A calm, rational discussion about Gary Sanchez’s defense

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Yesterday afternoon, for the second straight game, Gary Sanchez was not behind the plate for the Yankees. He started at designated hitter Saturday and did not play at all Sunday. Austin Romine caught the day game after the night game. Joe Girardi said Sanchez would catch Sunday after Saturday’s game, but nope, didn’t happen. “I really loved what Romine did,” said Girardi, explaining the change in plans.

Sanchez did not catch Saturday and Sunday for one reason and one reason only: his defense. He’s struggled blocking balls in the dirt all season and it all came to a head Friday night, when Sanchez didn’t stop a Jaime Garcia fastball and a run crossed the plate. Here’s the play:

That was Sanchez’s league leading 12th passed ball of the season. He missed about a month with the biceps injury earlier this season, remember. That’s 12 passed balls in 553.2 innings. Yasmani Grandal, the only other catcher with double-digit passed balls this year, has eleven in 708 innings. Sanchez is first in passed balls and 20th in innings caught. That’s not good.

Sanchez’s inability to consistently block blockable pitches is unquestionably a problem. I can’t imagine anyone will disagree. Is it enough of a problem that all of this was necessary? The back-to-back Romine starts, all the public comments, and taking Sanchez’s bat out of the lineup Sunday? I know the Yankees broke out for eight runs without Sanchez, but still. Let’s talk this all out.

1. Yes, this is a message. Prior to yesterday’s game Girardi insisted sitting Sanchez in favor of Romine was not a message. Here’s exactly what he said, via Andrew Marchand:

“The start is not the message,” Girardi said. “The message came from us verbally that, ‘Your defense needs to improve. That you need to get better. You need to work at it.’ We have stressed how important it is. There are certain situations that some people may not think that something that happens in the game affects the next game. It could if it leads to 10 extra pitches for a reliever.”

Come on. This was very clearly a message. You can talk to the player as much as possible and tell him whatever you want. Nothing will get a player’s attention quite like taking away his playing time. Girardi did not fall so in love with anything Romine did Saturday that he just had to put him in the lineup Sunday. Nope. Sitting Sanchez yesterday was a message, and that message was you need to be better defensively.

2. Is it possible the passed ball problems are being exaggerated? Like I said, Sanchez has allowed 12 passed balls in 553.2 innings this season. That’s one every 46.1 innings. One every five games plus one inning, or thereabouts. One a week, basically, when you factor in rest days and all that. Is one passed ball a week that huge a deal when a guy is hitting .265/.339/.488 (119 wRC+)? Eh, maybe it is.

The real problem isn’t 12 passed balls in 553.2 innings. It’s three passed balls in the last five games and five passed balls in the last 12 games. Sanchez committed only seven passed balls in his first 52 games, and now it’s five in the last 12 games. That’s making all this look worse than it really is. That’s probably not the right way to put it. Five passed balls in 12 games is a definite problem. Sanchez hasn’t been allowing them at that pace all season though.

Perhaps this is a fatigue issue? This is Sanchez’s first full season as a starting big league catcher, and while he’s caught full seasons in the minors before, it’s not really the same thing. There’s much more responsibility at this level. Add in the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby and all that, and I’m guessing the body isn’t feeling as fresh these days as it usually does. Sanchez is only 24, but man, catching is brutal.

3. There’s more to catching than blocking balls. Defense stats in general are pretty sketchy, and that goes double for catcher defense stats. It’s hard to quantify what they actually do back there, especially when it comes to working with pitchers. Here, for the sake of discussion, is where Sanchez ranks among the 87 catchers to play a big league game this season in the various catcher defense metrics at Baseball Prospectus:

  • Framing: +4.0 runs (13th)
  • Blocking: -1.3 runs (80th)
  • Throwing: +0.8 runs (10th)
  • Total Fielding: +3.5 runs (15th)

Blocking pitches is the only thing Sanchez does poorly according to these stats, which may or may not be accurate. I don’t see how looking at these is any different than the pointing out Sanchez leads the league in baseball balls. The more information, the better. These are all tools in the shed. To call Sanchez a bad defensive catcher is unfair. He’s bad at blocking balls. He’s a quality framer and thrower and that stuff matters too.

