When the Yankees made a move from the Boring Bombers to the Baby Bombers, they decided to mold their team around the middle of that old strength up the middle axiom in baseball. It’s not working out.
The Yankees have a lineage of solid defense behind the plate. Accenting strength up the middle, the organization’s Championships have always come with a Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson, Jorge Posada, and yes, even Joe Girardi to call the game, block pitches in the dirt, and keep their pitcher’s head where it belongs.
When the offense has come with defense, the Yankees have thrived even more as with the cases of Berra and Posada who won multiple rings during their playing years.
Rightly so, the Yankees decided to install Gary Sanchez as their catcher when the build began to erect a new team dubbed as the Baby Bombers. Based on an unprecedented hitting assault at the end of last season, Sanchez overnight became the face of the team.
There was the talk of naming him as the next Captain of the team. There were numerous public appearances over the winter, sponsored by the Yankees and pushed by the media, included one that featured Sanchez making sandwiches at a Bronx deli.
Then, as Spring Training began, there were stories asking questions like, Can he live up to the hype, and still others that spoke about how determined he was to improve his defense behind the plate.
The tale of the tape
It’s now almost six months later, and anyone who has been watching, not the highlights on ESPN, but actual games played by the Yankees when Sanchez is behind the plate, can only conclude that he is one of the worst defensive catchers in the league.
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That’s a bold statement. Except there’s evidence to prove it. For one, Sanchez is decidedly undecided when it comes to calling pitches. How many times, for instance, do we see him literally take a stroll to the mound, interrupting the flow of the game, as though he needs more time to call the pitch that should have been decided on, and probably was chosen as the “out pitch” before the game.
When instead, a la Austin Romine, a major league catcher should be putting those fingers down with authority telling the pitcher this is the pitch I want you to throw in this situation and I dare you to shake me off. If I’m wrong, we’ll talk about it later. But right now, this is my game!
On the plus side, Sanchez gets high marks for his pitch framing skills and the absolute gun he has in cutting down runners trying to steal. But these are secondary skills in today’s game when the stolen base is at the very bottom of most team’s offensive arsenal. And framing a pitch hardly matters if it’s the wrong pitch to call in the first place.
Here’s an example of Sanchez reacting late to a pitch from Michael Pineda that was only an inch or two of the target Sanchez had set down.
Roll the tape in the dugout
But perhaps the most telling incident defining Sanchez’s defensive woes came in full view of the Yankees YES Network cameras and at the behest of Sanchez’s own manager, who saw it necessary to not wait for a more “appropriate” time for a chewing out.
The scene involved Masahiro Tanaka and his swing and miss splitter that he intentionally throws in the dirt. And it was evident to everyone watching that Sanchez was having, to be charitable, a difficult time getting out there to block the pitch.
Girardi, always protective of his players and knowing where the cameras were, made a big deal of mimicking how to block a pitch with his back always to the camera. But his body language told another story, and anyone with half a brain could tell that Girardi was sending a message that only said, “Gary, get in the game and off your fat ass, or there isn’t going to be a game for you tomorrow.”
Girardi, as a manager, can get away with this blatant riding of a player that amounts to questioning a player’s “hustle,” the lack of which is a big no-no in all of sports.
On watch patrol
It can be said, and it’s true that Sanchez, at 24, is a young developing player. And you can rationalize saying his offense with an accent on power makes him a player any team would like in its lineup.
The sum of all parts is Sanchez must improve as the Yankees backstop and his slide backward this season is unacceptable on a team in the hunt for multiple Championships.
The dance Sanchez did in Luis Cessa‘s recent start in being unable to tame his wild stallion with put-away stuff is also unacceptable.
The good news is that Girardi is onto Sanchez and he will continue to ride this different sort of stallion, who may or may not eventually “get it.”
But as time moves along, Girardi and the Yankees organization will draw a line in the sand, the teaching and the prodding will disappear as the team moves on.
As always, the player is in the driver’s seat, and Sanchez will ultimately determine his fate. But eyes everywhere will be watching him.