Metrics Monday: 4/16

We are a little under 3 weeks into the 2018 season and Yankees fans have already experienced a roller-coaster of emotions. Poor team & individual performances, multiple extra-innings losses to inferior teams, injuries and bad decisions have ravaged this team in the early going as the Yankees are off to a disappointing 7-7 start.

The purpose of this article is to take a deeper dive into the numbers of a few of the Yankees biggest names that are off to slow starts. What do the underlying metrics say about the offensive struggles of Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton and struggles on the mound of Sonny Gray and Tommy Kahnle? I’ll break down what I’m seeing down by player.

Gary Sanchez:

Seeing Gary Sanchez struggle is a sight that all Yankees fans are not accustomed to. We have been blessed with elite performance (offensively) from the second Gary first donned the pinstripes in 2016. Frustratingly, the 2018 season has not yet shown that elite talent level that we all have come to expect out of the 25 year old backstop. As it stands currently, El Gary has a .140/.157/.400 triple slash line with 3 HR’s, 6 R’s and 10 RBI’s…

Is Gary deserving of this poor start offensively or is he getting unlucky?

The metrics seem to indicate that he is getting extremely unlucky… First of all, Gary is striking out less than ever before in his major league career by K%:

  • 2016- 24.9%
  • 2017- 22.9%
  • 2018- 19.6%.

Secondly, he is currently sporting a .108 BABIP. Essentially, he is getting extremely unlucky on the balls that he does put in play, as his career BABIP at the major league level is .292. He is definitely due for some positive regression in the batting average category. The power is legit right now, as he does have 4 doubles, 3 HR’s, a .260 ISO and a 32.5% Hard hit rate.

Where Gary needs to improve upon to get back on track is by limiting the number of infield flyballs he is hitting (currently has a 25% IFFB%) as this type of ball in play leads to the lowest outcome of success. Besides that, a little bit of BABIP correction should go a long way for Gary as he is actually showing better plate discipline than he ever has so far in his major league career. If the owner of Sanchez in your fantasy league is panicking… I’d BUY BUY BUY cause he is due for some v positive regression!

Giancarlo Stanton:

Ahhhh the new shiny toy in the Bronx. Coming off a career year in Miami that led to the 2018 NL MVP award. Who would have guessed that the spotlight on him would be brighter than any player AND that if he struggled at all, the very comforting fan base that we are would go easy on him?!

All sarcasm and hyperbole aside, this has been a very frustrating start to Giancarlo’s time with the Yankees. On the surface level, we all know what the mainissue has been- too many strikeouts. His K% currently sits at 37.9% on the year, coming off a career best 2017 K% of 23.6%… Let’s boil down what is fueling that horrid 37.9% K% by digging deeper into his plate discipline.

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2 big things stand out to me here: Z-Contact% and SwStr%.

First and foremost, Giancarlo’s SwStr% is at a career high of 17.4%! Bottomline here is- swinging and missing doesn’t lead to success in baseball, and Giancarlo is currently tied for 10th highest SwStr% in the league. Getting back to the 12.5% SwStrk% that he posted last year would be phenomenal, however, even a modest reduction back to ~14-15% could have significant implications for Stanton.

The more worrisome thing to look at here is Giancarlo’s significant decrease in Z-Contact% (the % of time that a player makes contact when swinging at a pitch in the strike zone). As you can see in the above graph, his Z-Contact% is currently sitting at 69.7% which is an 11.8% decrease from last year! I am not too sure what exactly could be causing all of this swing and miss, especially on the pitches in-the-zone that he is struggling with. Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards wrote a piece last week that breaks down how Stanton has particularly struggled with fastballs up in the zone which I encourage you to read here.  

At the end of the day… We are looking at a 66 plate appearance sample size here with Giancarlo which is not a lot by any stretch of the imagination. I’m confident that he will return closer to the elite level of performance we saw last year and the rest of his career. Here’s to hoping Giancarlo’s next 66 plate appearances are more reminiscent of his 2017 self!

Sonny Gray:

As I mentioned previously… we are working with extremely small sample sizes at this point of the season, as Sonny has only made 3 starts. It has been quite a mixed bag of results though so far for the Yankees hurler.

The Good: 10.38 K/9, 0.00 HR/9, 60.5 GB%, 2.59 FIP, 93.4 MPH AVG FB Velo, 11.9 SwStr%, 40.5 O-Contact%

The Bad: 4.85 BB/9, 11.9 K-BB%, 1.92 WHIP, .305 AVG against, .409 BABIP, 6.92 ERA, 52.2 F-Strike%

Sonny is clearly not pitching to his full potential, but also probably not deserving of a 6.92 ERA by most estimations. These are some of the reasons that Sonny can be very frustrating. For all of the good things I listed above that indicate Sonny should be performing well, you get a mixed bag of bad metrics that make you think maybe he is deserving of the high ERA he has.

I mentioned in a previous post how Sonny’s control was really going to make or break him this year… and his 4.85 BB/9 and 52.2 First Strike % are really doing him in early on. Getting behind in the count has really been an issue for Sonny so far this year and particularly in the last start against the Red Sox in Fenway it was painful to watch. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt as it seemed to the naked eye (and to the K-Zone they had on the screen) that the umpire that night was really squeezing him, however, that is going to be the case sometimes and he and Gary are going to need to be able to adjust.

Sonny is not going to keep a 0.0 HR/9 going forward in Yankee Stadium (he’s actually been troubled by the long ball in recent years) so things could get ugly if he doesn’t figure out the control issues quickly. Luckily, he has a lot of things going well for him as you can see in “The Good” so let’s hope he can find a happy medium and be the pitcher we all hoped we were getting at the trade deadline last year.

Tommy Kahnle:

I won’t go into way too many details here with Kahnle since we are working with an extremely small sample of 7.1 innings, however, some things jump right off the page when looking at his 2018 stats so far:

  • 9.82 BB/9 & 22.9% BB%
  • 1.23 HR/9
  • 47.2% LOB%
  • 6.14 ERA/5.65 FIP/5.52 xFIP
  • 1.64 WHIP
  • .148 AVG against
  • 95 MPH AVG FB Velocity
  • 22.5% O-Swing%
  • 48.6% F-Strike%

These are all… not great. Luckily, for all the bad there is some good and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. He is still getting some good Strikeout stuff with a decent 11.05 K/9 & 25.7 K%, 18.8% SwStr% & 58.1% Z-Contact%. He is also generating pretty weak contact when they do put the ball in play with a 27.8% Soft hit rate.

Overall, I think the main concerns here stem from: too many walks, decreased Fastball Velo, elevated HR/9 and overall decrease in the amount of swings he is inducing from hitters.

His Fastball Velo should tick up as the season goes and the weather warms up, which will play up his Changeup and get people to start swinging at those pitches that start as strikes and quickly dive out of the zone. Much like Sonny Gray though, Larry Rothschild needs to work with Kahnle on throwing more strikes early and attacking hitters because he clearly has the stuff to get them out with! No more free passes!

***Stats from Fangraphs.com

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