For Gary Sanchez. offense has always been where he creates value.
He stepped to the plate on Sunday, February 28th for his first Spring Training at bat. Three pitches later, he returned to the dugout as a strikeout victim. As he swung at a high fastball for strike three, it evoked flashbacks to a well-documented 2020 season that he wants to forget.
Since then, his offensive performance has opened eyes, and he has shown why the New York Yankees‘ front office stayed loyal to him after a year where he hit .147 and struck out 35.9% of the time. He hit his third home run in 11 at bats Tuesday against the Detroit Tigers, bringing his slash line to .346/.462/1.182
Of course, 11 successful at bats do not automatically mean Sanchez will dominate at the plate in 2021. Still, he is showing positive signs that indicate the adjustments he has made may take him closer to what he is at his best, and further from what he was in 2020.
Gary Sánchez absolutely demolished a solo home run halfway up the light tower in left field 😳 pic.twitter.com/M7OBHcfhmw
— Max Goodman (@MaxTGoodman) March 9, 2021
“I have been working extremely hard with Marcus [Thames] and P.J. [Pilittere], making adjustments in the box,” Sanchez said through an interpreter on March 1st. “One of them keeping my weight more on my right leg.”
By keeping his weight back, Sanchez is able to better keep his balance. As someone that usually uses a leg kick, he admits sometimes he finds himself off balance. It is that inconsistency with his lower half that has played a role in his volatile offensive performances. While he thought about doing away with his leg kick altogether, he opted to adjust it and find more consistency with his lower half.
The early returns on those adjustments have been good. He has struck out twice in 10 at bats since that three-pitch strike out in his Spring Training debut.
“The adjustments I’ve made, I feel really good about them,” Sanchez said.
Playing well in Spring Training can help create momentum towards a good season. His best full season came in 2017 where he hit 33 home runs and posted a .876 OPS. That year, his Spring Training OPS was 1.193 in 51 at bats. In 2020, it was .371 before the four-month layoff from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hitting To All Fields
His 1.644 Spring Training OPS in and of itself shows promise for Sanchez in 2021. However, where he is hitting his home runs is also a positive sign. Each home run has gone to a different part of the field. That ability to stay on the ball and spread it all over the field eluded Sanchez in 2020.
According to Baseball Savant, nine of his 10 home runs and 17 of his 23 hits went to left field in 2020. His overall pull percentage was 52.2%. By comparison, in 2017, he did a better job of spreading the ball around with 18 home runs to left field and 15 to right and center field. That season’s 44.5% pull rate is the lowest of his career, so far.
Power has always been Sanchez’s trademark when he makes contact. As tough as 2020 was, he was still in the top-10% of hard hit rate in MLB. It is clear the adjustments are not sacrificing any of his power because his first home run went over the batter’s eye in dead center field and Tuesday’s home run was 109.4 mph off the bat.
The key now is for Sanchez to take these positive trends and make them good habits during the season.
“Keep working,” Sanchez said. “Ya know, keep working towards that consistency, and hopefully keep improving in the upcoming games.”
Although 2020 first-round pick Austin Wells has garnered a lot of attention early in camp, Sanchez is reminding everyone that his bat is what put him in the conversation as one of MLB’s top catchers early in his career. He still has a long way to go and 11 at bats do not catapult him back into that discussion, but it is how he has succeeded at the plate that gives hope for a rebound season in 2021.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images