Twins

The Twins Needed More From Gary Sanchez

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Twins are still digging their claws onto the edge of the cliff that is the 2022 season. While a postseason appearance isn’t impossible, the probability of such an outcome feels about as likely as I am to run a marathon. Sure, it could happen. But a lot of crazy stuff will have to happen to get us to that point.

This challenge is even loftier because we aren’t seeing the best version of the club at the most vital point of the season. Due to myriad injuries, the roster has more holes than a block of swiss cheese, which prevents the varsity team from owning the moment. Few holes have been more detrimental than the gap left when the Twins placed catcher Ryan Jeffers on the injured list in early July. That’s not to say that he was some star-caliber player who was a key cog in their operation. Instead, it says more about the backup players in tow to take his place and their failure to step up in that time.

When the Twins acquired Gary Sánchez from the New York Yankees in March, the plan seemed to be for him to split time with Jeffers behind the dish while getting regular looks at designated hitter. It seemed like a fair ask at the time. Sánchez was coming off of a solid 2021 campaign where he slashed .204/.307/.423 with 23 home runs in 117 games. While that offensive output was only good for 100 wRC+, meaning he was exactly league average, it’s a pretty solid outcome for a would-be backup catcher. The hope was that Jeffers could take another step forward in his development, especially in the batter’s box. The Twins were banking on him at least matching his numbers from his rookie campaign in 2020 and having Sanchez on board to fill in the cracks. Ultimately, they would create a formidable catching tandem.

But we’re seeing why Minnesota brought Sanchez in to fill in the cracks rather than paint the picture himself.

Since the Twins placed Jeffers on the injured list, the options at catcher have created a black hole offensively. Sanchez’s reputation before this season leaned heavily on his big bat and questionable defense. While his defensive numbers look relatively fine, his offense has slipped through the cracks that he was supposed to be filling in.

Since July 15, the day after Jeffers’ last game, El Gary has a .208/.289/.342 (83 wRC+), and his strikeout rate is over 30%. To put that in perspective, that’s slightly worse than the slash line from recently-released first baseman Jesus Aguilar, who slashed .236/.286/.388 for the Miami Marlins. Granted, solid offensive numbers from a catcher are at a far greater premium than those from a first baseman. Still, it’s an interesting parallel between two bat-first veteran players. At the very least, it shows how much Sánchez has struggled since getting the full-time spotlight.

Sánchez has shown flashes of the prodigious power that originated his nickname, The Kraken. He’s in the 97th percentile for maximum exit velocity and the 93rd percentile for barrel percentage. Those numbers have come as advertised, but the number of empty swings (18th percentile WHIFF%) and strikeouts (12th percentile K%) have been damning for a lineup that has struggled to score runs.

If Sánchez was producing those same numbers as a backup or even as the only struggling piece of a playoff-caliber lineup, the ramifications wouldn’t be as dire. But as it stands now, he regularly finds himself alongside a handful of anemic bats such as Gilberto Celestino, Jake Cave, Billy Hamilton, Jermaine Palacios, and even fellow-catcher Sandy León at the bottom of the lineup. Thanks to an unprecedented number of injuries, that group has often occupied the bottom three to four spots of the lineup in recent weeks. They either fail to get on base for the big boppers at the top of the order to knock them in, or they fail to cash in when the stars are on base. Usually, it’s both, making sustaining momentum in these vital games nearly impossible.

The rest of the lineup aside, Sánchez has seen a decline in his offensive profile due mainly to his approach at the plate. The at-bat is essentially over when the opposing pitcher gets two strikes on him. His .355 OPS in those counts ranks 5th-lowest in all of baseball, according to Inside Edge.

Is this team hovering around .500 solely because Sanchez has seen increased playing time in Jeffers’ absence? Of course not. But his decline when the team needed him to step up has perpetuated a black hole at the bottom of the lineup.

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