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  • Gary Sánchez is Different (And May be Underperforming)


    Matt Braun

    When the Twins acquired Gary Sánchez in that weird trade with the Yankees, I, like many Twins fans, groaned at the thought of having Sánchez on the Twins. Overall, he is a fine player, but his infamous moments of less-than-desirable hustle combined with aesthetically (although statistically mixed) defense did not attract pleasant thoughts. But after watching him play for nearly two months, I have some different thoughts. Let’s begin.

    Image courtesy of John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

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    We’ll focus solely on Sánchez’s bat in this article; defensive analysis can be left to Parker Hageman or some other actual baseball knower with a shred of a clue regarding mechanics. The Twins weren’t acquiring the frustrating catcher for his glove, after all; they were after his inconsistent yet potentially game-altering bat. 

    You’re well aware of Sánchez’s MLB career narrative. He set the world on fire in 2016, finishing 2nd in AL Rookie of the Year voting to Michael Fulmer, before running it back in 2017 with an elite wRC+ (131) that no qualified catcher has topped over an entire season since. It’s been shaky after that season; Sánchez has oscillated between mediocre, good, and dreadful, with “frustrating” working as the only consistently accurate description of his play in New York.

    But he’s in Minnesota now; a fresh start with a new franchise. Has he changed?

    Yes, to a degree. His strikeout and walk rates have moved in the wrong direction for a hitter (career 9.8 BB% to 5.8, and 26.7 K% to 28.3), but the under-the-hood numbers tell a far more interesting story.

    This story drew inspiration from this one image.

    61238837_Screenshot2022-06-06103052.png.0934fa7ce65fb4b72a45535d67087487.png

    Look at that cluster in right-center; does that reflect what you would expect from a traditional dead-pull righty? It may only be four doubles, but that’s enough to catch one’s eye. A similar grouping only ever shows up in his 2017 hit map; what’s going on?

    WARNING! Numbers ahead, like a lot of them.

    After seeing that, I moved to check his batted ball data, and wouldn’t you know it, Sánchez has inched towards a more democratic approach to hitting. His pull rate is down (45.5% vs career 51.7%), moving more batted balls into center (31.8% vs career 30.2%) and right (22.7% vs career 18.0%). Becoming a more well-rounded hitter in this vein sounds like a good thing by itself, but it may not be ideal for a powerful pull-hitter. We need more information—is Sánchez doing more damage with this new philosophy?

    Yes! Actually. Sánchez owns a wRC+ of 172 on batted balls sent to what Fangraphs defines as centerfield—a number almost equal to what he did during his fabulous 2017 campaign (174). He’s still not great on balls shot the other way (57 wRC+)—we didn’t expect him to become righty Juan Soto overnight—but it certainly appears that he’s found a more well-rounded stroke. Is it any coincidence that his BABIP is back up to .282 after he wallowed in Keplerian levels for the last four seasons?

    The good news is that he isn’t sacrificing any of his crucial pull-power to accomplish this. Sánchez is crushing balls to the tune of a 240 wRC+ when he sends them to left field—a number even finer than his legendary 2017 season.

    He’s not perfect, however. It seems that his new approach has cost him valuable walks, and his strikeouts have ticked up a touch as well, although I question how sticky the extra Ks are. Walks are valuable, but extra-base hits are even more precious, and the Twins seem to believe that Sánchez is a cleaner fit in the lineup when he’s doing damage, not setting the table.

    The "underperforming" part of the title stems from his Statcast data; Sánchez is walloping fastballs at a .412 xWOBA clip but only has a .328 wOBA against the pitch. Sure, some of that is due to the soggy ball draining power from everyone's bat, but nearly .100 points of wOBA cannot be explained away with that answer; luck must be involved. It's easy to imagine that his approach will bear even more fruit once the summer heat pushes those warning track disappointments into free souvenirs. 

    There you have it; sometimes, an intuition or a minor blip of information can send you down a rabbit hole from which a truth hides. Gary Sánchez has adjusted his hitting style, and it may have been precisely what the doctor ordered. The former hulking slugger has embraced right-center field and may flourish for it.

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    It is a long season but to this mark (a third of the season) Sanchez has been a big surprise offensively and and even bigger surprise behind the plate. The last two years Gary was plain and simply a horrible catcher. The movement to adequate has been massive really. I like what Sanchez brings to the game. Can he maintain the changes we have seen throughout the remainder of the schedule?

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    49 minutes ago, mikelink45 said:

    At this point he is our number one catcher - who could have predicted that or for that matter Jeffers decline. 

    I would Not have ever guessed Sanchez would be a Twin.  And maybe worse, I'm not minding it as much as I thought I would.   Like you said, I really thought Jeffers was going to take two steps up this year.  

