Panic or Patience? Gary and Greg:
The Yankees are 53-27, have the 2nd highest win % in the MLB (.662) and are 1 game back of the Boston Red Sox in the AL East heading into a pivotal game 3 of their weekend series. According to our friend @ktsharp, the last 7 times the Yankees had at least 50 wins in their 1st 72 games they won the World Series… Their starting pitching has been very good. Their bullpen has been dominant and extremely deep (except Chasen Shreve). Their offense is leading the league in HR’s as well as many other offensive categories and is on pace to break the single-season HR record… Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird are both hovering around the Mendoza line and have combined for less than 20 HR’s with Sanchez on the DL after suffering a groin injury during last Sunday’s loss in Tampa.
Many uneducated fans and publications have called for the Yankees to move on from Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird.
I would like to provide some insights on what is truly going on below the surface level statistics with the 2 baby bombers. So, let’s pop the hood and get our hands greasy to see if the struggles are real and if it’s time to panic or if a rebound is imminent for 2 of our youngest sluggers.
On the surface, it is clear to see the main things that Gary Sanchez is struggling with this year compared to his previous 2 years with the big club. His triple slash line currently sits at .190/.291/.433 which is by far the worst of his 2+ years in the pros. What is the cause of this absurdly low batting average? Let’s break it down a little further…
Gary’s BABIP on the year currently sits at .194 which points to him being pretty unlucky considering his previous 2 years he finished with a .317 and .304 BABIP. When looking at his batted ball profile to see why it is so low I see some interesting tidbits that stand out.
As you can see on the graph above, Gary’s Line Drive % is down significantly from last year and his Fly Ball % is way up. Fly Balls lead to a much lower BABIP than ground balls do and he is hitting far too many of them. Infield Fly Balls are also the worst possible ball in play in terms of leading to any type of success and he is hitting 10% more this year than last year… Not good! The league average IFFB% is 10.5% so Sanchez could stand to benefit from trying to get back to last year’s number of 10.8% and he’ll see some positive results.
Gary’s Pull%/Cent%/Oppo% looks fine as it is very in line with his career numbers. In terms of his exit velocities- Gary’s soft contact is up this year and his hard contact is a bit down. He currently sits at a 20.1% Soft% and a 36.1% Hard% which are both career worsts. The good news here though is that the league average Hard% right now is 35.5%, so while Gary isn’t his usual self right now he is still performing above-average compared to the rest of the league.
Continuing forward on the positives here, Gary Sanchez has actually had much better plate discipline this year in all areas compared to the last few years.
As you can see, Gary is chasing fewer pitches out of the zone, making more contact on pitches in the zone and swinging and missing less often. All good signs for positive regression moving forward for when Gary gets healthy.
Finally, Gary Sanchez’s Statcast driven metrics shed some positive light on his potential moving forward. Looking at his expected stats, we can see that based off Statcast metrics Gary should have a .237 batting average and a .531 slugging percentage good for a .368 xwOBA (78th best in the league to this point.)
Conclusion: Gary Sanchez has brighter days ahead of him offensively when he gets off the DL.
Taking the same approach with Greg Bird here… At first glance, it is clear to see the main things that Bird is struggling with this year compared to his previous 2 years with the big club. His triple slash line currently sits at .204/.315/.452 which is pretty similar to his 48 games with the Yankees last year and a pretty high drop off from his great showing in 46 games in 2015. What is the cause of this underwhelming offensive output thus far? Let’s break it down a little further…
Bird’s BABIP on the year currently sits at .241. Bird is a lefty power hitter that has an extreme fly ball %, so he will most likely never have a high BABIP/Batting Average. Looking at his previous years in the pros we see a wide variance in BABIP though, with a high of .319 in his 2015 debut and as low as .194 in an injury-riddled 2017 season. If he can find a nice middle ground and have a BABIP closer to .275-.290 by the end of the year, we could see his Batting Average creep up into the .240-.250 area which we would definitely take. To get a little bit better of an understanding of what is fueling that low BABIP/Batting Average we need to look at his batted ball profile.
I actually get a decent sense of optimism when looking at Bird’s batted ball profile from this year compared to previous year. The good things that stand out right away: Soft% at career-low, Hard% up from last year, IFFB% at career-low. Avoiding hitting infield fly balls, limiting the amount of soft contact on balls in play and getting his hard hit percentage closer to the 2015 numbers are all things that should bode well for positive regression moving forward for Birdman.
The not so great things I see here are in his LD%, GB% and Pull%. To the eye test and by the numbers so far, we can all tell that Greg Bird is taking an extreme pull-heavy approach this year. One reason his BABIP is so low is that his Ground Ball % is up to a career-high 41.3% this year. Being a lefty pull hitter you are going to get heavily shifted, and hitting ground balls into the shift is almost an automatic out these days. If Bird can trade some ground balls for more line drives and fly balls, we should see his offensive production skyrocket. I have faith that positive regression will bring his LD% closer to 20% and hopefully can get his GB% closer to 30%. Also, as we saw the other night, when Bird can use a more diverse all-fields approach he will see much greater production in BABIP & Batting Average.
Greg has always had good plate discipline so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I do want to call out a couple positive things.
- Career-high Contact % on pitches outside the zone (over 11% increase from last season)
- 4% increase on Contact % on pitches in the strike zone (up to 83% this year)
- Career-low Swinging Strike % (down to 10.5% this season so far)
- Very healthy 24.5% O-Swing % (considering the league average % of swings on pitches outside the zone this year is 30.5%)
Finally, looking at Greg Bird’s Statcast driven metrics (like we did previously with Gary) doesn’t show as optimistic of an outlook. Looking at his expected stats, we can see that based off Statcast metrics Bird should have a .207 batting average and a .397 slugging percentage good for a .316 xwOBA (222nd on the xwOBA leaderboard so far).
Conclusion: Greg Bird is doing a lot of things well, but also has a lot of room for improvement. If he can start hitting more line drives and fly balls and limit the number of pulled grounders into the shift, I think he can end the season closer to his 2015 numbers. Bottomline, there is a lot of baseball left this season. I think Greg is still getting into his groove after coming back from an injury-riddled past couple of years. Expect better production offensively moving forward for the Birdman of NY.
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***Stats from Fangraphs.com and BaseballSavant.com