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Looking for Flaws in Gary Sanchez

The Yankees catcher has had an historic start to his career with 19 HR in 196 PA. But what are his flaws?

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr. /Getty Images

Unless you have been locked inside a fallout shelter a la Kimmy Schmidt or Brendan Fraser in Blast from the Past, you’ve probably noticed a certain young Yankees catcher taking the world by storm. He’s hit a good great unbelievable record-breaking number of home runs to start his career, with 19 in only 196 PA. He has already blown away expectations since his power was usually graded as 60, or “plus”, which would mean something like 25-30 HR over a season, not the 50+ HR pace he is on now.

Since he is catcher-eligible and that position has been an unmitigated disaster this year, he obviously has huge fantasy potential for 2017. Because of all of the above, I thought it would be a good idea to dig a little deeper into Sanchez’s numbers and see what flaws show up. He’s obviously not going to hit 50+ HR next year, at least I don’t think so, but his power is certainly legit. However, he certainly has weaknesses that may make him a riskier fantasy pick than it initially seems. That’s what I’m here for today. How much risk is involved with this guy? Are there warning signs amongst all the round-trippers?

Normally, the first place to look at for sluggers like him is the strikeout rate. Well, it turns out that his minor league track record shows years of sub-20% strikeout rates. A jump in K% when moving to the MLB level is expected, but his has only jumped to 23%. The league average for non-pitchers is 20.5% for context. So, nothing to see here.

How about walks? Maybe he doesn’t draw many. Nope, he’s good at that too, with a stellar 10.7% rate. Well, perhaps he has been lucky with BABIP. There is our first issue. His BABIP sits at 0.358 right now, the highest BABIP he’s had since rookie ball in 2010. Very rarely do hitters maintain BABIPs in the majors above what they had in the minor leagues. We can expect that to fall. That would bring his batting average down to where you would expect it with a slightly below average strikeout rate: 0.260 or so.

How about his plate discipline? Well, a swinging strike rate of 12.4% isn’t great, with league average at 10%, but it isn’t the end of the world either. His contact % of 72.2% is also worse than league average, but still close.

His HR/FB ratio of 40.4% is way out in front for the league lead with a minimum of 150 PA. Tommy Pham is at 36% and Alex Avila’s at 33.3%, but neither of them are real power hitters. Ryan Braun at 29.7% is the closest actual slugger to Sanchez. That kind of HR/FB rate is simply not sustainable. I expect it to fall down to 20% or so, which is still well above average, due to his legit strength.

His 43% hard hit rate supports his great results, so nothing there. But, he is hitting too many ground balls, at 47%. You don’t want a power hitter hitting that many grounders. He’s only at 16% line drives, too, so nothing good there. Basically, he is succeeding by hitting all his fly balls hard and almost half of them over the fence.

He has an alarmingly-high infield fly ball rate of 14.9%, which is the 41st highest rate in baseball with 150 PA or more. He’s pulling 53% of his hits, which is good for power, but could make him prone to shifts.

Let’s take a look at Brooks Baseball’s automatically generated scouting report on Sanchez:

Against Fastballs (407 seen), he has had an aggressive approach at the plate (-0.03 c) with a high likelihood to swing and miss (24% whiff/swing). When he connects (62 tracked), he generates some serious pop (95 mph average exit velocity) and often pulls the ball (8.1° average spray angle).

Against Breaking Pitches (262 seen), he has had a very patient approach at the plate (0.33 c) with an above average likelihood to swing and miss (37% whiff/swing). When he connects (27 tracked), he generates some serious pop (92.6 mph average exit velocity) and often pulls the ball (16.3° average spray angle).

Against Offspeed Pitches (104 seen), he has had an exceptionally aggressive approach at the plate (-0.68 c) with a league average likelihood to swing and miss (34% whiff/swing). When he connects (13 tracked), he generates some serious pop (92.2 mph average exit velocity) and often pulls the ball (18.8° average spray angle).

As you can see, his exit velocity confirms his raw power and once again, he likes to pull the ball. It seems that he has trouble with fastballs and, to a lesser extent, breaking balls. He has actually improved dramatically against offspeed pitches, dropping his whiff/swing from 48% in August to 27% in September. However, he’s gotten slightly worse against hard stuff and breakers.

This is how pitchers have been throwing to him. Low and away seems to be a favorite spot. Unsurprisingly, his power is pretty weak in that area of the zone.

He also swings and misses a lot in that part of the zone, as you can see. Pitchers are learning where to exploit him, but I wouldn’t say he has a huge hole in his swing. He’s good at laying off those pitches for the most part, with a low overall swing rate and O-Swing%. He whiffs a lot when he does swing at them, but he doesn’t swing at them much, is what I’m trying to say.

Let’s wrap this up. In search of flaws in Gary Sanchez’s hitting ability, we found very few. Yes, his HR/FB rate and BABIP will come back to earth, leading to more like 35 HR over a season and a 0.260 average, but those are both still great from a catcher. But, his strikeout rate and plate discipline both look strong and he doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses. He needs to cut down on pop-ups, but other than that, he looks legitimately good. Unlike Byron Buxton, he doesn’t seem to have a fatal flaw that will hold him back.

We are still dealing with small sample sizes, so we should be careful, but I like what I’m seeing. I expected to find more issues with him and am pleasantly surprised how well-rounded he is. He’s going to be someone to target in your drafts next year. Tschus!