The New York Yankees are headed to the postseason, but catcher Gary Sanchez finds himself in the doghouse heading into October. Amid the All-Star catcher’s struggles in 2020, could he be in danger of losing his starting job?
Let’s examine why the Yankees would be wise to give Sanchez another shot and why he could make a big impact in the postseason.
New York Yankees playoff roster
The New York Yankees have their playoff roster set and most of their starting lineup, as well. One position that’s up in the air? Catcher.
Aaron Boone indicated that both Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka will see playing time in the postseason. Higashioka has already established himself as Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher, a preference that will carry over into the playoffs.
However, could the Yankees sit their All-Star catcher in the hunt for a World Series title? It’s a possibility, but there’s also reason to believe Sanchez deserves more at-bats.
Gary Sanchez’s stats are unlucky
It’s been a rough 2020 season for Sanchez and his stats in the box score prove it. He owns a woeful .142 batting average with a .240 OBP and is striking out in 36.5% percent of his plate appearances. While he has hit the third-most home runs among his peers (10), he ranks 28th in hits (21) among catchers.
But numbers tell only a part of the story. If you dig deeper, Sanchez has also been incredibly unlucky.
According to Statcast, He has 16 balls with a 100-plus MPH exit velocity that turned into outs, which leads the team. Furthermore, Sanchez’s .143 batting average on balls hit in play is the lowest in the majors. His average exit velocity is 91.3 MPH, which ranks ahead of stars D.J. LeMahieu along with J.T. Realmuto, who is viewed as the best catcher in MLB. According to Statcast’s calculations, Sanchez’s expected numbers for batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage—i.e., what he should be hitting based on how the ball leaves the bat—is at least 50 points higher than his current stats.
While expected stats aren’t real stats, they show how bad luck is a big reason why Sanchez’s numbers are down.
Why not start Kyle Higashioka?
There’s a reason Cole wants Higashioka behind the plate. New York’s ace recognizes who is the Yankees’ best catcher defensively and likes the guy who he trusts in big moments. The evidence also supports that MLB’s highest-paid pitcher is better with Higashioka in the squat.
- Cole with Sanchez: 3.91 ERA in 46 innings, .224/.282/.494 opponent slash
- Cole with Higashioka: 1.00 ERA in 27 innings, .147/.190/.242 opponent slash
Given all the money spent on Cole, it’s obvious why the Yankees pair him with his top catcher. But that doesn’t mean Sanchez has to consistently ride the pine.
Higashioka has been fine as a backup, batting .255 with four homers—though three of those came in one game. he has just 47 plate appearances on the season, compared to Sanchez’s 167 trips to the plate.
While Higashioka has some pop, it isn’t in the same ballpark as Sanchez’s jaw-dropping power. Despite all his struggles, Sanchez is tied for second on the team in homers. The 27-year-old isn’t just hitting these homers in blowouts, either. He can come through in the clutch, like his game-winning grand slam against the New York Mets in extra innings, or his game-tying homer against the Boston Red Sox.
Higashioka is a nice player. But as a threat at the plate, he’s nowhere near Sanchez.
Who should Yankees start at catcher?
The Yankees will start Higashioka when Cole is on the mound and will likely bring in the backup as a defensive replacement late in the game if trying to protect a lead.
But right now, Sanchez represents a much-needed power threat. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are still finding their swing after injuries, while Gleyber Torres has yet to rediscover his power stroke. As of now, Sanchez remains the second-biggest power source behind Luke Voit.
WHile Higashioka had a three-homer game this year, Sanchez has even more claim to history. He became the third-fastest player to hit 100 career home runs. Sanchez also broke the single-season home run record for a catcher in Yankees’ history. That was all last season, when he earned his second All-Star selection.
This season, for so many reasons, is different. While that happened a year ago, New York knows what Sanchez is capable of. The Yankees have surely waited all year for Sanchez to snap out of this season-long struggle.
While this is a team game, one player can swing an entire series and Sanchez has that ability. There’s risk to this, which is why Boone must be quick to pull him if things don’t work, but the upside is undeniable.
Yankees must live by the homer in October
Sanchez is not a complete player and he never will be. The Yankees know what comes with the territory, lots of strikeouts and a low batting average. However, it comes with the kind of power that is incredible rare at catcher and that can change a game with one swing.
If you want Sanchez’s power, then you’re going to have to live with the other deficiencies. There is downside, but the chance of Gary Sanchez making an impact with a big home run October is why he should be the Yankees’ top option at catcher.