Gary Sanchez
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Gary Sanchez is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball, but he had a down year defensively. How will the New York Yankees catcher respond?

A familiar and longlasting complaint among New York Yankees fans has directly dealt with Gary Sanchez’s defense. This mainly comes from his troubles when blocking the ball.

Sanchez heard those complaints and made an effort to improve his blocking ability. In the process, Sanchez did get better at blocking the ball, but regressed at everything else.

New catching coach Tanner Swanson is tasked to improve Gary Sanchez’s defense to the level it was at before.

Framing is more Important than Blocking

Despite what some people may tell you, the most important job of a catcher defensively is to be able to frame well. The better you are at framing, the better you are at defense.

The best defensive catcher in baseball is Austin Hedges. He led all catchers in every source’s framing metric. Hedges is slightly above average at blocking, according to Baseball Prospectus. It has nearly no impact on his value, as blocking isn’t as important as framing. 

The framing metrics vary on Sanchez’s best year, but both Baseball Savant and Fangraphs have Gary’s best year listed as 2018. Baseball Prospectus has it as 2017.

In 2017, Sanchez ranked 19th out of 115 catchers in FRAA. In 2018, Sanchez was 11th in defensive value amongst catchers on FanGraphs and was 22nd out of 60 catchers in Savant’s framing metric. Despite all criticisms, Sanchez appeared to be an above-average defensive catcher. 

In 2018, his negative blocking outweighed his positive framing according to baseball prospectus. He heard the criticisms and worked at it. He went from a -4.3 blocking runs to -0.1 blocking runs. His framing runs went from 3.3 to -5.1, according to the same source. On Savant, it went from +3 to -4. On FanGraphs, it went from 2.6 value to -6.8 value.

Sanchez had the worst defensive season of his career. How does he improve it from here?

Less Movement is Good

When it comes to framing, the more the catcher moves, the less likely it’s going to be a strike. Take a look at this pitch from Jonathan Loaisiga. It’s clearly a ball, but a good framer can get that call. Sanchez moves his glove too much to try and stick the spot.

Watch Austin Hedges receive a similar pitch. Notice, how the glove comes in and there’s less movement from Hedges. That’s how he’s able to get those calls. He keeps his body stable; glove stays under the ball and brings the ball in towards himself.

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What can Swanson Do

Tanner Swanson is the new catching and quality control coach for the Yankees. He comes from the Minnesota Twins, who just enjoyed a breakout year from Mitch Garver. He was a monster at the plate, but he made great strides defensively, too. Garver went from a terrible framer to an average to above-average framer. He was -8.2 in framing runs in 2018 to +4.4, according to Prospectus.

On FanGraphs framing value, Garver went from -9.2 to 0.8 value. Savant still had Garver in the negative with -3 runs, but it was 6 run improvement from the year prior. How did he do this? Garver changed his stance catching wise. 

The Twins backstop went from the standard stance to down on one knee. He kept the glove lower and worked it back into the zone rather than trying to stick the spot. Here’s a clip from 2018.

The standard catcher stance with the sticking of the ball. Here’s a clip from 2019. A different stance, the glove is lower, and he works the glove into himself. This is what Swanson will try to get Gary Sanchez to do in 2020. 

Gary Sanchez is a big part of the Yankees’ success in the future. While he’s shown what he’s capable of with the bat. It’s time for him to take that next step to become the player he is destined to be. With Tanner Swanson at his side, new training staff to hopefully keep him healthy, Gary Sanchez could be in for a big 2020. 

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