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Caught Looking: Gary Sanchez and the 2018 Yankees

Gary Sanchez by Arturo Pardavilla III is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Caught Looking: Gary Sanchez and the 2018 Yankees

Estimated Reading Time: 6 Minutes

Why in God’s name am I still writing about the Yankees? Sure the Red Sox are on fire and the Mets are in the dumpster where the fire initially began, but still… I would have thought I’d be writing about the Twins or Oakland or at the very least about how José Quintana is the most disappointing addition Theo Epstein has ever added to a team.

No, instead I’m talking about the Yankees again. YIKES.

Anyway, as you know, I recently wrote a piece about how the Yankees need to stop concerning themselves with the Red Sox and focus on keeping their wild-card spot from the grasp of the Mariners and the A’s. This was met with comments like “you just have to win who cares about the wild card” and “why would you want a better wild-card spot if you can take the division?” Y’all missed the point. Nevertheless, a friend of mine commented on one of our Facebook posts, stating:

“[The Yankees] had the firepower? Except 2 key players who play particularly very well against Boston in Judge and Sanchez?? I’m sure if Martinez and Betts were out for the series the Sox would still be just as effective.”

I found this idea interesting. If the Sox were bereft of Betts and Martinez’s services, of course it’s a completely different series. I will also concede the idea that my good friend Aaron Judge is the most important player to the 2018 New York Yankees. There’s no substitute for what he brings to a lineup for this Bronx Bombers squad. None. It’s going to be a long few weeks before he returns.

What I found interesting was this idea that Gary Sanchez had some kind of value to the Yankees. In a statistical way of thinking, Gary Sanchez is worth 0.5 WAR, which just so happens to be the same as Jordan Montgomery who pitched in 6 games before being shut down for the season after getting Tommy John surgery. That’s where he’s at. So why does Gary Sanchez matter to the Yankees?

Gary Sanchez exploded onto the scene in 2016 when he was brought up to the Yankees after spending time at the Triple-A level with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. The 2016 RailRiders were stacked to put it lightly with guys like Tyler Austin, Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier, Ben Gamel, Donovan Solano and NICK SWISHER. Sanchez was a solid hitter on the Central Pennsylvania club, he wasn’t on the top of the leaderboard. Sanchez found himself below the likes of Austin, Judge, and even fellow Yankees prospect Kyle Higashioka in the main offensive categories.

All that aside, his 2016 Minor League stint matters none compared to his 53 game MLB stint in 2016. Gary Sanchez solidified himself in Yankees lore by hitting 20 home runs in his first 53 games. The guy was on fire. Sanchez’s then Railriders teammate Mark Teixeira said: “Shoot, if Babe Ruth was hitting behind him, you’d intentionally walk him. He’s as hot as any player I’ve ever played with in my entire career. You just don’t see guys doing what he’s doing.”

That right there is the Gary Sanchez most Yankee fans remember, the hard-hitter catcher who was tattooing balls into the stands at a record pace. The man we see playing for the Yankees seems a far cry from that same Rookie of the Year runner-up.

Prior to Opening Day, Bleacher Report put out an MLB Catcher Power Rankings and unsurprisingly Sanchez came in second, sandwiched between Wilson Contreras at #3 and of course, Buster Posey at #1. They touted his bat, mentioning him amongst hallowed names like Bench and Piazza, and then things took a turn.

B/R mentioned his walk rate had moved the wrong direction, letting his pitchers down. They also mentioned his 2017 league-leading 16 passed balls. Despite playing in only half as many games, Sanchez already has 10  this season. Then there’s his poor framing, which has long been an issue for the Yankees staff. Needless to say, Sanchez leaves a lot to be desired behind the plate.

However, with a catcher this defensively inept, surely he’d make up for it when not behind the plate right? WRONG. Sanchez is having an abysmal year at the dish, hitting a shocking slash line of .188/.283/.416 with an OPS of .699. Dreadful numbers for a former rookie phenom. So why is Sanchez such a huge part of this lineup?

So far I’ve heard two different arguments. First, that Gary Sanchez provides protection for guys like Judge, Stanton, and Gregorius, and second, that they can’t sit Sanchez because there’s no better option. I’m here to blow up both of those ideas.

Stanton, Judge, and Didi are all having solid seasons, even if you think Stanton strikes out too often. All three men have home run numbers north of 20, RBIs in the 60s and batting averages above .265. In a more offensively minded world, all three above the .800 mark for OPS, and Stanton and Judge are slugging over .500, with Didi sitting firmly at .477. Not bad numbers. Not bad at all.

Gary Sanchez, on the other hand, falls short of all of those benchmarks. So why would I be afraid of him? Why wouldn’t I want to pitch to Sanchez over Judge, Stanton or Didi? Who should I be more afraid of? Come on.

Even if I were to put all three guys on, I’m still pitching to Sanchez. Why? Because his numbers go down with men on. That’s right, Gary Sanchez is worse with runners on base. The difference between pitching to Gary Sanchez with no one on base than one or more? 14 points on his average up from .181 to .195. So yeah, I’m really worried, you guys. With men on first and second? He’s hitting .167. Terrifying. Get out of here with that protection nonsense. With the way Sanchez swings the bat this season, pitching to him is the way to go. Behind the plate, Sanchez is abysmal, but that’s not a surprise to anyone.

As for the final argument, I have heard most by Yankee fans: Sanchez can’t be replaced. That’s a dream that ends as a nightmare if you actually believe it. The simple fact is this the Yankees have two catchers that are poised to take over behind the plate for Sanchez in Kyle Higasioka in the minors and Austin Romine in the majors.

Romine has been playing better than Sanchez and there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It’s fact. In fewer games this season, the only stats where Romine isn’t comparable to Sanchez is his home runs (Romine has 6) and his RBIs (Romine has 30 to Sanchez’s 42), and that’s it. And then there’s his performance behind the plate. In 70 fewer innings, Romine has 3 Passed Balls. Despite the fact that Sanchez has played only half of the games this season, he’s still in the top 5 for passed balls amongst catchers. That’s a problem.

It’s also not a new problem. This has always been an issue, one that was supposedly rectified this offseason. Instead, he’s regressed in more ways than one. Sanchez ended 2017 with 4.6 defensive runs saved, which was good enough for 21st in the MLB. Romine finished with 6.5 in fewer innings. In 2018, those 4.6 runs have vanished, and Sanchez sits at 0, while Romine has improved on his 2017 numbers as he sits at 7 for the season.

So is Gary Sanchez still that elite player he was the past two season? Not in 2018, not by a long shot. Should Austin Romine be the full-time catcher for the rest of the season? Yes. Am I going to keep Sanchez off the 25-man roster in the playoffs? Not quite yet, not until he shows more discipline both at the plate and behind it. Until then, there’s no way I’m going to trust that 2018 Gary Sanchez can turn into 2016-17 Gary Sanchez overnight.

Justin Colombo is a 2017 Broadway Show Softball League All-Star at 3B/SS. He's essentially the Manny Machado of the Kinky Boots team. Justin has been writing about Baseball since he was a little kid. Now that being an actor in NYC has given him a lot of free time, in 2015 he decided to take his passion public and founded Three Up, Three Down as a way to express his love for the game. From there, Three Up, Three Down grew from a hobby to an obsession. After years of growth and one insult from MLB's Historian, Justin launched The Turf, a way to expand into all areas of the sporting world. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. LET'S. GO. METS.

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