4. Sanchez won’t improve on the bench. Let me make something crystal clear: Sanchez is the catcher of the present and the catcher of the future. He’s not moving to first base or designated hitter anytime soon. Great teams are strong up the middle and Sanchez is the man behind the plate. And that’s probably part of the reason these passed balls are so frustrating. You can’t help but want him to be that complete player right now.

That’s not really how it works though. Catching is very hard and pretty much every young catcher struggles with something. Most struggle offensively because they’re so focused on defense. Not everyone comes up and is an immediate two-way impact player like Buster Posey. Posey’s going to the Hall of Fame (yup) because there was no learning curve. He had instant success. Not everyone is so lucky.

Sanchez is not going to become that catcher of the future by sitting on the bench. He does all the drills with Tony Pena, arguably the best catching instructor in baseball, but nothing can replicate game action. You want Sanchez to be better at blocking balls in the dirt? Then you’ve got to put him in the game and make him block balls in the dirt. That’s the only way. If Girardi and the Yankees want Sanchez to improve, they can’t continue to bench him.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

5. Girardi went about this in the best way possible (probably). Think about how long this had to be brewing for Girardi to say what he said Friday — “He needs to improve. Bottom line, he needs to improve” — and to actually go through with benching Sanchez on Sunday. Girardi is very protective of his players. He typically defends them even when they aren’t worth defending.

We saw Girardi pull Sanchez aside in Chicago a few weeks ago, when he let a Masahiro Tanaka splitter get through his legs. I can only imagine the conversations we haven’t seen. This has been going on for a while now and Girardi finally decided enough was enough, it’s time for tough love. Words aren’t working so it’s time to send a message the most effective way a manager can send a message, and that’s by taking away playing time.

Girardi said what he had to say Friday. He let Sanchez serve as the DH on Saturday, then sat him out entirely on Sunday. There’s an off-day today, so that’s three straight days away from catching for Sanchez. Three days away from catching but only one game completely on the bench. It gets Sanchez away from catching long enough to drive home the “you need to be better” point without hurting the team that much.

* * *

The Yankees and Girardi know Sanchez better than anyone. They know when to be gentle with him and they know when to be tough. The passed ball problems have become extreme of late — again, three in his last five games and five in his last 12 games — and they couldn’t go unaddressed any longer. No one actually thinks the Yankees are a better team with Romine behind the plate, right? I mean:

  • Pitchers with Sanchez: 3.48 ERA (3.43 FIP) with 25.8% strikeouts and 7.2% walks
  • Pitchers with Romine: 4.22 ERA (4.02 FIP) with 24.1% strikeouts and 8.7% walks

If the pitchers prefer throwing to Romine, it isn’t showing up in the stats. Are they more comfortable bouncing a two-strike breaking ball with Romine behind the plate? Yeah, probably. Do they enjoy having a great hitter at the catcher position and getting all that run support? You bet they do. Literally the only thing Romine does better than Sanchez is block balls in the dirt. The numbers say Sanchez is a better framer and thrower, and I’m pretty sure he could out-hit Romine one-handed.

The Yankees are going to continue to work with Sanchez to improve his defense, and, truth be told, he’s already worked really hard to get to where he is today. Sanchez was not a great defender when he signed as a teenager. He was never Jesus Montero bad, but he was bad. Now he’s not so bad, recent passed ball issues notwithstanding. Sanchez is a core player for the Yankees going forward and the Yankees are going to spend a lot of time and energy helping him get better. The benching this weekend was a timeout intended to remind Gary he can be better, not a sign his days at catcher are numbered.

Yankeemetrics: Two up, two down in Cleveland (Aug. 3-6)

(AP)
(AP)

Sorry, Sonny
Thursday’s series opener in Cleveland — a sloppy and frustrating 5-1 loss — was definitely not the ideal way to welcome Sonny Gray to the New York Yankees franchise.

Four batters into the game and the Yankees had already committed three errors behind Gray and the Yankees were quickly in a 2-0 hole. Whoops. It was the first time the Yankees committed three errors in any inning since October 2, 2010 against the Red Sox.

For Gray, this was a recurring nightmare that he thought had ended when he left Oakland, which leads the league in errors. Instead, he now has 13 unearned runs allowed on his ledger, tied with Derek Holland for the most in the majors through Thursday.

