NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 15: Gary Sanchez #24 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out swinging during the fourth inning against the Houston Astros in game three of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium on October 15, 2019 in New York City.
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The New York Yankees need Gary Sanchez to be their big bat in an injury-depleted lineup. He has completely failed to rise to the occasion.

Josh Benjamin

Gary Sanchez is failing when the New York Yankees need him the most.

The former star catching prospect is utterly lost at the plate this season. Granted, Sanchez only hit .232 in 2019, but injuries slowed him in the second half. He also had a career-best 34 home runs with 77 RBI and was an All-Star. Combine that with him getting in amazing shape during the offseason, and hopes were high.

And even though the 2020 MLB season is unlike anything ever seen before and the pandemic allows for certain excuses, Gary Sanchez has none. He is batting an awful .134 on the season with a paltry .253 OBP. The strikeouts are neverending.

With Aaron Judge out for a while and Giancarlo Stanton still without a return date, the facts are simple. Gary Sanchez needs to right the ship fast.

What’s the problem?

To diagnose the problem, let’s start at the beginning. Gary Sanchez became the everyday catcher in August 2016 and made an immediate impact. He only played in 53 games that season, but hit .299 with 20 home runs and 42 RBI. Sanchez also had a .376 OBP and finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

The New York Yankees’ front office and fans were ecstatic. At long last, Jorge Posada’s permanent heir had arrived behind home plate.

And even though Sanchez hit .278 with 33 home runs and 90 RBI in just 122 games as a sophomore, the honeymoon has since been short-lived. Since 2018, Gary Sanchez has batted a meager .204 despite 57 home runs and 140 RBI over that stretch.

As to what the problem is, a lot of it has to do with batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Entering Sunday’s doubleheader, Sanchez’s average BABIP the past three years was a paltry .195. Sanchez also has a knack for hitting the ball hard, so bad luck is indeed a factor for him.

However, strikeouts have been a big problem for Sanchez. His career K% is 26.1%. It’s high, even with strikeouts up across the board in an era of power and launch angles.

What’s concerning is in 2020, Sanchez’s K% has risen to an awful 41.1%. In a lineup missing Judge, Stanton, and Gleyber Torres, that simply cannot happen.

Doing too much

But why is Gary Sanchez struggling so much with strikeouts? After all, he’s averaging 4.12 pitches per plate appearance this season, which isn’t terrible. Even with his sluggish numbers, Sanchez isn’t just having terrible at-bat after terrible at-bat.

However, looking at Fangraphs, some numbers stand out. His line-drive rate (LD%) is only at 10% on the year, way below his career mark of 18.3%. His soft contact rate, meanwhile, is a career-low 15%.

And Sanchez isn’t swinging at too many pitches out of the zone either. His O-Swing%, which measures pitches swung at out of the zone, is at 34.5%, which tracks with his career numbers. His swinging strike percentage (SwStr%), however, is up a point and a half from last year at 14.5%. More importantly, that is above his career SwStr% of 12.8%.

Throw in YES Network analyst Paul O’Neill’s take during Sunday’s broadcast, and everything here suggests Sanchez’s problems are part mental, part mechanical. In layman’s terms, he is simply trying to do too much.

No fast fix

The sad part is that when it comes to Gary Sanchez’s struggles, the problem will likely get worse before it gets better. Backups Kyle Higashioka and Erik Kratz are wholly capable, but neither has the same power potential as Sanchez.

This means, as much as it will frustrate fans, Gary Sanchez will have to fix his swing while remaining in the lineup. However, management did send him a message on Saturday. Despite being available to pinch-hit in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 1-1 game, Sanchez remained on the bench in favor of Kratz.

Contrastingly, Sanchez slugged a pinch-hit grand slam that proved the game-winner in Game 2 of Sunday’s doubleheader. Such has been the story of his career the past few years. He is very talented, but equally feast or famine.

This is a man general manager Brian Cashman calls “The Kraken,” a very threatening legendary creature of the high seas. In 2020, however, Sanchez has been less threatening than Marlin, Nemo, and Dory combined.

Final thoughts

In the end, Gary Sanchez will remain in the starting lineup. The potential for the bat to rake is just too high to bench, especially in an abbreviated season and the Yankees desperate for offense.

And whatever mechanical issues he’s having, the clock is ticking quicker than some may think. He’ll turn 28 in December and only has two years of arbitration left before free agency. Meanwhile, switch-hitting catching prospect Anthony Seigler is supposed to have potential despite not playing this year. 2020 first-round pick Austin Wells was a catcher in college, but either the outfield or first base are more likely for him as a pro.

And on top of all that, there’s really no better catcher for the Yankees right now. Gary Sanchez is frustrating, but his potential and ceiling are unmatched by anyone not named JT Realmuto. Cashman could theoretically decide to non-tender him this offseason and just go for broke on Realmuto in free agency, but it won’t happen. Potential extensions for Judge and perhaps DJ LeMahieu need to be prioritized above that.

This means for all intents and purposes, the Yankees are stuck with Sanchez this year. When he’s good, he’s very, very good. When he’s off, he looks like he barely belongs in the majors.

It has simply been too much of the latter lately, even with Sunday’s clutch pinch-hitting performance. Hopefully, the real Gary Sanchez shows back up soon and gets this bare-bones lineup back on track.

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