Gary Sanchez is on fire.
Per Elias, not only is he the first rookie in New York Yankees history to homer in four consecutive games, his 19 home runs are the most through 45 games for any player in major-league history. In addition, all of his home runs have come since Aug. 10, placing him alongside other Yankees greats like Babe Ruth (25 in 1927) and Roger Maris (20 in 1961) as the only other players in franchise history to have that many this far along into the season.
You may also recall those two players held the single-season home run record before Mark McGwire and then Barry Bonds broke it. Sanchez, if he were to somehow keep up this pace for a full 162 game season, would be in line to hit 72 home runs over that span.
19 HRs through 43 games…. This is getting out of control pic.twitter.com/qfSqf6oCqi
— Daren Willman (@darenw) September 22, 2016
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said teammate Brian McCann.
And Sanchez’s production has come at the most opportune time. Before his arrival the Yankees were 53-53 with little chance at a wild-card spot but have gone 26-19 since, leaving them just 2.5 games back, albeit in a logjam with four other teams within at least a game of the second and final playoff spot.
“It’s great when you achieve something like that, but what makes it better is helping the team win,” Sanchez told reporters through a translator.
But the question isn’t if the Sanchez can help the Yankees make the playoffs, it’s if his 188 at-bats should prevent him from winning the AL Rookie of the Year award. Just a few weeks ago the answer appeared to be yes, but it is simply no longer easy to discount what Sanchez has been able to do in the majors because of a short period of time.
“I think you have to think about it, I really do,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi told reporters. “I know people are going to argue he has only been here two months, but his two months have been as good as it gets.”
Since being called up on Aug. 3, the 23-year-old catcher and designated for the Yankees is batting .337 with 19 home runs and 38 RBI. On Wednesday, he had his third multi-homer game.
If you extrapolate Gary Sanchez's current rookie-year production (19 HR, 38 RBI in 43 games) over 162 games: 72 HR, 143 RBI.
— Drew Silva (@drewsilv) September 22, 2016
Not impressed? After adjusting for league and park effects, Sanchez is creating runs at a rate that is more than double the league average (203 wRC+). The next best rookie in the AL with at least 130 plate appearances is Cleveland’s Tyler Naquin, who has a wRC+ of 140.
Advanced metrics not your thing? Sanchez has an OPS of 1.157, which, after normalizing for league, park and era played in, is almost twice the league average (199 OPS+) and the highest of any rookie since the expansion of 1961. And just nine rookie catchers have hit 20 or more home runs. Sanchez needs just one more to join their exclusive ranks and would be the only catcher to do it with fewer than 104 games played. Four of those nine rookie catchers ended up winning Rookie of the Year.
— Baseball Reference (@baseball_ref) September 22, 2016
Plus, Sanchez has shown he can hit virtually any pitch at the major-league level.
Against fastballs he is 26-for-84 (.310) with eight home runs. He has three home runs in 22 at-bats against the slider. When pitchers have tried the cutter he’s made them pay with four home runs, a double and two singles in 13 at-bats. He is 5-for-19 (.263) with two home runs against the change and 7-for-20 (.350) against the curve.
— MLB (@MLB) September 22, 2016
Sanchez also leads AL rookie hitters in wins above replacement (3.2 fWAR), including Naquin (2.1 fWAR), despite having 152 fewer appearances at the plate.
His biggest competition for the award is pitcher Michael Fulmer of the Detroit Tigers. Fancy Stats contributor Josh Planos wrote earlier this year that the race had already been decided because of Sanchez’s limited time in the majors and Fulmer’s dominance. That now appears to have been premature because of Sanchez’s amazing continued excellence.
Fulmer is 10-7 with a 3.03 ERA which, if he qualified for the ERA title (he’ll need 13.1 innings over his next two starts to do so), would rank him No. 1 in the league. But Fulmer is also behind Sanchez in wins above replacement, indicating he isn’t as valuable to the Tigers as Sanchez has been to the Yankees.
Context-neutral wins, or WPA/LI, which divides the win probability by the leverage index, so that players don’t get a large bonus by being in high-leverage situations more often, suggests the gap in value is even wider, with Sanchez (3.18) almost twice as valuable as Fulmer (1.65) in terms of their ability to influence wins.
If the race was closer then perhaps you could harp on Sanchez’s lack of plate appearances in the majors this season. But the fact that he has clearly been the best rookie in 2016 — and by a very wide margin — should all but solidify his case for rookie of the year.