Gray pitched well as the Yankee gloves failed behind him, showing his toughness in pitching out of jams and limiting the damage on the scoreboard. He finished with two earned runs allowed on four hits in six innings, and for that solid effort, gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series:

Gray is the first pitcher in nearly 60 years to post those numbers or better (at least 6 innings, 2 earned runs or fewer, 4 hits or fewer) in his debut with the Yankees — and lose. The last guy to be this unlucky was Duke Maas in 1958. Maas (no relation to Kevin, I think) was traded by the A’s to the Yankees in mid-June, and then made his pinstriped debut as the starter in a 1-0 loss to the Tigers on June 21.

The Yankees bats also provided little offensive support as they were dominated by Corey Kluber, who tossed an 11-strikeout, three-hit complete game while giving up one run. That was his fourth straight start with at least eight strikeouts and one earned run or fewer allowed against the Yankees, the longest such streak ever by any pitcher against the Yankees.

(AP)
(AP)

Bad News Bombers
It was deja vu all over again on Friday night for the Yankees, as the mistakes in the field piled up and their offense remained in a miserable slump, resulting in another disappointing loss.

The “star” of the defensive lowlights was Gary Sanchez, who had his 12th passed ball of the season, the most in the majors despite the fact that he missed nearly a month of games in April and early May. He also has 10 errors, the second-most among catchers through Friday.

While the Yankees could barely touch Kluber’s stuff on Thursday, they put plenty of runners on base against Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen, but repeatedly failed to cash in on those chances. For the 15th time this season, they outhit their opponent (11-8) but still lost; only the Blue Jays (16) and White Sox (21) had suffered more losses in games when out-hitting their opponents through Friday.

Jaime Garcia contributed to the miserable night with a mediocre outing. He coughed up six runs in 4⅔ innings and couldn’t find the strike zone (four walks, one wild pitch), earning himself this #NotFunFact:

He’s one of just seven players in the Live Ball Era (since 1920) to allow that many runs, not get out of the fifth inning and walk at least four batters in his Yankee debut. The most recent guy to do it was CC Sabathia on Opening Day 2009 … okay? And the others are Tim Redding (2005), Bob Wiesler (1951), Fred Sanford (1949) and Karl Drews (1946).

(AP)
(AP)

Chase “Hero” Headley
While the bats remained silent on Saturday, the defense was outstanding and the Yankees got a stellar effort from Jordan Montgomery to survive a 2-1 nail-biter in Cleveland.

It was perhaps one of the team’s most unlikely wins, given how dominant Danny Salazar and the rest of the Indians pitchers were against a feeble Yankee lineup. They struck out 15 times, were on base just nine times and scored only two runs. In the last 100 years, no Yankee team had ever won a game with that many strikeouts, fewer than 10 baserunners and no more than two runs scored … before Saturday.

Montgomery was terrific, allowing one run on three hits in five innings, and making a strong statement that he should be a key part of the rotation down the stretch (which is now a hot topic for us banter about after he was optioned to Triple-A following Sunday’s game). Although Monty rarely dazzles like a Severino or Pineda, he consistently puts up solid numbers and keeps the Yankees in the game while he’s on the mound.

Consider this stat: Saturday was the 16th time this season that he held the opponent to three runs or fewer. Only five other Yankee pitchers have done that within their first 21 career games: Dave Righetti, Doc Medich, Masahiro Tanaka, Mel Stottlemyre and Spec Shea.

Chase Headley rescued the Yankees from another depressing loss when he belted a tie-breaking home run in the top of the eighth inning. Headley, who has quietly been one of the best hitters in the league since the All-Star break deserves a #FunFact for his heroics on Saturday: He is just the third Yankee first baseman in the last four decades with a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later against the Indians – Jason Giambi (2005) and Don Mattingly (1984 and 1986) are the others.

(AP)
(AP)

#Sevy4MVP
Finally … the Bronx Bombers are back. The Yankees offense, which had been M.I.A. for the past week, exploded for eight runs on Sunday, more than they had scored in their previous five games combined. But it was the brilliant pitching of Luis Severino and a shutdown performance by the Yankee bullpen that truly shined in the 8-1 win.

It was the fourth game this year that the pitching staff allowed no more than three baserunners. The last time a Yankees team did that? 1929!

Sevy, the undisputed ace of the 2017 staff, cemented his status as a no-doubt Cy Young contender with another lights-out performance: two hits, one run, nine strikeouts over 6⅔ dominant innings. I think this is a good list to be on:

He also became the first Yankee pitcher in more than 20 years to beat the Indians in Cleveland while holding them to no more than two hits. The last guy to do it? David Cone in the 1996 opener … and we know how that season ended.