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    1 minute ago, baul0010 said:

    I would Not have ever guessed Sanchez would be a Twin.  And maybe worse, I'm not minding it as much as I thought I would.   Like you said, I really thought Jeffers was going to take two steps up this year.  

    After dealing Garver, I'm glad the Twins catching options aren't Jeffers and Rortvedt. There wouldn't be much production from the plate.

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    24 minutes ago, rwilfong86 said:

    After dealing Garver, I'm glad the Twins catching options aren't Jeffers and Rortvedt. There wouldn't be much production from the plate.

    And Garver's only caught 14 games so far, Jeffers would be the primary catcher anyway.

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    2 hours ago, big dog said:

    And Garver's only caught 14 games so far, Jeffers would be the primary catcher anyway.

    Yeah, flexor strain in the forearm of his throwing arm. May even be 1B-DH only for the rest of the year.

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    Sanchez has been a pleasant surprise especially his bat. One thing I don't understand is how does spraying the ball all over the field effect your SO rate?

    Although Sanchez has a better bat & arm, Jeffers is quicker, better framer, glove and calls a much better game. I've been following Archer closely, I haven't liked the way Sanchez has handled him. I heard the announcer give the stat that Archer with Jeffers his ERA is around 2,22 with Sanchez it's around 6.5. Grant there could be some variables like Sanchez caught him against a hot HOU but Jeffers caught him against LAD.

    Although I like Sanchez's bat and I'm not crazy with Jeffers behind the plate, I like Sanchez less there.

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    Sanchez has been mildly but pleasantly surprising. Still needs to cut down the Ks and I still hate that Rocco uses both catchers in the lineup at the same time.  Neither is hitting well enough to be DH in my humble opinion, but Sanchez is by far outplaying Jeffers.  Surprised that more teams aren't stealing bases against the Twins.  Neither seem to be able to throw out runners,  although that may be alot on the pitchers.  Overall I'm feeling much better about Sanchez than I was at the time of the trade.

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    4 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

    At this point he is our number one catcher - who could have predicted that or for that matter Jeffers decline. 

    I mean, he (Jeffers) wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire last year either.

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    6 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

    At this point he is our number one catcher - who could have predicted that or for that matter Jeffers decline. 

    The Minnesota Twins front office? I mean, they're the ones who wanted a solid starting catching option in case last year wasn't an aberration from Jeffers. Sanchez was much maligned for his defensive skill, but he was clearly open to some coaching and changes, if perhaps only after being traded and seeing his stock plummet. 

    To me, Sanchez has looked as good as the Twins could have hoped this year, and Jeffers has looked like I expected him to look after how he played last year, albeit his ISO is a bit lower than what I'd expect. It's also a bit early to make a final determination on Jeffers, though, at only 138 plate appearances so far this year.

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    1 hour ago, sdtwins37 said:

    Rortvedt on 60 day now as well.

    Rortvedt can not catch a break this year. Strained oblique to start the season and as soon as he got healthy, boom. Arthroscopic knee surgery to clean up a meniscus. In the surgery world, pretty minor... but there's always the potential a minor knee procedure takes a lot more time to heal than expected (Mauer, 2011). Since Ben started the season on the 10 day IL into mid May, it was easy to retroactively move him to the 60 day IL. He's expected back around the All Star Break.

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    56 minutes ago, bean5302 said:

    Rortvedt can not catch a break this year. Strained oblique to start the season and as soon as he got healthy, boom. Arthroscopic knee surgery to clean up a meniscus. In the surgery world, pretty minor... but there's always the potential a minor knee procedure takes a lot more time to heal than expected (Mauer, 2011). Since Ben started the season on the 10 day IL into mid May, it was easy to retroactively move him to the 60 day IL. He's expected back around the All Star Break.

    Some players just cannot escape injury like Buxton.  It is why I am concerned about Kirilloff. 

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    53 minutes ago, mikelink45 said:

    True but his first year gave us hope. 

    Very true. I myself was hopeful too.  But 2020 was a long time ago. 

    Fact of the matter is he's slashed .190/.267/.365 in 124 games between 2021 and 2022.  He is who he is. That is a slightly better than league average catcher unless he starts hitting more.

    Honestly, I think Twins fans were spoiled with Mauer from 2004-2013, Suzuki in 2014 was an All-Star and was decent in 2015-2016, Castro was ok to slightly below average in 2017-2018 and 2019-2021 had Garver.  Heck even before Mauer, Pierzynski was pretty good 2001-2003.  That's over 20 years of above average to elite catcher for the most part.

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    4 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

    I hated Gary Sanchez being on this team and am very glad to be wrong about that. Sanchez is setting himself up for a nice little payday this winter.

    He's been a great clubhouse guy from everything I've heard.

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