Former New York Yankee manager, Joe Girardi, made an appearance on High Heat to discuss topics of the day in baseball. When it came to what is going on with current Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez, he offered some criticism, a dose of harsh reality, and left more unanswered questions than he resolved. As a former catcher, and manager of Sanchez for two seasons, Girardi’s perspective on what Sanchez is doing wrong behind the plate carries some weight.
According to NJ Advance Media, Sanchez has struggled to be a competent defensive catcher since he entered the majors in 2016. This year, he is tied for the lead for passed balls, despite missing two months and spending some of his playing time as a DH. The problem isn’t new. He was a low rated defensive catcher in the minors as well. He’s in the majors for his bat.
Scouts rate him as having the kind of talent to be one of the best hitting catchers in baseball, but his hustle, mental lapses defensively, and failure to work to upgrade his skills behind the plate have been sore spots for Yankee fans and management. Girardi was also critical of Sanchez’s weight and diet, claiming the extra weight he carries is why he is as injury prone as he is. While Girardi took heat for that, he may have been right as Sanchez has missed two months to injuries this year, and rumors are swirling he is hurting again only a week after returning.
Some argue that a small contributing factor in Girardi losing his job as Yankee skipper had to with how critical he was of Sanchez when managing him. Others argue he’s gone because he wasn’t critical enough and never made Sanchez work on his catching skills, which is why Sanchez is the problem he is now. Either way, Girardi still says the same things about Sanchez now that he did a year ago, and he may have been right all along.
Girardi says the biggest problem with Sanchez behind the plate is his base. The way he sets up, his left knee collapses, which leaves him unable to get down in a wide-set position to block balls. It also makes him vulnerable to pitches that are wide to his right side. It is a bad habit some catchers pick up who are looking for an edge throwing out runners. While effective with that, over time, if it becomes a permanent setup position as it has with Sanchez, it creates the kind of problems that have led to Sanchez being the worst rated defensive starting catcher the last two years. This doesn’t even get into another big criticism which is that he gets crossed-up with pitchers so often because he still hasn’t shown any interest in learning English to better communicate with the pitching staff.
The bigger question in all of this, is that since the issues were known last year, and even in 2016, why didn’t Girardi have someone working with Sanchez to correct them? There were two off seasons and options for winter ball to get Sanchez some work with experienced catchers that could work the kinks out, but instead, Girardi only offered criticism. Even if Girardi was hands off, Sanchez still had two years to work with former coach Tony Pena and didn’t take advantage of that, so some of the blame is on him personally as well.
It could be that Yankee brass feels Sanchez’s bat outweighs what he gives away defensively and don’t want to hurt his ego by having him work on the basics. This was a criticism the Dodgers faced with Mike Piazza early in his career. It’s possible they didn’t want to risk him getting hurt playing and/or working out that intensely over the winter, something not unusual of any team with a player of his caliber. While Girardi is stuck with the heat for failing him in his first two seasons, Boone bears that cross now.
Boone, a former third baseman, took the Yankee helm with no managerial or coaching experience at any professional level and has failed to address the Sanchez problem this year. It’s not even clear if he understands why Sanchez has the defensive problems he does. What is clear is that it has become enough of a problem that with the wild card game approaching, analysts, like those at High Heat, The Inquisitr, and around baseball, have serious reservations about whether or not the Yankees should risk using Sanchez in a one-game do-or-die situation.