Severino’s effort would have been another wasted gem in a deflating loss if not for the team’s offensive explosion in the sixth and seventh innings. The five-run sixth was sparked by the most unlikely source, a bases-loaded triple off the bat of Jacoby Ellsbury. The struggling lefty entered the day hitting .163 with runners in scoring position, the sixth-lowest batting average among AL players (min. 50 PA).

The three-run seventh, on the other hand, was powered by a much more familiar name — Mr. Aaron Judge — who smoked a 94 mph fastball into the rightfield seats for his 35th homer of the season. And, of course, with that blast, Judge etched his name in the baseball record books once again: He is the only rookie outfielder in major-league history with at least 35 homers and 75 walks in a season.

Saturday Links: Bour, Trade Value, Conlon, Rasmussen

Bour. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
Bour. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

Later today the Yankees and Red Sox will continue their four games in three days series with the second game at Fenway Park. That’s a 4pm ET start. Until then, here are some links to check out.

Bour trade talks only “cursory”

According to Buster Olney, trade talks between the Yankees and Marlins about first baseman Justin Bour have only been “cursory, non-specific.” Olney says the Marlins have let teams know they’re open for business while Jon Heyman reports the club has no intention to trade its affordable core players. That sounds like posturing to me. They’re willing to trade them but say they won’t in an effort to build some leverage.

Bour, 29, is hitting .289/.367/.556 (136 wRC+) with 20 home runs in 77 games this season, plus he’s under team control as an arbitration-eligible player through 2020. He put on quite a show in the Home Run Derby before getting knocked out by Aaron Judge. On one hand, Bour would be an enormous first base upgrade for the Yankees, and he’d provide a DH option going forward should Greg Bird ever get healthy. On the other hand, something about trading prospects for a 29-year-old late bloomer at the bottom of the defensive spectrum doesn’t sit well with me.

Three Yankees make FanGraphs’ trade value series

Over the last week Dave Cameron has posted his annual trade value series, in which he ranks the top 50 players in baseball by trade value. It’s not just about performance. It’s about performance and years of team control, things like that. Bryce Harper is obviously excellent, though he doesn’t make the top 50 because he’ll be a free agent after next season. Anyway, three Yankees make the top 50, and they’re the young cornerstones of the franchise.

6. Aaron Judge
12. Gary Sanchez
35. Luis Severino

Judge is behind Carlos Correa, Mike Trout, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor in that order. I have no problems with that. Judge is awesome and he won’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season, though he’s only been this for half-a-season. Those other guys have done it for a full season, at least. Sanchez is the highest ranked catcher and Severino is the 12th ranked pitcher, which is pretty great. Last year there were no Yankees in the trade value series. Now there are three, including two in the top 12.

O’s fourth rounder now a free agent

Jack Conlon, a fourth round pick by the Orioles in this year’s draft, is now an unrestricted free agent, according to both Jim Callis and Hudson Belinsky. The O’s saw something they didn’t like in Conlon’s physical and declined to sign him. They didn’t even make him the minimum offer (40% of his slot value), which is why he’s now a free agent. MLB.com ranked the Texas high school right-hander as the 175th best prospect in the draft class. Here’s a piece of their scouting report:

Conlon can pitch at 92-95 mph with life on his fastball and back it up with an 81-84 mph slider on days when his mechanics are in sync. His changeup lags behind his other two pitches, though it has some fade and he shows some feel for it. He has a classic pitcher’s build at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds that bodes well for his durability. Conlon lacks consistency, however, because he has a rough delivery with effort and a head whack.

There haven’t been any reports connecting Conlon to the Yankees (or any other team), and they might never come. This might be one of those situations where we skip straight to the signing announcement. I’m certain the Yankees will look into signing Conlon because hey, it’s not often you can pick up a decent pitching prospect for nothing but cash, though the failed physical is an issue. The Orioles are notoriously tough with their physicals, so maybe it’s nothing. Then again, it could be a serious arm problem, so much so that spending money on him isn’t worth the increased risk.

Also, I should note the Rays did not sign Oregon State right-hander Drew Rasmussen, the 31st selection in this year’s draft, also because something popped up in his physical. There are conflicting reports out there about his current status. Some say he’s a free agent because the Rays didn’t make the minimum offer while others say the Rays did make the minimum offer, and Rasmussen will return to school for his senior season rather than become a free agent. Who knows.

