in the Yankees lineup.

The dilemma with Sanchez is, we know he’s one of the scariest hitters in the game, when he has access to his full compliment of physical and mental capabilities. The question is, how do the Yankees keep him happy and thriving?

With Sanchez bashing, the Yankee lineup, is one in which nobody can be pitched around. It becomes a nightmare for opposing pitching staffs and it will lead to a season of fastballs for everybody, 1 thru 9.

Yesterday, Wheeler pitched against the Washington Nationals in a style reminiscent of the first eight years of his career. He lost his command on his fastball and curve, he lost his control, walking a career-high seven batters in five innings. He generally looked lost out there, a huge disappointment to a Mets organization that has been re-structured from top to bottom by new general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen. But still, at the major league level, this team is programmed to be dependent on its pitching arms.

Without Wheeler pitching with some semblance of his talent level, the Mets will turn into a version of the old Milwaukee Braves slogan, “Burdette and Sain, and pray for rain” from the 1950s:

“deGrom and No (Syndergaard) and pray for snow.”

Right now, the Mets are praying for the light to go on again for Wheeler. If it doesn’t, you are looking at Stephen Matz and Jason Vargas needing to pick up the pace to about 15 wins apiece. A tall order which almost guarantees a disappointing season for the Mets.

Mandel’s Musings: Yankees, Missing Table Setter, Still Haven’t Fixed Lineup Issues

It’s early, of course, in the 2019 season but the New York Yankees, one of baseball’s favorites to win the World Series this year are looking very much like last year’s team, which fell short in the playoffs for one major reason. Their lineup of home run hitting sluggers was unable to put bat to ball when they faced top of the line pitching rotations like the Astros or the Red Sox.

This season, so far, has that same feel, know what I mean?

The Yanks’ lineup remains the most fearful in the game. From one through nine, a healthy Yankees’ batting order will do damage to most American League pitchers over the course of a season. Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks, and Gleyber Torres will all hit more than 20 homers this year. Hell, they’ll all probably hit more than 30.

The question is, how many of these bashers will also hit .280 or better and strike out less than 100 times?

The Yankees dilemma this year is the same as it was last year. Hitting homers in batches, as the Bombers did in 2018 (266 – a major league record) puts fans in the seats, even bringing back the early-arrival fans who enjoy watching these very large men take their pre-game batting practice hacks but, it doesn’t win championships.

But, who are the table-setters?

Nothing wrong with power, in this age of weight-training, protein drinks, and any other enhancements used in professional sports. But, even in 2019, championship teams must possess lineups that include a smattering of hit-to-contact types so the bashers can get big, sweet fastballs to swing at with runners on base. Opposing pitchers prefer to pitch off the plate to big swingers, who tend to feast on fastball strikes but without ideal bat control, can be fooled by pitches that expand the strike zone to include breaking balls in the dirt. Base runners force pitchers to throw strikes, a good scenario for big swingers like Judge and Stanton and Sanchez.

But, who are the table-setters?

The Houston Astros’ second baseman, Jose Altuve, has, at 5’6″, 160 pounds made himself into a superstar by getting on base, not striking out, and making opposing pitchers jittery when he’s taking leads off first.

The Red Sox have Mookie Betts, who also knows how to make contact and does so to all fields with power, despite his diminutive body-type.

Guess which teams won the past two World Series? If you answered the Astros and the Red Sox, you’d be right.

I’m not saying the Yankees should have held onto a popular player of theirs from the past two seasons, Ronald Torreyes, but let’s just say, by getting rid of a “Torreyes-type,” they no longer have a diminutive contact hitter in their lineup who rarely strikes out. Brett Gardner is going to be 36 during this season, and never was a hit-to-contact type with a high on-base percentage. Tyler Wade has a lifetime batting average of .164. D.J. LeMahieu, a solid acquisition during the off-season, doesn’t fit the profile of an Altuve or a Betts, either.

Yesterday, the Yankees beat the lowly Orioles, 8-4. Their offense, third in the American League in strikeouts and at the bottom of the league in stolen bases, has been slumping for several games now.

Once again, the Yanks were in their collective offensive funk against Alex Cobb, the Orioles starting pitcher who will NOT be in the running for the Cy Young award, until the sixth inning. Cobb was treating this Yankee lineup as if he was pitching for the Astros or the Red Sox, in post-season games.

Baltimore, on paper the worst team in the sport, had a 4-1 edge going into the sixth inning, the Yankees lone run coming on, you guessed it, a home run by Gleyber Torres. Other than that, against Alex Cobb, zilch.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning when the pinstripes exploded against the putrid Orioles bullpen for four runs, on, yes, a solo home run by Sanchez and a three-run homer by Torres, his second of the game, coming after two singles by Bird and LeMahieu.

Image result for jose altuve
Altuve is the perfect table-setter for the Astros

Here’s the thing about home runs. They come in bunches and practitioners of the art of home run hitting tend to be streaky. They will hit 10-15 in a month, then, nothing but ground outs and strikeouts for a few weeks. Nobody seems to know why that is. It’s one of baseball’s mysteries that keeps this game interesting. But, it doesn’t help a team when most of its lineup is comprised of precisely those kind of bashers who have their hot and cold streaks during the season, but are especially cold during the playoffs, when the strikeouts and ground outs are almost a guarantee.

Note to Yankees’ General Manager, Brian Cashman: The Yankees will not win a World Series without scrappy, speedy guys with high on-base percentages to set the table for their sluggers.

Where have you gone, Ronald Torreyes?