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Sanchez’s defense a reason Yankees improve in 2018

Gary Phillips

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Feb 20, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (24) works out during spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It comes as no surprise when Gary Sanchez crushes a home run over a scoreboard, even if it is just spring training.

Sure, some amazement accompanies the crack of the bat and the meteoric trajectory of the ball, but there’s nothing unsuspecting about Sanchez’s power. It’s no shock when he gets hold of one at the plate.

The same can be said when the Yankees catcher doesn’t get hold of one behind it.

For all his offensive prowess, Sanchez’s defense, fair or not, generated the most headlines last season. Here’s a small sampling of a narrative that dominated the news cycle in the second half of 2017:

Yankees don’t sound happy with Gary Sanchez’s defense behind the plate
Gary Sanchez must improve his defense to stay in Yankees lineup
Yankees Catcher Gary Sanchez Benched Due to Poor Defense
There’s little defense for having Gary Sanchez behind the plate
Gary Sanchez’s defensive woes a problem for one-game playoff
How Yankees’ Joe Girardi reacted to Gary Sanchez’s latest disaster behind plate

There’s a lot more where that came from.

While the idea of benching Sanchez was absurd — and floated far too often last season — there was no denying his glove needed work. There were times when one wondered if that was a literal statement — a hole needed to be repaired. Sanchez had 13 errors while allowing 16 passed balls and 53 wild pitches. All three numbers led American League catchers.

Sanchez also finished 27th at his position in DRS (1).

While some critics were quick to blame Sanchez’s effort, the source of the problem was often his technique. It was commonplace to see the 25-year-old stabbing his leather at balls in the dirt, rather than shifting his body in accordance with the pitch. Hoping for more agility behind the plate, Sanchez showed up to camp a bit leaner this spring.

With an improved physique, Sanchez also believes he has brought improved skills to Florida.

“This offseason, I worked really hard on defense because I want to be better than last year,” Sanchez recently told reporters. “I want to fix all the little issues I had last year defensively and keep improving.”

If Sanchez can stabilize himself behind the plate in 2018, the Yankees will be even better than they were a year ago. While he often made a case to the contrary, the truth of the matter is that Sanchez is not a terrible defensive catcher. With a cannon for an arm, he has thrown out 39 percent of base stealers in his career, a number likely minimized by his struggles to come up with the ball cleanly. He is also a middle-tier framer, per Stat Corner’s Runs Above Average metric.

Keeping the ball in front of him is Sanchez’s biggest problem. He knows this. So did Joe Girardi. Aaron Boone does, too. The pressure is on the Baby Bomber to get better. With New York’s scarce DH flexibility and zero desire to lose a potent bat, Sanchez knows he needs to do more than just rake. He has to scoop, block and pick, too.

Expect to see a drastic difference in 2018 — and for Sanchez to be one of the best all-around catchers in baseball.

Gary Phillips is the Managing Editor of USA Today Sports' Jets Wire, a contributor at Sporting News and a columnist at FanRag Sports. Phillips has experience with The Athletic, The Bergen Record, CNBC, NBC News, Bleacher Report, NJ.com, The Journal Inquirer and The Journal News. A journalism graduate of Seton Hall, Class of 2017, he was Editor-in-Chief of The Setonian, the university's award-winning student newspaper. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @GaryHPhillips.

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