Gary Sanchez has injected excitability into the New York Yankees, turning a dismal season into one that will end with optimism and anticipation.
Here’s a sampling of what the 23-year-old catcher has accomplished in his first major-league month. He tied the since-retired Alex Rodriguez’s season home run total with nine. (And Sanchez needed 151 fewer at-bats.) He hit the most home runs ever by any catcher in their first 21 games. He whacked the second-hardest ball struck by a Yankee this season as defined by exit velocity (113.1 mph). He saved three runs with his glove. And he’s being compared to Babe Ruth.
Not a bad start to a major league career.
Sanchez is rapidly blossoming into a cornerstone player for a franchise that had been frantically searching for one. His rare explosion of youth and talent is drawing comparisons to Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. If this is a flash in a pan, it’s an unprecedented one; if this is something more, expect the oft-empty blue seats in Yankee Stadium to start filling up again.
As manager Joe Girardi put it: “I’ve never seen a young player come up and do what’s he’s doing in nine years as a manager.”
Regression to the mean is expected; no one expects the Dominican to continue raking a slash line of .389/.450/.846, or sustain his 39.1 percent home run-to-flyball rate, which is 24.2 percentage points higher than anyone on the roster with at least 80 plate appearances. However, the impression he’s made on the league has been so significant that conversations grow louder by the day regarding his candidacy for American League Rookie of the Year, despite having played in fewer than 20 games, or 15 percent of the team’s schedule thus far.
While Sanchez’s accomplishments are indeed remarkable, he won’t be able to catch Detroit Tigers starter Michael Fulmer, the runaway favorite to take home the honor.
The 23-year-old right-hander leads American League rookies in wins (10), innings pitched (125.2), ERA (2.58, which ranks fourth among all starting pitchers, regardless of experience or league), WHIP (1.06) and wins above replacement (2.4), and ranks second in batting average against (.216) and fourth in walk rate (6.6 percent).
As recently as last week, Fulmer was in the running for the ERA title, Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards. While he might not satisfy the requisite 162-inning threshold for the ERA title, barring a season-ending injury, Fulmer should take home AL Rookie of the Year, marking the first American League pitcher to earn the honor since 2011.
Since 2000, six American League pitchers have won Rookie of the Year — four were relievers, so Fulmer’s candidacy as a starter is somewhat rare. Over that 16-year stretch, among rookie starting pitchers who tossed at least 120 innings, Fulmer ranks third in ERA and in the top 30 in fewest walks allowed per nine innings pitched.
The Oklahoma native brings a herky-jerky aesthetic to the mound, bounding off the rubber and sling-shotting the ball toward the plate. He has a fastball that tops out at 97 mph and limits walks with pinpoint command. While he isn’t a strikeout maestro, he does have eight starts (30 percent of his total) with at least six.
Both Sanchez and Fulmer have been overwhelmingly successful this season, but Detroit’s starting pitcher has enough starts under his belt to push him over the top to win Rookie of the Year.