After the New York Yankees called out the defense of young-stud Gary Sanchez, how will they work to improve the backstop?
Throughout his 10-year tenure with the franchise, he has defended the borderline-defenseless, given the proper respect to Yankee legends and has secured the right to be described as a genuine player’s manager.
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This is why it struck everyone as surprising when Girardi, a former backstop himself, called out his young catcher Gary Sanchez on Friday night.
Girardi said it simply: he needs to get better. Sanchez leads all Major League catchers with 12 passed balls and leads American League catchers in errors with 10. His defensive runs saved above average, per Baseball Reference, sits at two — nine fewer runs saved than his average a year ago.
But for Girardi to come out and say “that’s enough” indicates that he has become a liability behind the dish. After all, the Yankees are 36-41 when Sanchez makes an appearance in a game and the last few contests have been truly revealing.
Sanchez allowed Cleveland’s Austin Jackson to score a run during their 7-2 loss on Friday night, which marked his 12th passed ball. With Jordan Montgomery on the hill the next day, the Yankees likely don’t win with Sanchez catching. Especially when Aroldis Chapman misfired a handful of heaters saved by backup catcher Austin Romine.
Speaking of Romine, he has been a far better defensive catcher for the Yankees this season. Sure, he’s slashing just .221/.283/.297 and can’t come close to matching the power Sanchez has exhibited in the past, but defense, especially from the catcher’s position, can and has unquestionably affected the outcome of a contest.
Does this mean that Sanchez, who has hit 37 home runs in his first 132 career games, needs to hit the bench? Or the designated hitter’s role with Matt Holliday out? It’s a peculiar issue, as the Yankees are caught between teaching a 24-year-old the ropes of being a backstop while wanting to throw out your best offensive unit.
The former is tough to accomplish in the heat of a pennant chase and the latter is necessary for one — especially when considering the offensive woes in the second half. One thing’s for sure: you cannot continuously bench Gary Sanchez.
Ever since his permanent promotion on August 3 of 2016, he has been one of the cornerstones of this immensely successful youth movement. And perhaps that played a role in this defensive epidemic.
Last year, Sanchez became the fastest player to 19 homers in major league history and ended up finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting despite playing in just 53 games. Yes, his right cannon was on full-display as well his handling of pitchers, but his bat was the source behind his swift rise to fame.
Everything from #IAmGary to El Kraken, the organization marketed the bat of Sanchez to no end. Has that motivated the 24-year-old, who put on an extensive amount of muscle over the offseason, to work on his bat more than his craft behind the plate?
“Defensively, he is not like he was last year,” general manager Brian Cashman told the New York Post. “He added eight to 12 pounds of muscle and his body fat stayed the same, but I don’t think he has the flexibility. It was good intentions and bad results.’’
If both Girardi (along with four-time gold glove catcher and current first-base coach Tony Pena) and Cashman are so keen on seeing an improvement in Sanchez’s efforts on the field to the point where they’re calling him out, then this was an issue in dire need of addressing.
With the back-to-back days off — including a day game after night game — from catching, maybe it lights a fire under Sanchez to improve the effort. The Yankees have lost the luxury of letting him grind it out and need him to progress in this area if they want a shot at contending for the AL pennant.
For now, it’s time to get to work. Girardi and Pena both worked with Sanchez, who is expected to be back in the lineup on Tuesday night, in the bullpen before Sunday’s game, having him catch the newly-acquired Sonny Gray and working on blocking balls.
The people around Sanchez and his general work ethic say he will be fine. But the two messages sent by the brass were clear: Gary Sanchez must improve and the Yankees can ill-afford mediocrity from any position right now. Evaluation is over, as winning has taken the top-spot on the “to-do list” yet again.