Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is the lone catcher across baseball to have tallied at least 20 home runs this season. His offensive WAR (1.7) is a top-ten figure at his position, and he is a big factor in New York’s potent lineup.
Former MLB catcher and “Big Time Baseball: Players Edition” co-host Ben Davis acknowledged Sanchez’s offensive potency, but he sees a problem in other aspects of his game.
“Gary Sanchez is a special kind of player,” Davis said. “He is a guy that’s known for his bat… and he can flat out beat you at home plate. But the bottom line is, can he catch? Is he good enough to catch in the postseason?”
Davis brings up a point worthy of examination. The past two years, Sanchez has led all catchers in passed balls, and is in the top-five in wild pitches allowed. While the two are similar stats, passed balls fall more on the catcher as they are scored if the catcher reasonably should have controlled the pitch. Wild pitches can still speak to the chemistry between the pitcher-catcher battery.
“Passed balls is really an issue, and some of their relievers are absolutely nasty,” Davis said, mentioning New York relievers like Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances. “If you have a guy that’s behind home plate who’s not able to catch the way his pitchers want him to catch… is that really something that they can afford?
Sanchez has been able to keep his numbers lower this year, allowing six passed balls so far, but more advanced stats suggest his defensive value hurts them in other areas. Framing runs, a metric that measures a catcher’s effectiveness at saving runs by getting certain pitches called strikes, is becoming a popular analytical tool. Sanchez’s framing runs statistic sits at minus-4.8, among the worst in baseball.
“That’s something I think (Yankees manager) Aaron Boone is going to have to seriously consider,” Davis said. “If they don’t think that he can do it then that will really hurt them from an offensive standpoint, but I know they have other weapons that can beat you.”
Later in the episode, Davis is joined by Padres catcher Austin Hedges who, despite lackluster offensive numbers, is one of the most valuable catchers in the league according to defensive metrics. His framing runs leads the league at an astounding 17.0, more than seven runs higher than runner-up Tyler Flowers.
You can subscribe and listen to Ben Davis alongside Tony Gwynn Jr. as he returns for the next episode of “Big Time Baseball: Players Edition”, available on iTunes among other podcasting apps.
All stats and data courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.