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Gary Sanchez's bat outweighs his defensive shortcomings

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez looks on during the

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez looks on during the ninth inning against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

For every home run Gary Sanchez hits — he has 23, one behind American League leader Edwin Encarnacion — questions about the catcher’s defense still persist.

Never a standout with the glove, Sanchez’s ebbs and flows behind the plate have been well documented. Last year, he excelled as a pitch-framer but was often criticized for his blocking.

This year, it’s been the opposite.

According to Baseball Prospectus, which tracks “blocking runs” by taking into account blocking chances and other factors, Sanchez has saved 0.2 of a run. Last year, he lost the Yankees 4.3 runs — second-worst in the majors behind Omar Narvaez, then of the White Sox.

Manager Aaron Boone addressed Sanchez’s defense before Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium.

“It continues to get better and better,” Boone said, “and it’s something that he takes a lot of pride in behind the scenes, and that’s been the most exciting thing: to see the work he puts in because he wants to be really good at it.”

Despite the strides in blocking, he’s fallen short in framing. “Framing runs” is also calculated by Baseball Prospectus, and last year, Sanchez saved the Yankees 3.3 runs, ranking 23rd among catchers. This year, he’s 89th of 92 with a mark of negative-6.9.

Boone said the statistic “can be a little fickle,” in part because much to do with pitch framing comes from an umpire’s perception of how the pitch is received. Sometimes, Boone said, an effective frame is still called a ball because the umpire wasn’t sold on the attempt.

“I think they’ve been actually really good this past month and something that he works really hard at and takes a lot of pride in,” Boone said. “I don’t always think that’s always a perfect indicator or result each night. He actually had a great night last night. Sometimes there are other circumstances that play into that.”

Overall, Sanchez ranks fifth-worst in baseball in “fielding runs above average” (negative-7.7), a metric that grades based on number of plays made, expected plays made and other factors. For the first time in his four-year career, he’s below the league average in caught stealing, having nailed 23 percent of runners (the league average is 27 percent).

Arm strength, though, is not a problem for Sanchez, who popped up quickly and fired an on-target throw to catch Lourdes Gurriel Jr. stealing in the third inning of Monday’s 10-8 win over Toronto.

Sanchez’s offensive contributions are more than enough to outweigh his defensive shortcomings when it comes to his overall value. His 23 home runs lead all catchers, as do his 52 RBIs, despite spending about two weeks on the injured list. 

His wRC+, which measures a player’s overall offensive production adjusted for ballpark, is best among catchers at 145, according to FanGraphs. The league average is 100, meaning he is 45 percent better than an average hitter.

Sanchez ranks fourth among catchers on FanGraphs in Wins Above Replacement with 2.0 — indicating that it might be in the team's best interest to deal with his defensive hiccups.

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