One of the most polarizing players in fantasy baseball, Gary Sanchez has the ability to be a top-two catcher at any given moment. Short-term memory makes many believe there is no way to fix “The Kraken”, but Gary is the second-fastest player to reach 100 HR (trailing Ryan Howard by 30 games) and by far the fastest catcher, surpassing Mike Piazza’s record by 67 games. He’s now hit 2 homers in his first 18 at-bats on the young season so far. He’s back right?! Not so fast...
When Gary makes contact, the chance is always there for him to hit the ball a long way; even in his abysmal 2020 (he finished the season with a line of .147/.253/.365), he ranked in the 97th percentile in Barrel Rate and the 89th percentile in Exit Velocity. The Yankee fan in me was so excited to see Gary come out of the gate hot, smashing two home runs on opening weekend. Tell me you aren’t at least a little excited to see that swing.
Now to the bad news. In the clip below, you can see Gary swing and miss on a high fastball (100mph) from Julian Merryweather. Yes, he got beat on this pitch pretty badly and sometimes that happens to the best players in the sport. But, for me, I see this as an all-too-similar occurrence with Sanchez. You can see here that Gary’s leg kick is still at its apex when Merryweather is about to release the ball. There is simply no time for Sanchez to plant his leg and begin his swing, he will be late on every hard fastball if this continues. Pitchers will continue to throw fastballs to get ahead in the count, leaving him guessing on what will come next.
Gary has always struggled against “Power” pitchers (pitchers who are in the top 3rd of the league in strikeouts plus walks) compared to finesse pitchers (pitchers who are in the bottom third of the league in strikeouts plus walks). At the root of this issue lies his inability to hit upper 90’s fastballs. On the surface, it is an encouraging sign that he was able to take two balls out of the park so far in this young season, but those two pitches were at 91mph and 88mph. Gary does not have a hit on a pitch thrown over 95mph this season. Despite the small sample size, pitchers seem to have taken notice and increased their fastball percentage by 20% from his career norms, up to 72.5%.
For both of Sanchez’s home runs so far this year, he was in a count where he could presumably guess what was coming; a first-pitch fastball and a 2-2 slider. When able to guess what pitch was coming, Gary’s load was much earlier, allowing his leg kick to reach its apex much earlier than the pitch he missed against Merryweather. You can see where the ball is during Ryu’s windup, down below his waist with the majority of his windup yet to come. This allows Sanchez to time the pitch perfectly, and smash it 107.2 mph, carrying 407 feet.
With such a small sample, it is necessary to take things back a little further. Going back to his stellar 2017 All-Star season, he was able to catch up to some higher-speed pitches and even take some out of the yard. In a similar fashion to what he did against Ryu earlier this season, Gary was able to take a 96 mph fastball from David Price and put it over the Right Centerfield wall, but take a look at where his leg kick meets its apex, as the baseball is down near Price’s waist. His timing was simply better. Mechanically, he possesses all the tools a successful hitter needs in the MLB, but for Sanchez, it is only a matter of putting it all back together, taking some more swings at some faster pitching machines in the batting cage, and not trying to crush every pitch thrown.
Pitchers, at this point in the year, are further along than hitters and many of the games best hitters still need to get their timing down. It certainly is an exciting point that Sanchez has managed to do this in the past. For now, it's just a matter of getting back to it. There may be some major growing pains if he makes this change, however. My zero shares of Gary this season will absolutely start kicking the tires trying to acquire some, but owners are probably pretty happy with their Week 1 stats from him. Keep a close eye on him as he faces some flamethrowers in the next few series against the Tampa Bay Rays twice and the Blue Jays. If you see he can do as much as time a hard fastball well, buy before it's too late.