Cano’s home run gives AL a 2-1 win in the 2017 All-Star Game

Those socks tho. (Presswire)
Those socks tho. (Presswire)

Once again, the American League has proven it is the superior and more enjoyable league. The AL won the 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park on Tuesday night thanks to Robinson Cano‘s tenth inning home run against Wade Davis. The final score was 2-1. Cano hit the homer and was named MVP. Andrew Miller got the save. Ex-Yankees all over the place.

With the win, the AL has tied up the all-time All-Star Game series at 43-43-2. Both leagues have scored exactly 361 runs too. Freaky. The AL has won each of the last five All-Star Games and 17 of the last 21 overall. Total dominance. Here’s video of the Cano home run:

Man do I miss watching that guy’s swing on a daily basis. I still have nothing but love for Robbie.

As for the Yankees, Aaron Judge started the game in right field and went 0-for-3 before being removed. He struck out against Max Scherzer, grounded out again Carlos Martinez, and flew out against Alex Wood. Judge didn’t have to make any tough plays in the field. He made it out in one piece and that’s all that matters.

Dellin Betances threw the third inning for the AL and danced in and out of danger. His inning went single (Zack Cozart), strikeout (Charlie Blackmon), strikeout (Giancarlo Stanton), walk (Bryce Harper), walk (Buster Posey), ground out (Daniel Murphy). Luis Severino did not pitch in the game. He said he was slated to pitch the 11th had the game continued. Lame, but I guess he could use the rest.

It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Gary Sanchez came off the bench to replace Salvador Perez. He grounded out against Brad Hand and struck out against Kenley Jansen. (Future Yankee?) Yonder Alonso was on second base with one out in a 1-1 game that at-bat. Womp womp. Not a great day for the Yankees, but whatever. Who cares?

Here is the box score and video highlights. Now that the All-Star Game is over, every team in the league will have Wednesday and Thursday off. The Yankees begin the second half Friday night at Fenway Park for the first game of a four games in three days series with the Red Sox. Going right back into the fire, eh? Enjoy the rest of the All-Star break.

Aaron Judge wins 2017 Home Run Derby, all our hearts

If you don't know now you know. (Presswire)
If you don’t know now you know. (Presswire)

Monday night at Miami, Aaron Judge stole the show and won the 2017 Home Run Derby. He beat Justin Bour 23-22 in the first round, Cody Bellinger 13-12 in the second round, and Miguel Sano 11-10 in the third round. Judge was on another level. The last two rounds were actually anticlimactic.

The first round matchup with Bour was the highlight of the night. The hometown Marlin clubbed an incredible 22 home runs and had the crowd going nuts. Judge came back to hit 23 with time to spare. It was amazing. Bour had an amazing and fun round, and Judge knocked him right out.

In the second round Judge socked home runs measuring 504, 507, and 513 feet. He also hit one off the Marlins Park roof that didn’t count, so he really socked 24 against Bour. Judge also went opposite field into the second deck a few times, where the lefty power guys were hitting bombs. It was insane. Here’s some video:

Judge is the fourth Yankee to win the Home Run Derby, joining Tino Martinez (1999), Jason Giambi (2003), and Robinson Cano (2012). His 47 home runs are a Yankees record for the Home Run Derby. He could have topped Stanton’s record of 61 homers had they allowed him to hit until time expires. (As the higher seed, his round ended as soon as he topped his opponent’s total.)

As for Gary Sanchez, he knocked off Stanton in the first round 17-16 before losing to Sano in the second round 11-10. Sanchez seemed to run out of gas in the second round. Oh well. Nice try, Gary. Not bad for the second most awesome young Yankees slugger.

2017 Midseason Review: The Catchers

With the world of baseball enjoying the All-Star break, this week is as good a time as any to look back and review the first half of the Yankees’ 2017 season. It was a really interesting first half, wasn’t it? Let’s begin today with the two catchers.

Yo soy Gary. (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Yo soy Gary. (Adam Hunger/Getty)

The history of the Yankees is littered with excellent offensive catchers. Back in the day there was Bill Dickey, then Yogi Berra, then Elston Howard, then Thurman Munson, then Jorge Posada. Now the Yankees have Gary Sanchez, a homegrown 24-year-old All-Star in his first full season as the starting catcher. He gives the Yankees yet another excellent offensive catcher to anchor the lineup. His backup, Austin Romine, is homegrown too. Let’s review the first half of their season.

