Just for an instant, as the ball kissed the palm of his catcher’s mitt, it seemed that something would at last work out for Gary Sánchez. He would squeeze the foul pop-up and end the fifth inning. He had whiffed to end the top of the frame, just another strikeout in a season strewn with them, but maybe his next time up, he would smash a ball into the stands. Maybe this would be the end of what he last week had called a “bad moment,” one in which he found himself the seventh-worst hitter in baseball as his Yankees struggled to stay above .500.
The ball skipped out of his mitt. He stared at it, bewildered. What more could he have done? He had shuffled down the third-base line, camped out, opened his glove. But he was a fraction of an inch off.
That’s exactly the kind of season it’s been for the 27-year-old Sánchez. He has long tormented New York fans, alternating passed balls with moonshot home runs. But this offseason, he dedicated himself to his defense, learning a new, one-knee stance from catching guru Tanner Swanson, imported this winter from the Twins. Sánchez has improved, according to Baseball Prospectus’s catcher defense statistics, from the 15th percentile to 25th. He has sacrificed some of his ability to block errant pitches but has improved his framing, resulting in more low called strikes.
Crouched behind the plate, he finally felt comfortable. Standing beside it, he was more lost than ever. Three innings after he let that pop-up drop on Tuesday, Sánchez grounded to third to complete his second straight 0–4. (The Yankees lost to the Blue Jays 2–1, to fall to 21–21.) The team benched him after the last one, a four-strikeout affair on Saturday. “I wanted to keep playing,” Sánchez said, through an interpreter, before Tuesday’s game. “I wanted to keep playing to find a way out of it.” But he accepted the break. It did not appear to have helped. It’s hard to choose a number to demonstrate the depths of his failures this season, but this one stands out: Sánchez has not had two hits in a game all season.
Here, too, his struggles are bewildering. He is hitting .125. His OPS is .565. He has historically slugged .571 on fastballs; this year that number is .385. The team has dropped him to seventh in the batting order. He takes extra batting practice. He stays off Instagram. Nothing seems to be working. And yet, according to Statcast, he has barreled up 17.3% of balls this year. His average exit velocity is 92.1 mph. He has hit fully half of his balls hard. All three figures are among the best of his career, and all three place him in the top 10% of major leaguers this year.
But those balls are turning into pop-ups or flyouts, pulled instead of up-the-middle. He is a tick under the ball, a tick early. A fraction of an inch off.
- Sixto Sánchez, the jewel the Marlins received from the Phillies in the J.T. Realmuto trade, continues to shine. On Tuesday, on 89 pitches, he allowed three hits and one walk while striking out six in six-plus scoreless innings. Look at this sequence:
- Wil Myers hit the Padres’ seventh grand slam of the season. They’ve played 44 games. The 162-game record is 14, which the Indians had in 2006 and the A’s had in ’00. Slam Diego, indeed.
- I agree with most of the pace-of-play complaints, but I could have watched another hour of this Matt Wieters–Caleb Thielbar at bat.
Ten minutes and 19 pitches is still pretty good, though.