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Gary Sanchez is Finally Hitting Offspeed Pitches, But at the Expense of Fastballs

Since May 23rd, Gary Sanchez is slashing .300/.375/.540 with a .387 wOBA and 150 wRC+ in 56 Plate Appearances. 

But there is something different about the type of hitter Gary Sanchez is this season. Sanchez, for practically his entire career until this point, has feasted on fastballs. But that’s all changed in 2021. Let’s take a look at his xwOBA on fastballs from 2016-2020, followed by breaking balls and offspeed pitches, according to StatCast. 

Sanchez’s Career Numbers By Pitch Type

xwOBA on Fastballs by season: 

2016: .403

2017: .404

2018: .406

2019: .421

2020: .372

In that same time frame, he was not effective against breaking balls:

2016: .349

2017: .309

2018: .259

2019: .307

2020: .218

Below is his xwOBA on offspeed pitches. He mashed offspeed in 2016 and 2017 with a sharp decline thereafter.

2016: .408

2017: .499

2018: .265

2019: .375

2020: .305

In 2021, though, Gary Sanchez isn’t hitting the fastball. 

Fastball xwOBA: .309

Breaking xwOBA: .395

Offspeed xwOBA: .390

We can see this playing out in real time this season, just looking at Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Phillies as a good example. 

In the top of the 2nd inning in a 2-1 count, Sanchez hit a long home run on a Curveball from Vince Velasquez, seen here Courtesy of StatCast 

In the same game in the top of the 6th inning, Sanchez faced the hard throwing Sam Coonrod. Coonrod threw three straight 98 MPH Fastballs. The first two were called strikes, and the third a swing and a miss seen here. 

Staying in the same game, a similar fate struck Sanchez in the top of the 10th, as he put a swing through a fastball up and out of the zone from Archie Bradley. 

But we can look back further, to April. 

Here’s a video of Gary swinging through a fastball for strike 3 on April 5th

Here is the same outcome from earlier in the same game.  Here’s one more for good measure.

Gary’s 2021 Adjustment

But while the outcomes on fastballs thrown to Sanchez in April and in June are the same, the batting stances are not. From the beginning of the season to around Mid-May, Gary had a high leg kick with no toe tap, and he struggled mightily on fastballs as we know.

In mid-May, Gary added a toe tap and a less exaggerated leg kick to his swing in order to time up fastballs better, but it hasn’t really been working, as partially evidenced by the videos earlier, from Saturday’s game, of his homerun on an offspeed pitch from Velazquez and subsequent strikeouts on fastballs later in the game against Coonrod and Bradley.

Prior to this switch in toe tap and leg kick, from the beginning of the season to May 11th, here is where Sanchez’s Expected Batting Averages stood by pitch type: 

xBA against Offspeed: .252

xBA against Fastballs: .225 

And from May 11th to now: 

xBA against Offspeed: .283

xBA against Fastballs: .196 

If we were to just look at these numbers, we’d assume that his adjustment made him better against offspeed pitches and did not really help with fastballs. But did anything change in his quality of contact against fastballs? 

From April 1st to May 11th Sanchez had a 44% Hard Hit rate against fastballs.

But if we butter knife Sanchez from May 31st through today, Sanchez’s hard hit rate on fastballs is up to 70%. So when he’s making contact with the fastball, albeit not happening often, he’s hitting hit hard. 

Some good examples of that are below, Courtesy of StatCast Baseball Savant: 

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/sporty-videos?playId=fdd01f49-2a34-4561-827b-740ad4a086d1

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/sporty-videos?playId=fe23306b-fc9f-4fa3-a1be-838d5a76998e

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/sporty-videos?playId=a5ffaec5-c41c-40e6-9bc1-a05418b6f82e

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/sporty-videos?playId=0e69a5c1-5d94-4acf-ab33-847a92309271

While it’s true that Sanchez has squared up some of these fastballs, he is still swinging and missing a ton at the pitch, and it’s still fairly puzzling as to how he lost his fastball mashing powers. It will likely take some further digging to really see what’s going on.

Final Thoughts

The Gary Sanchez story has been this way for a long time. He figures out one thing while losing another. This season, he’s figured out how to hit off-speed pitches while losing the ability to hit fastballs. 

However with some of the better quality of contact of late on fastballs, he is showing some faint signs of seeing the fastball better. Though it is not entirely convincing.

In theory, he’s made the right adjustment to catch up to the heater. Lowering your leg kick usually lends itself to timing fastballs better. You get your foot down earlier, and have more time to react and adjust.

So in an ideal world, Gary would continue to hit offspeed pitches the way that he has, while getting back to his old ways of mashing fastballs. If he can put it all together at the plate, he’ll be one of the best hitters in this lineup for a long time. But that’s something Gary believers have been waiting on for too long now. 

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