Gary Sanchez, Yoenis Cespedes 'match up closely' in head-to-head exit velocity comparison
His 3.2 WAR led all American League rookies, and his 20 homers in 229 plate appearances tied him with Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara for the A.L. lead in that category.
Mazara got his 20 dingers in 568 total plate appearances, however.
Sanchez's Major League career has gotten off to a seemingly unsustainable start, but according to his 2016 exit velocity patterns, the Yankees catcher is in a class with sluggers like Yoenis Cespedes (31 HR in 2016), Nelson Cruz (43 HR in 2016) and reigning Home Run Derby champion Giancarlo Stanton (27 HR in 2016).
Using "rolling averages over the course of the past two seasons," Andrew Perpetua of Fangraphs.com examined Sanchez's numbers in 2016 and those of similar players to determine which Major Leaguers he most closely resembles based on those patterns.
"These guys are elite," Perpetua said of Sanchez, Cespedes, Stanton and Cruz. "Each player has a different peak exit velocity, and while these four guys seem pretty similar, keep in mind the vast majority of players have much lower exit velocities."
Sanchez became the first rookie ever to win back-to-back A.L. Player of the Week Awards from August 15 to 28, 2016, during which time he hit nine home runs and drove in 15 RBI over 12 games. That incendiary pace inevitably slowed, but the legend of El Gary was born.
"Twenty home runs in 229 plate appearances?! That is crazy, simply crazy, and it makes analyzing his potential all that more difficult going into 2017," said Perpetua.
FanGraphs' ZiPS projections predicted 27 home runs and 82 RBI for Sanchez in 2017, but the slugger who Perpetua thought most similar to Sanchez was the aforementioned Cespedes, a player who has averaged north of 30 homers per 162 games during his five-year MLB career.
Based on Perpetua's sample window, Sanchez's exit velocity on ground balls (91.8 mph) matched up very closely to Cespedes (91.6 mph). Similarly on line drives, Sanchez averaged 97.2 mph off the bat, and Cespedes 96.6 mph. On fly balls, Sanchez's exit velocity clocked in at 97.1 mph, exceeding Cruz (96.2 mph), Stanton (92.9 mph) and Cespedes (92.7 mph).
"To my eyes, [Sanchez] appears to match up closely with Cespedes in terms of these exit velocity numbers," Perpetua argued. "Is he a 40 home run guy? Is he a 20 home run guy? He hit 11 home runs in the month of August, how can anyone suggest he *only* has 20 home run power? Eleven in a month?"
For two months, Sanchez offered Yankees fans a glimpse of the mouth-watering potential that made him such a coveted prospect since he first signed with New York as an amateur free agent in 2009. Based on his 2016 showcase, it's not hard to imagine Sanchez remaining a prolific power source in the heart of the Yankees lineup for years to come.
Whether or not Sanchez eventually turns into the next Yoenis Cespedes is yet to be determined, but the early evidence suggests he could become one of baseball's premier power hitters in short order.