Gary Sanchez: Nearly repeating 2016 in 2017

What Sanchez did last year, smashing 20 home runs in 53 games en route to being named AL Rookie of the Year runner-up, made it impossible to estimate his true talent level coming into the 2017 season. Expecting him to sustain a 60-homer pace was unrealistic. The question is how much would his production fall?

Turns out, not much. At least not until Sanchez hit the skids a bit the final week before the All-Star break. His numbers through the same number of plate appearances as last year are freakishly similar:

PA AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+ HR K% BB% BABIP
2016 229 .299/.376/.657 171 20 24.9% 10.5% .317
2017 229 .289/.376/.517 139 13 23.1% 10.0% .333

Sanchez has gone 1-for-13 since his 229th plate appearance to drag his overall season batting line down to .276/.360/.591 (127 wRC+), which is still pretty awesome. Only Salvador Perez has more home runs among all catchers. (He has 18.) Among the 24 catchers with at least 200 plate appearances, only Alex Avila (156) and Buster Posey (142) have been more productive overall in terms of wRC+.

As for the straight 229 plate appearances comparison, it’s kinda freaky, no? The AVG, OBP, BABIP, strikeout rate, and walk rate are nearly identical to last year. The difference falls within the error bars of baseball randomness. The similarities go beyond those numbers too. Sanchez’s hard contact rate (41.8% vs. 37.2%) and pull rate (54.1% vs. 52.6%) are nearly identical. So is his chase rate (32.9% vs. 30.8%) and contact rate in pitches in the zone (83.7% vs. 85.0%).

This season Sanchez is hitting fewer ground balls (49.3% vs. 42.6%), which is a good thing! You want him hitting the ball in the air. At the same time, his HR/FB rate has dropped from 40.0% to 26.0%. That was to be expected though. No one can hit two out of every five fly balls out of the park. That was never going to last. The fewer grounders is good though. The more Gary hits the ball in the air, the more damage he’ll do. He’s not hitting at a 60-homer pace anymore. It’s more like a 35-homer pace. And that is pretty cool.

One thing I think everyone has noticed about Sanchez’s season to date is that he’s had an awful lot of hard-hit outs. I mean, he hits the ball hard a lot, so it’s bound to happen, but it seems like Gary has had more line drives find gloves than any one player reasonably should. Here are the numbers:

% Batted Balls at 100+ mph AVG on 100+ mph balls BABIP on 100+ mph balls
Sanchez 36.6% .561 .432
MLB AVG 19.4% .650 .564

Okay, so we’re not imagining things. Sanchez has had an inordinate number of hard-hit batted balls — I used 100 mph exit velocity as my cutoff because humans are obsessed with round numbers — for whatever reason. Part of it is probably his pull rate, right? Sanchez pulls the ball a lot so teams shift their defenses to that side. Some of it is probably plain ol’ bad luck too. Hopefully that luck pendulum swings back in Gary’s favor in the second half.

On the defensive side, Sanchez has had a bit of a rocky season, I’d say. He’s especially had trouble blocking pitches in the dirt. We saw Joe Girardi pull him aside in Chicago after he failed to block a Masahiro Tanaka splitter two weeks ago. The catcher defense stats at Baseball Prospectus say Sanchez was 1.4 runs below average blocking balls in 316 innings last year. This year he’s at 0.5 runs below average in 400.2 innings. Hmmm.

The numbers say Sanchez has been a bit better this year blocking balls but still below average overall. The eye test tells me he’s been worse this year, but who knows. Your eyes lie. Perhaps I was too distracted by all those glorious dingers last season to notice his blocking deficiencies. Point is, blocking pitches has been an issue for Sanchez this year and it’s something he needs to improve going forward.

In terms of throwing, Gary has been great. He’s thrown out eleven of 30 would be basestealers, or 37%, well above the 27% league average. Last year he had a 41% caught stealing rate, so he’s not too far off that mark. Not enough to be a red flag. Baseball Prospectus rates his pitch-framing as a tick above average too (+1.7 runs). The same was true last year (+1.6 runs). Not great, not awful. Good enough.

