With the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, putting the baseball world on hold, we on the Five Tool Fantasy Baseball Podcast started back in April ranking and discussing our top dynasty options at each position. When we got to the catcher position, it was very close between JT Realmuto of the Phillies and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees. We all were in agreement that Realmuto was the safer option while Sanchez had the higher ceiling, able to potentially put together an offensive season that Realmuto could not. Since then, one has performed like the top catcher in the game while the other has put together one of the worst offensive seasons we’ve ever seen.
Granted, it’s an abbreviated 60-game season and not a full 162, but Sanchez has killed fantasy teams where he was drafted as one of the top-2 catchers off the board and a universal top-100 overall pick. We’re now at the stage where we have to make the determination on whether Sanchez is still a top catching option for 2021 redraft leagues and in dynasty as well. So let’s get right to it and figure that out.
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Is Gary Sanchez Still An Elite Fantasy Catcher?
As I mentioned above, Gary Sanchez hasn’t exactly put together a season to remember. After another hitless game on Sunday, Sanchez is now slashing .127/.243/.332 with a 39.7% strikeout rate across 38 games. Sure, he has seven home runs to his credit, but that’s hardly a silver lining for those that drafted him back in the spring or in June/July before the season actually started. Depending on where you look, Sanchez has been around the 20th most valuable catcher this season. It’s been so bad that there are close to 10 catchers ranked ahead of him that weren’t even drafted in 12-15 team mixed leagues. It doesn’t get much worse than that for the mighty Gary Sanchez.
This isn’t exactly the first season where he’s struggled at the plate either. While the power has always been there, Sanchez has continuously struggled to hit for average and get on base over the last few seasons, despite registering a solid 9.6% career walk rate. Even with that, Sanchez’s career OBP sits at a mediocre .321 thanks to a career .237 average and .200 mark over the last three years combined. Is a player that is cuddling up with the Mendoza Line over three seasons (well, two and a half really) really an elite fantasy option? Even at a position as offensively deprived as catcher, I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.
Digging Into Sanchez’s 2020 Metrics
So far we’ve discussed that Sanchez has been absolutely terrible this season. But maybe he’s been unlucky right? Yes and no. While he has the third-worst BABIP of all time for a single season at .143, it’s not like he’s done himself any favors either. Sanchez’s contact metrics are all well below league average and it’s not like he’s beating out many grounders at first base with a 4th percentile sprint speed.
But when you look at his contact and swing metrics this year compared to 2019 and prior, there aren’t any glaring differences. In fact, Sanchez has actually improved both his O-Swing% and Z-Swing% this season. The biggest dropoff from last season is a 7.4% drop in his O-Contact, but that alone doesn’t warrant a .127 AVG or .176 xBA. But at the same time, it’s not like these metrics warrant a .280 AVG either. I’m far from trying to defend these metrics, but just show that he hasn’t been quite as bad as his surface slash line indicates.
In fact, Sanchez is hitting the ball harder than he ever has, recording a career-best 92.8 mph exit velocity and 49.2 hard-hit% so far this season. His quality of contact hasn’t been the issue, but his quantity of contact sure has. Even with what I said above about Sanchez being unlucky this season, he still only has a .176 xBA and .291 xwOBA this season, which are both among the worst in the league.
That circles back around to his .143 BABIP, which I mentioned above, would be the third-lowest single-season mark in the last century for anyone with 130-plus plate appearances. The only two worse were Oscar Gamble in 1984 and Andy Anderson in 1949. But just how much higher should Sanchez’s BABIP be? We can’t and shouldn’t just say “Oh, well if it was league average, he’d be fine.” Sanchez’s profile never has been conducive to a league-average BABIP. Case in point, his BABIPs the two previous seasons were .244 and .197, again, both well under league-average.
It’s not like Sanchez just struggles against one pitch type either.
Sanchez has an xBA below .200 on fastballs, breaking balls, and offspeed pitches with a whiff rate above 28% on each.
At this point, we need to accept that this is what he is and not an anomaly. We need to stop saying, “Oh, he’ll be better next season.” Sanchez is a career .237 hitter over five seasons and hasn’t even reached that mark since 2017. Even if he does bounce back to a .230/30 hitter year in and year out, is that worth the price it’s going to cost to draft him in redraft or acquire him via trade in dynasty leagues?
Gary Sanchez’s Dynasty Value & Valuing Catchers In General
That last question leads me to another question I’ve been asking myself for the last year or two. If Gary Sanchez played for the Kansas City Royals, Seattle Mariners, or Cincinnati Reds, would he be thought of as highly as he is? No disrespect intended to any of those teams of fan bases, but there’s a Yankees tax on Sanchez that simply isn’t there for most other teams.
Simply put, Sanchez is not an elite catcher in any format. My thoughts on him are the same as they are with Adalberto Mondesi. Sanchez has the upside to put together a season or two where he ends the season as a top-2 fantasy catcher, but his profile doesn’t suggest that those seasons will be frequent. At this point, he’s at the bottom of the 2nd catching tier for me, behind Realmuto, Yasmani Grandal, Willson Contreras, and prospects Adley Rutschman and Joey Bart.
And outside of Realmuto, how many catchers can we dub as consistent fantasy options anyway? At most, I believe we can list three other backstops; Yasmani Grandal, Willson Conteras, and Salvador Perez.
Yasmani Grandal: Grandal has developed into one of the top fantasy (and real-life) catchers in the game over the last five years. However, he’s only a career .241 hitter. Yes, he adds extra value in OBP formats, but this is a top-5 catcher that has averaged a .241/61/25/69 line over his last four full seasons.
Willson Contreras: Another top-5 option and even top-3 in some drafts, Contreras has only two seasons where he’s performed as a top-5 catcher in 2017 and 2019 with a .249/10 season sandwiched in the middle. This season, Contreras is back down below .250 with the 2nd lowest OPS of his career.
Salvador Perez: Perez might be the most consistent top fantasy catching option around with a career .268 average and four straight 20-homer seasons from 2015 to 2018. However, he missed the entire 2019 season, is now on the wrong side of 30, and has an atrocious plate approach.
If the trio above weren’t catcher eligible, we would barely even look their way on draft day. Or at the very least, they’d be late-round options.
At this point, it’s better to let someone else deal with the headaches of rostering Sanchez and hoping this is the year he finally doesn’t trash your AVG or OBP. I’d much rather use that top-150 pick on a pitcher to bolster my rotation or a speedy outfielder than on Sanchez. If he fell to me past pick 200, sure, I’d consider drafting him then. But you have a better chance of me giving up on Garrett Hampson than you do of Sanchez falling that far in drafts. He’s still a C1 in my eyes due to his power and overall upside, but more in the 6-10 range overall for catchers.
The moral of the story here is to never pay big bucks for catching in fantasy. Whether that be in your draft or in trade talks, this catcher position has proven time and time again that there are very few consistent options year to year and even the “top” options don’t exactly put up stats that would make them a top contributor at any other position. If you don’t land Realmuto in your draft, I’d wait it out and draft an option in the later rounds that can likely give you something close to what Contreras, Grandal, or Perez can provide.
You could even go with the streaming route, riding out the hot streaks of players like Pedro Severino and Martin Maldonado, each of which wasn’t drafted this season and performed like a C1 for stretches.
Media/Link Credit: Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire
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