Going Deep: Is Gary Sanchez The Most Overrated Player In Fantasy?

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

The other day I was perusing the 2 Early Mocks, when I saw something that caught my eye. Gary Sanchez had an ADP of 68.6, with a min pick of 50.

Let’s get a few things out of the way first. Sanchez often looks like a pretty bad real-life baseball player. He’s led the league in passed balls the past two years. How about that game where he got into a fight with Luis Severino because he had two passed balls and two “wild pitches” in the first inning? Even acknowledging Sanchez’s cannon for an arm, he has been criticized for not playing hard. One play in particular comes to mind where he gave up on a passed ball that allowed a runner to score from second. And sure, there might be those of you who think, “well, Sanchez is still a great hitting catcher!” Wrong. Sanchez had an 89 wRC+ and a .697 OPS this season. That’s right, Sanchez was 11% worse than the average hitter.

This is personal for me, too.  I’m a Yankees fan that’s watched Sanchez ground out one too many times this season. In the AL Wild Card game, he went 0 for 3, hit into a double play, and stranded three runners. In game one against the Red Sox he could only muster a walk. And in fantasy, I bought into the shallow-catcher-position-narrative this season and drafted Sanchez pretty early in a couple leagues. I held him for months expecting a second-half surge, only to later drop and replace him with a lesser-known, more useful player: Willians Astudillo.

Which brings me back to the mocks. Somehow, Sanchez is still going in the top 75. Even though nothing I’ve said thus far explains why he’s bad for fantasy baseball, that’s still just plain wrong. Here’s why.

I won’t dispute that Sanchez’s power is for real. He hit 18 homers in just 89 games this season, with an 8.6% barrel rate (19th in baseball), and he was fifth overall in average exit velocity on FB/LD. When Sanchez makes hard contact on fly balls and line drives, there’s no stopping him. That’s why he looked legit in the home run derby last year.

The problem, though, is consistently making that contact. Sanchez struck out in 25.1% of his PAs, which is 2.2% worse than last season and supported by his 12.1% whiff rate. Though his walk rate was up 4.7% this year, he certainly isn’t going to walk you to a fantasy championship.

When he did make contact, it wasn’t pretty. Sanchez’s hard contact was down to 35.5% in a year when the league-wide hard contact rate went up, and his soft contact was up to 19.5%. He batted .186 this season, good for fourth-worst among all hitters with at least 300 PAs. And while xStats says he’s been getting unlucky and his average should have been .217, that’s still not helping any fantasy owners. Even ceding that, he’d basically be Mike Zunino, who had a .201 AVG with 2 more homers than Sanchez in only 40 more PAs. Would you draft Zunino in the top 75?

One could point to Sanchez’s .197 BABIP and reasonably expect positive regression given it’s so low, but I caution you against doing that. Sanchez has all the markings of truly earning his depressed BABIP:

Order of Importance for Improving BABIP Gary Sanchez 2018
1. Hitting fewer popups 19.2%
2. Hitting fewer fly balls 42.9%
3. Hitting more line drives 14.3%
4. Pulling the ball less often 51.1%
5. Being fast 25.8 ft/sec

First, Sanchez hit 19.2% popups and 42.9% fly balls, which are the worst types of contact for BABIP. Second, he hit 14.3% line drives, good for second worst in the league (min. 300 PAs), and, importantly, line drives are the best type of contact for elevating BABIP. Third, he pulled the ball 51.1% of the time, which, you guessed it, is bad for BABIP. Fourth, Sanchez hit 42.9% ground balls, which for some hitters is good for BABIP, but for a guy like Sanchez that has the 442nd best sprint speed in the major leagues and rarely outruns an infield ground ball, is pretty bad. All told, unless Sanchez makes some major changes to his batted ball profile, including the amount of balls he pulls and the type of contact he makes, he’s going to have a depressed BABIP next season too.

Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s going to make those changes, because pitchers have figured him out, and he still has yet to adjust back. Part of what explains the elevated strikeout rate and poor quality of contact is that Sanchez has a fatal flaw in his approach. Take a look at these PAs and see if you can figure out what they have in common:

Look familiar? If you’re anything like me and you watched a bunch of Yankees games this season, you probably saw quite a few Sanchez PAs produce one of these two outcomes. The link between them is that Sanchez is vulnerable low and away and pitchers have exploited it.

As Jason Vargas demonstrated, Sanchez is easy to strike out that way. Lo and behold, here are all of Sanchez’s called and swinging strikes this season:

The plot unambiguously suggests pitchers like to get him out with the low and away pitch. And check out how Shawn Kelley pitched him in the Wild Card Game:

It’s pretty clear what Kelley is trying to do there, and accordingly that the book is out on Sanchez. Consequently, when he actually did put the ball in play this season, he would do what he did against Kelley: groundout. He’s trying too hard to pull home runs on bad low and away pitches, and instead he’s topping the ball and making weak contact to the left side of the infield. This explains, at least in part, the higher K%, GB%, and Pull%, and lower LD% and hard hit rate than last season.

So Sanchez struck out 25.1% of the time and walked in 12.3% of his PAs. Combining those with his 19.2 IFFB% tells us that 56.6% of his PAs were meaningless for fantasy owners. Of the remaining 43.4% of his PAs, Sanchez pulled the ball 51.1% of the time and hit it on the ground 42.9%, so there goes another 21.9% of his PAs in which he’s basically useless because he pulled a grounder and he’s too slow to leg out an infield single. That leaves 21.5% of Sanchez’s PAs in which he even had the opportunity to help your fantasy team this season. It’s no wonder, then, that he had only 42 non-homer hits all season. Even expanding that number to a full season would only be around 75. For some context, the MLB hits leader Whit Merrifield had 180.

Sanchez lost the DH spot now that the Yankees outfield is so crowded, and if he continues catching poorly he might lose time at catcher too. Even generously assuming he gets the 500 or so PAs from 2017, I’ll still give Sanchez his .217 xAVG and 30 bombs, but is that really worth reaching for? I could see taking him around the 120 range, but I doubt I’d get him there anyway. People are probably expecting a .240 AVG and 40 tates, and I just don’t see it happening. For Sanchez to return any value where he’s going in the mocks, he’s going to have to get Kraken.

Dan Richards

Dan is a lifelong New York Yankees and Giants fan. Though a young lawyer, Dan is better known for aggressively bothering his leaguemates about trades. You can follow him on Twitter @drichardsPL.

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Comments


Scott Chu

Based on the early mock drafts I have seen, you won’t need to make this choice — Gallo is going a solid 30 picks after Sanchez. Even if you took Sanchez at his early ADP of ~68, you’d get at least 1, if not 2 or 3 more bites at the Gallo apple in the draft.

Jeremy

Seriously. I hated owning him this year and I understand some of the concerns going forward that were raised here. If he doesn’t hit next year he really could lose his job because of how poor his defense is. But acting bewildered by people drafting him high without even mentioning ’16 or ’17 is super weird.

Dan Richards

Hi Jeremy and Big league S. Choo. Appreciate the feedback! All I can say is I attempted to address his prior seasons by noting in the beginning that I still believe in his power potential, and giving him a nice output in the home run category for 2019. There’s certainly 2017 upside there of 40 homers, but I’d project more conservatively.

That said, the focus of the article is on the way he’s being pitched and how that’s affecting his BABIP/AVG. I’m just trying to point out that there are warning signs in the peripherals that the .275 AVG from a year ago isn’t likely to return, and that he’ll at least need to hit .240 to return his price on draft day.

Nick G

Your interpretation of IFFB% is incorrect. It’s not 19% of all PAs, it’s 19% of all fly balls. Big difference in terms of figuring out how many of his PAs are wasted.

Also, a walk is not useless from a fantasy perspective since it leads to runs. Many leagues also use OBP and OPS.

A 25% k rate is pretty standard for hitters in general these days, especially power hitters.

With all that said, i agree that Sanchez needs to adjust on sliders down and away. He attempts the most half hearted swings some times. My fear is that Sanchez is a pure guess hitter who will have difficulty ever adjusting to that pitch.

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