November 25, 2016
The Gary Sanchez Era
The New York Yankees. They’re 27-time champions, they’re home to some of the greatest names in baseball history, and they’ve been out of the heat of contention for an uncharacteristically long time now.
The Yankees have been lining up pieces for what they hope is a new era of Bronx dominance since they sold off the big parts of their bullpen, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, in July, leading baseball folks to wonder “what are they up to?” Well, now general manager Brian Cashman is making it clear.
Last week the Yankees traded veteran catcher Brian McCann to the Astros in a move that clarified many things, one of which being that Cashman is smart. McCann, 32, batted a decent .232/.335/.413 in 2016 and, on nearly any other team, he'd be a starter. He’s capable and willing. But on the Yankees, he was an aging second-best option offensively and defensively. The job belongs to budding star Gary Sanchez.
Sanchez finished runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award after a mere 229 plate appearances. He’s younger, he’s better, and he’s under team control cheaply. What Cashman did was simply leverage the situation he had: a desirable catcher he no longer needed who was appealing enough to land him two prospects (one of which is highly regarded). He had to throw in $11 million to unload the contract and make room for Sanchez, but that was a small price to pay compared to the $34 million owed to McCann.
What do we know about Sanchez? We know a whole heck of a lot, but we also don’t know very much. Cryptic, I know. We know that Sanchez had an incredibly impressive rookie campaign, hitting .299/.376/.657 for a True Average of .332. Sanchez walked at a 10.5 percent clip, representing impeccable plate discipline for a rookie. His strikeout rate was high--just shy of one quarter of his plate appearances--but nothing that would tarnish his overall performance.
But what happens when the league adjusts back? The sample size is small and we know that a .657 slugging percentage is certainly not sustainable. Sanchez had the highest ISO in baseball (min. 200 PA) and also finished with the third-highest pull percentage at 54.1 percent. That may suggest the short porch at Yankee Stadium inflated his power production, but that’s not entirely the case.