Few recent New York Yankees players have endured as much scrutiny from the fans as Gary Sanchez has. Although he made the All-Star team in 2019, 2018 and 2020 were completely lost years for him. Moreover, over the first two months of 2021, it seemed like Sanchez wasn’t going to bounce back. By April’s end, Sanchez was only hitting .190 and had hit only two home runs. Sanchez slightly improved in May: he slugged a solid .443 and his May OPS was over .100 points higher than April’s. But this improvement went mostly under the radar, probably because Sanchez’s overall numbers were still quite lackluster by this point.
Sanchez Heats Up
This brings us to June when the entire narrative of Sanchez’s season got flipped on its head. In 18 games in June, Sanchez is hitting .300/.372/.686, and now his slash line on the year is .238/.345/.492. It would be almost impossible to imagine this record a month ago, but Sanchez is now first in WRC+ (weighted runs created plus) among all American League catchers. Sanchez is blazing a path to his third career All-Star appearance and potentially a Comeback Player of the Year award.
Sanchez’s improvement can be attributed to crucial adjustments he has made at the plate. Most notably, he has reduced the size of his leg kick, allowing him to better time up fastballs, which were giving him a hard time early in this season and in 2020. Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames has been heavily criticized by fans for the Yankees having one of the league’s worst offenses, but you have to give him some credit here. Hopefully, he can fix Gleyeber Torres next.
No athlete has received as much recent criticism from the media as Gary Sanchez has. They berate him over his poor defense or perceived lack of concentration or hustle. Sanchez has definitely been hearing the boos. Earlier this week he said this, “It’s great to hear the fans show their support, so it definitely feels really good. I‘ve got to say, I wish that sometimes when I‘m struggling I hear the same kind of support from them, but they‘re New York fans.” It’s great that the fans are now back on his side, and despite what the media says, Gary Sanchez has worked incredibly hard his entire career.
Who Should Catch Cole?
One narrative that cannot go unmentioned is the Gerrit Cole situation. Yankees back-up catcher Kyle Higashioka has started behind the dish for each of Cole’s starts except for opening day. Higashioka has become Cole’s personal catcher, which was not controversial when Gary was hitting below .200. Yankees manager Aaron Boone says that Sanchez is not going to catch every day anyway. He reasons that since the Cole-Higashioka pairing is working out, there is no need to change things. However, if the Yankees make the postseason, how could you not start one of your best hitters when Cole is on the mound?
There are two potential solutions to this. First, you could have Gary catch some of Cole’s starts going forward to build up more comfort between the two. Alternatively, if Giancarlo Stanton is able to play the outfield, Sanchez could be the DH. Stanton stated that he plans to be ready to play the outfield by the Yankee’s next series in a National League ballpark so he isn’t relegated to being a pinch hitter throughout the series.
Gary Sanchez is starting to look like the player who won the hearts of Yankees fans in 2016 when he hit 20 home runs in 53 games. He is reminding us of the heights he has always been capable of.