Is Yankees Catcher Gary Sanchez a Realistic MVP Contender in 2017?


After an impressive rookie year in 2016, will New York Yankees youngster Gary Sanchez be a factor in the 2017 American League MVP race?

There is no questioning Gary Sanchez was the best player on the New York Yankees last year after being promoted to the big league club in August. He was the primary reason the team was able to make an unlikely run at a postseason spot despite selling many of their best players at the trade deadline.

In the 53 MLB games he played during 2016, he hit .299/.376/.657 with 20 home runs and 43 runs batted in. He was in the top five on the Yankees in home runs, average, on base percentage, slugging and OPS, despite playing less than half of a season for the Bombers. Sanchez amazing season would see him finish runner up in the Rookie of the Year voting to a very deserving Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers.

The youth movement we saw in the second half of last year is something that the Yankees are expected to continue in 2017 and beyond. Young players have seemingly taken over Major League Baseball in recent years, specifically in the voting for the Most Valuable Player award.

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Since 2014, five of the last six MVP’s, three for each league, have been 26 or under, with Josh Donaldson being the lone exception at 30. So can the recently turned 24-year-old Sanchez continue the trend in 2017? If he continues to produce even a fraction of the value he did during his debut last year, he certainly has a good shot.

The biggest, most obvious obstacle standing in Sanchez’s way is baseball’s reigning GOAT, Mike Trout. Mike Trout has finished in the top two in the MVP award voting in all five of his full seasons, taking home the award twice in 2014 and 2016. He has been one of the most dominant and consistent players in the major leagues during his career, and is a front-runner for the AL MVP award year after year. So what does Sanchez need to do to take him down in 2017?

One edge that Sanchez may have over Trout is that he plays a more demanding defensive position. Metrics that measure the performance of catchers behind the plate are becoming ever more popular and accurate. The youngster has long had a reputation as a shaky defender, but he excelled at receiving, calling games, and shutting down opposing base thieves in 2016, and will have to continue to be above-average as a backstop to have any hope of taking down Trout.

Sanchez doesn’t need to slug the 60-plus homers he was on pace for last year to be in the MVP conversation, but power is undeniably his bread and butter offensively, so he would probably need to achieve the nice round numbers of 30 homers and 100 RBI to get serious MVP consideration.

The young catcher has been something of a hacker for most of his minor league career, but showed improved plate discipline last year in both Triple-A and the majors. If that improvement is legitimate, and he can put up an OBP in the .350-.380 range while maintaining his plus power production, he will have a legitimate shot at dethroning Trout.

It’s important to remember that even with Sanchez’s insane tear last year, he was worth three wins above replacement in 53 games according to Baseball-Reference’s. If you extend that over a full season, you would get roughly nine wins. Mike Trout has been better than that in four of his five seasons in the big leagues.

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Basically, it is extremely unlikely that Sanchez will be better than Trout in 2017, even if he keeps up his crazy 2016 pace. Is it possible? Sure. If the Yankees drastically outperform the Angels that could also net Sanchez some bonus points, but then you also have to consider guys like Donaldson, Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, and Francisco Lindor all play for contenders as well.