It has been one of the most frustrating pills for Yankees fans to swallow so far in this 2018 MLB season. Gary Sanchez, who has been one of the Yankees’ most feared hitters for the past two seasons, has been coming up short across the board this season. Sanchez’s inability to find consistency has forced those, like me, to find answers. So, let’s take a look at not just the numbers that show Gary as having a bad year, but the advanced numbers that might show why his bottom-line numbers are where they are. Spoiler alert; it is a bit head-scratching.
This is Gary Sanchez’s slash line in 2018: .188/.285/.421. He has hit 14 home runs and driven in 41. As of this moment, he is a 1.1 WAR player. Not great, and not what we expect from a player who should have been at least a 4.0-4.5 WAR player by season’s end. He will not come close to that. Before delving into where Sanchez’s numbers are bad, let’s try to take some positives from his statistics. His wOBA does not vary that significantly from the mean for this season, which is .315. Sanchez is at .306. Below average, sure, but not off the grid. For a hitter historically as good as Sanchez, he should finish the season a lot stronger, which will boost is wOBA number above league average. Fangraphs’ ZIPS model has him playing out the last 48 games of the season with a .342 wOBA. Furthermore, something that I have heard people say that has led to Sanchez’s struggles is the fact that he is swinging at more bad pitches out of the strike zone. That does not seem to be the case, as he has an O-swing% of 32%, which is 1% above the league average. In fact, his O-swing% has stayed the same since 2016 and has even dropped 1% each year. Sanchez also continues to hit the ball hard, as his hard%, though down since years past, is league average at 35%. He is not striking out that much, just two percentage points higher than the league average at 24%, and percentage point up from his 23% K% in 2017. The final stat that works very well in Gary Sanchez’s favor is his BABIP. The league-wide average for Batting Average on Balls in Play is .295. Gary sits at an astonishingly low .196. As crazy as baseball can be sometimes, there is almost no chance that a .196 BABIP will sustain itself. By looking at some of these numbers that I have mentioned above, part of Gary Sanchez’s struggles have been the fact that he is getting unlucky, but that is not the whole story.
Gary has some numbers that are a little more telling as to why he might be struggling. Whereas the numbers in the previous paragraph show that there is not much of a change in many of the areas where people assume him to be struggling, the numbers that I am going to show here might show otherwise, and why his issues might truly stem from mechanical issues, which can at least be worked on and refined. Let’s start with IFFB% (pop-up %). Throughout his career, up until this season Gary has not had a pop-up issue. He has sat right around league average at 10%. In 2018, however, his IFFB% has skyrocketed t0 a rather exorbitant 22%. That is good for 4th worst in the majors. An issue such as this makes me think that either there is something mechanically wrong with his swing, or he is getting a more of a certain pitch that he does not like very much. Most likely, it is something mechanical and a combination of getting more sliders, as Sanchez gets thrown the fifth most sliders in the MLB at 24.1%, two percentage points higher than last year. Other Yankees players in the top 20, like Gleyber Torres and Aaron Judge, have adjusted to remain successful despite getting a bevy of hooks. Gary is also getting the fourth least fastballs in all of baseball, a pitch that we all know he can do damage on.
Looking even further into batted ball statistics, Sanchez’s HR/FB ratio has dropped considerably from 25% in 2017 to 18% in 2018, but he is hitting more fly balls, so it would make sense for that number to be more stretched out. Furthermore, though his HARD% has stayed constant, his line drive % has fallen off of a cliff. Last season, he was above league average at 21%, now he has fallen below league average all the way down to 14%.
Gary Sanchez’s batted ball statistics seem to tell the true story here. Popups are way up, and line drives are way down. So, what I think is that he is dealing with some really bad luck and some mechanical issues that need to be worked on. A .196 BABIP is not sustainable no matter what, and a 10% jump in pop-ups and a 7% drop in LD% show that he might not be as short and quick to the ball, but longer and looping. I know it is really easy to worry about a player like Sanchez struggling the way he has, but I don’t think any serious cause for concern is necessary. Once he gets his mechanics in check, he should be back to the hitter we all know he can be.
Note: When looking at the graphs, disregard the 2015 numbers because Sanchez recorded just two plate appearances in 2015.