The Count; Gary; Yankees; and a secret strength for the Twins? [5 Thoughts]
Thanks as always for supporting 5 Thoughts, a Twins column made possible by support from Members. It looks like we didn’t add any new readers this week — maybe we’ll add a few new friends next week. Would you help me out by sharing this with one of your friends who follows the Twins? I’d greatly appreciate it!
This column presents 5 Thoughts on the first-place Twins.
1. Good things to say about Gary Sánchez.
It was reported this week that the Twins signed Gary Sánchez to a one-year deal worth $9 million, ridding the need for salary arbitration.
I believe the deadline to exchange salary figures between clubs and pre-free agency players was March 22, given the weird circumstances surrounding the owner’s lockout. His $9 million salary is about a million bucks more than I would have expected over a full season, but honestly I just wanted to relay that bit of newsiness as a way of getting into this week’s under-the-hood look at a player.
Thad Levine last week used the term “superficial stats” to describe the stats we can see everyday on baseball cards or to update the analogy, on the crawl on sports TV shows. When I think of the word superficial I think of it as an adjective describing a person, maybe hollow or even phony. But he meant it in the more literal “able to be seen” way.
Here is Sánchez’s “superficial” performance so far this season: a .218/.276/.424 batting line with 7 homers in 181 plate appearances. The low batting average mixed with decent power has made him exactly a league-average hitter, according to wRC+ (100). He was league-average last year, too: low batting average, good power, though he’s never quite been able to replicate the form he showed as a 23- and 24-year-old breaking into the big leagues when he was a monster at the plate. In his into in New York he hit .284/.354/.569 across a season-and-a-half, with 53 homers in 175 MLB games.
If you’re a Twins fan – and certainly if you’re a rational Yankees fan – you’ve adjusted your sights down from that. We’ll now instead look at how he’s performing “under the hood” relative to the end of his run in the Bronx.
He’s striking out 5% more often than he has over his career, or to put it another way, his strikeout rate is 1.5 percentage points higher than his career norm (28.2% vs. 26.7%). But interestingly his swinging strike rate (11.8%) is actually the best of his career, an exact replica of last year’s whiff rate. In his biggest offensive season, the catcher/DH was swinging and missing more often, more like 12.5%-13%. So, he’s tightened up the pitches he misses when he decides to swing. But I bet the reason he’s still striking out a little bit more is because he’s offering at more pitches outside of the defined strike zone; his 35.8% “chase rate” is the highest of his career.
But let’s not fixate overly on strikeouts because there’s more to the story.
After earning a reputation as a bad defensive catcher in New York, it looks to me like Sánchez has improved in that area. He’s in the middle of the pack for catchers in Baseball Savant’s “framing runs,” which attempts to tabulate how much a catcher helps his team by preserving and/or stealing borderline strikes for his pitcher. Sánchez has zero framing runs, but many catchers have actually cost their team runs, and for context his 0 is dead even with guys I’ve perceived to be defensive boosts to their club like Curt Casali and the Yankees’ Kyle Higashioka.
His max exit velocity of 113.2 miles per hour shows he’s got the power to crush pitches when he gets to them. And more to the point, his barrel rate – how often he hits the ball with the kind of trajectory to do serious damage – is No. 1 on the Twins and No. 10 in all of baseball, tied with his spectacular teammate Byron Buxton.
I’m not big in the prediction business but I expect good things to continue to happen for the Twins’ backstop. Who knows, if he keeps this up at the plate they might get even better.