Aside from the biceps injury, which thankfully has not lingered, Sanchez’s sophomore season has gone about as well as we could have hoped. His power numbers have taken an expected step back but he’s still a force at the plate. Add that to average-ish defense (above-average throwing, average framing, below-average blocking) and you’ve got one of the top catchers in the league and a deserving All-Star. Sanchez’s sophomore season has been pretty awesome.

Austin Romine: A competent backup who shined in April

Catcher at first base. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Catcher at first base. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

In the fifth game of the season, Sanchez felt a tug in his biceps taking a swing and had to be placed on the disabled list. The Yankees were 1-4 at the time and their star offensive player — this was before Aaron Judge‘s ridiculousness — just suffered an injury that would require a month’s rest. Not ideal! Especially when that guy is your starting catcher and your options to replace him are fairly limited.

With Sanchez sidelined, the Yankees turned to Romine as their starting catcher because they really didn’t have much of a choice, and holy cow did he deliver. The 28-year-old Romine hit .316/.349/.456 (111 wRC+) with two doubles and two homers in 63 plate appearances while Sanchez was out, including going 4-for-6 with two walks and no strikeouts with runners in scoring position. Hot damn!

Not even the biggest Austin Romine fan expected him to do that when Sanchez’s injury pressed him into everyday duty. The pitching staff performed well that month as well and Romine received a lot of credit. (Probably too much.) Sanchez is the clear No. 1 catcher for the Yankees and he took over as the starter as soon as he returned from the disabled list, as he should have. Romine did an incredible job filling in those four weeks though.

Since returning to backup duty, Romine has hit a weak .183/.245/.215 (23 wRC+) overall, dragging his overall season batting line down to .231/.284/.306 (57 wRC+). He’s also played some first base, including starting three straight games at the position two weeks ago. Romine has handled first base well defensively — he’s made a few plays look a little more difficult than they actually were, though he made them, and that’s what counts — and he’s even gone out of his way to help tutor Sanchez with his blocking.

Romine is what he is at this point. He’s a hard-working backup who does his best work behind the plate and will occasionally surprise you with a clutch hit. When the Yankees needed him to step up during Sanchez’s injury, he did it in a huge way. The Yankees wouldn’t be hanging around the postseason race without him. Romine is a role player now and going forward. His 2017 season is already a success thanks to April.

Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez will participate in the 2017 Home Run Derby

Hell yes. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Hell yes. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees will have not one, but two players in the Home Run Derby this year. Both Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez announced today they have accepted Home Run Derby invitations and will take their hacks next Monday at Marlins Park. Awesome. Here’s their announcement. Both guys are planning to use Yankees regular batting practice pitcher Danilo Valiente for the Home Run Derby.

It’s uncommon but not unprecedented for one team to have two players in the Home Run Derby. Both Josh Donaldson and Yoenis Cespedes were in the Home Run Derby in 2014, when they were with the Athletics. Troy Tulowitzki and Justin Morneau did it as members of the Rockies that year too. There have been other teammates in the Home Run Derby over the years as well.

Judge and Sanchez will be the first Yankees to participate in the Home Run Derby since Robinson Cano swung away in three straight from 2011-13. The last Yankee other than Cano in the Home Run Derby was Nick Swisher in 2010. Three Yankees have won the Home Run Derby: Cano (2011), Jason Giambi (2002), and Tino Martinez (1997). Giambi finished third in the 2003 Home Run Derby.

MLB changed the Home Run Derby format two years ago. Players are now given five minutes to hit as many home runs as possible — they can earn bonus time based on home run distance and things like that — and they meet head-to-head in a bracket style tournament, so it’s possible Judge and Sanchez could face each other. The players are seeded 1-8 based on their season homer total.

I’m sure there are some people out there freaking out about Judge and/or Sanchez screwing up their swings in the Home Run Derby, though the “curse” is largely a myth. There’s been a ton of research on it, like this, this, and this. Pick eight players at random and chances are several of them will perform worse in the second half than the first. That’s all the Home Run Derby curse is. Just sit back and enjoy it.

So far the only other confirmed Home Run Derby contestants are Giancarlo Stanton, the defending champ and token hometown player, and Miguel Sano. Cody Bellinger has been invited, though he said he will not participate unless his father (ex-Yankee Clay Bellinger) can rearrange his schedule to make it to Miami to pitch to him. Both Joey Gallo and Bryce Harper declined invites.