Sure things are never less sure than they are in baseball. Coming into 2018, the Yankees’ offense and bullpen were supposed to carry them and the rotation was supposed to be, at the least, a question mark. Thus far, the bullpen has had some high-profile hiccups and the rotation has been damn good. The offense–while mostly fine–hasn’t quite broken out the way we expected. Part of the reason for that is Gary Sanchez’s slow start at the plate.
Sanchez will start today with a line of .063/.091/.188. His wOBA is .124, good for a comically low wRC+ of -34. With all the “it’s super early” caveats applying, that is one ugly line. If we’re looking for a silver lining, both of his two hits are for extra bases–one homer and one double. A quick glance at things hints that two things may be at play here: discipline and contact–or a lack of both.
Here’s a thing I didn’t realize until I started looking at Sanchez’s numbers while writing this: he hasn’t walked this year. Not so fun fact! He wasn’t exactly Barry Bonds last year, drawing 40 walks, but his 7.6% BB rate was at least within shouting distance of the league average 8.5%. The only reason his OBP is higher than his BA is because he was hit by one pitch and he hasn’t hit a sac fly yet. What’s behind this? Our first thought might be that he’s swinging at too many pitches out of the zone, but that’s not necessarily the case. His O-Swing% is 37.2, up just under a percentage point from last year. That’s not a huge gap. Additionally, his Z-Swing% has stayed steady at 63.2, identical to last year’s. This needs another caveat since it’s early, but his strikeout rate is down, too, to 15.2%, which is good! But, with two strikes, Gary is doing chasing on pitches that are definitely hard to hit, doing himself no favors. The biggest issue from this area, though, is that he’s making contact on too many bad pitches.
While he’s not necessarily swinging at an inordinate amount of pitches out of the zone, he’s making way too much contact on those pitches: 78.6%, up from 60.9% in 2017. Where does that show up? In his general contact profile. Look at that IFFB%: 28.6%! That certainly matches the eye test, which tells me he’s hit a few too many pop ups this year. Grounders are slightly up, as are fly balls, but line drives are way down. He’s too good a hitter for his LD% to stay at 3.7 (!) all year or even much longer, but it helps explain things. Overall, his soft contact percentage is up too high, his hard contact percentage is down too low, so he’s not hitting the ball with any authority.
This isn’t going to last because it just isn’t. Some of the numbers are just sample size noise and Sanchez is too good of a hitter. But it’s still a part of why the Yankees’ offense hasn’t seemed to get rolling like it should. With Greg Bird and Aaron Hicks out, this has definitely looked more pronounced, and may continue to with Brandon Drury hitting the DL. Hopefully Sanchez can begin to break out of it to help mitigate those absences.