Gary Sanchez leads the Yankees with 12 home runs and a .663 slugging percentage in just 25 games. (AP)
Last October, for one night, Gary Sanchez re-established himself as the most fearsome force in the Yankees' lineup. That one night, featuring two mammoth homers, provided a glimpse of the catcher's early-career form.
Three days later, Sanchez's final ball of the season came up just short, as the Yankees' 2018 campaign came to an end.
This season, however, when Sanchez hits the ball, it's doing anything but falling short.
After hitting .186 during an injury-truncated 2018, Sanchez has returned to his previous, All-Star-level form with some key tweaks at the plate and (mostly) a clean bill of health.
Sanchez has hit an eye-popping 12 home runs in just 26 games and 107 plate appearances, posting an eyes-falling-out-of-your-head .400 isolated power to go with his .263/.346/.663 batting line. No, the slugging is not a typo, he's really doing that.
The Kraken is back in full force.
When you dive deeper, Sanchez looks more and more like a fully realized version of himself, the most Gary Sanchez he could be. He's eschewed groundballs, cutting his percentages by more than half and posting the third-highest average launch angle in baseball. That makes sense; Sanchez won't beat out many grounders as a slow-footed catcher and shifts make it less likely a grounder will reach the outfield anyhow.
What Sanchez is doing on his many fly balls harkens back to 2016, when he burst onto the scene with a flurry of deep flies. He and places second in highest maximum exit velocity (118.3 mph) behind only Blue Jays rookie phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr.. His 95.3 mph average exit velocity is second to Joey Gallo, while he's 14th in hard-hit percentage.
In other words, he's hitting the heck out of the ball. Although he's sold out a bit more for that power with higher strikeout and lower walk rates, the approach is clearly working.
In a season where the Yankees have been without Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks and others, Sanchez has given them what they need when on the field. The Kraken was felled briefly by a left calf strain and more recently by a backswing to the head, bumps and bruises that come with the territory at catcher.
But his role behind the dish makes him that much more valuable. The league-average catcher has a .236/.309/.397 line, good for an 89 wRC+, while Sanchez has a 162 wRC+, fourth-best among catchers with at least 80 plate appearances. He's one of a few catchers that can slot into the middle of the order consistently on a contender without raising eyebrows.
Sanchez has made his hay against lesser and stronger opponents alike. Although six of his home runs came against the Orioles -- three in one game -- he also took the Twins deep three times in a three-game set and came up with key hits against the Astros.
The backstop has been maligned for his defensive shortcomings, but it's been different this season. His offseason work to become a better blocker appears to have paid off with a smaller percentage of passed balls and wild pitches. (Oddly, Sanchez has committed six throwing errors on attempted steals, turning one of his chief weapons -- his powerful arm -- into a crutch so far this season.).
Nonetheless, even as Sanchez works to improve behind the dish, his bat makes him a premier talent for the Yankees.
He's not just a great-hitting catcher; He's a great hitter, period. He's put to rest his forgettable 2018 and returned to the Gary Sanchez of old, displaying a level of power to rival any slugger in baseball.