New York Yankees slugging catcher Gary Sanchez, up until recently, was a polarizing figure among the fanbase. Hell, he still probably is.
He was either ruthlessly criticized for his poor play or adamantly defended by his supporters. There was no in between. The contentious conversations that typically took place were comparable to two groups of people on either side of the political spectrum. Don’t you DARE bring up Gary Sanchez at the dinner table!
But as of right now, it’s safe to say Yankees fans can rally around Sanchez after what he’s been doing this season. After a slow start, the 28-year-old has seemingly rediscovered his stroke, but it didn’t come easily.
Sanchez was benched in the ALDS last year in favor of Kyle Higashioka. He lost playing time in April when manager Aaron Boone said Higgy would get more reps because Sanchez was still struggling on both ends.
Somehow, Sanchez has been the only player on the Yankees’ who’s faced repercussions for his poor play. You could argue Clint Frazier has too, but he’s never been entrenched as a starter at any point in his career until this April.
Frazier has still appeared in 65 games this year despite batting .186. Gleyber Torres, heading into Tuesday night, was in the midst of a 4-for-51 slump with 20 strikeouts and completely lost his power. Rougned Odor would routinely get moved up in the lineup simply for getting one big hit … and he’s batting .209.
Nobody’s faced the punishment and vitriol Sanchez has, and now he’s carrying the Yankees. If his bat wasn’t coming up in big spots or helping the offense get off to a fast start in a given game, where would this team be? He’s worked his way all the way back to being the team’s No. 3 hitter!
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez should be an AL All-Star.
He did it again on Tuesday night by homering in the first inning after DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge made two quick outs to begin the game. The Yankees needed to take a lead. They hadn’t started the game with once since June 24.
Through 61 games, Sanchez is hitting .236 with an .839 OPS. He has 14 homers and 32 RBI. If you rewind a month ago to May 29, he was hitting .190 with a .685 OPS. Over that span he’s homered in eight games. The Yankees have won seven of them, with the only loss coming in that wild comeback against the Phillies that was decided in extras.
His defense still leaves a bit to be desired, but there’s been improvement. He’s keeping more balls in front of him. He’s only made five errors and allowed three passed balls in 57 games at catcher. He’s made 25 assists, though his 10% caught stealing rate is 14 points below the league average. Hopefully we can fix that at some point, but it’s safe to assume he’s never going to be the defensive stalwart many expect him to be,
Nonetheless, he’s been the only consistent spark plug offensively for the Yankees over the last month, which feels insane. At least there’s one positive 2021 plot twist for this team. Everything else has been SO bad.
We’d like to think the Gary Sanchez experience can help in a number of ways. Could his turnaround be an eventual metaphor for the Yankees’ season? Will his revival inspire others around him and bring this team back into the contender conversation?
But more importantly, perhaps management learns a lesson from the way he was held accountable for his poor play. Sanchez was a two-time All-Star and (previously) the undisputed best hitting catcher in the league before his benching and reduction in playing time. Why should ANY other player on this roster outside of a select few be immune to such discipline?
Gary Sanchez was an All-Star. He was accused of being lazy by a sect of the fanbase. He was on track to be one of the best hitting catchers the sport has ever seen. He temporarily lost his job during the playoffs and saw his struggles continue to begin 2021.
Now, he’s carrying the New York Yankees’ offense. He’s clearly gotten better from all of it. But will the rest of the team?