Back in April, I wrote about Trevor Story. It was a rather breathless and romantic piece about hope, dreams, and crazy feats of strength that fade into the void. It was about small sample sizes and rookies doing remarkable things before becoming human and nondescript once more.
Naturally, Story went on to keep mashing dingers and generally kept kicking pitchers around the park. So, shows what I know.
Now, it isn’t exactly 2012 (Trout, Harper, etc.) or 2015 (the Chicago Cubs), but the 2016 season has produced some fine rookies. Corey Seager! Michael Fulmer! Willson Contreras! Steven Matz!
It’s time to add another name to that list. It would be easy to say that Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez has burst onto the scene. However, the phrase "burst onto the scene" implies some sort of standard, everyday version of initial excellence. What Sanchez has done feels bigger than that.
It’s not that he’s done well. It’s that he’s made baseball look laughably easy.
It’s not just home runs, either. Not including the one game in May he was up for (he was called up to DH against Chris Sale, which went just about as well as you’d expect), Sanchez has hit a hysterical .412/.474/.897. He has thrown out five of the eight runners who have dared try to steal a bag with him behind the plate, including Mike Trout.
This isn’t just playing well. It’s complete and utter dominance. That’s a rare thing in a sport that requires nine players to be better than nine other players to win a ballgame. LeBron James and Tom Brady don’t exist in baseball. The Angels have the best player in the world on their roster, and the Angels are atrocious. The Yankees have lost games with Sanchez on the roster, yes, but they’re also 12-8 since Sanchez played his first game in August. Does causation equal correlation? If you’ve read sabermetric writing before, you know that the answer is
absolutely not yes.
Now, I know what you’re all thinking. "Nick," you’re groaning, "That 241 wRC+ is going to plummet down to Earth at some point when pitchers realize that they can attack him in a certain way, and the law of averages dictates that he is not, in fact, Barry Bonds."
And to that I say aye, sure. We can’t know for sure, but years of scouting reports and some of that "logic" stuff tells us that Sanchez is not another Bonds. There’s a very good chance that we’ll never see another Bonds. If such a baseball messiah does ever emerge, it likely won’t be in our lifetime. We should thank our lucky stars that the game has blessed us with another Mickey Mantle in Trout.
But here’s the thing about Gary Sanchez, about prospects, and about baseball, and indeed about life itself.
If you talk to the average baseball fan, they won’t give a rat’s fur, tail, whiskers, or ass about regression to the mean. All they care about is the fact that this kid that they’ve heard about for years is here, by God, and he’s doing things. Good things.
In the back of their head, they know that Sanchez, or perhaps Story, won’t keep hitting like this. That doesn’t matter. It’s about fun. And this is perhaps something that the average sabermetric writer, for all the good they can do in helping understand the structure and value of the game, can occasionally miss.
Sanchez will likely settle in as an above-average catcher when all is said and done. Barring a trade or major injury, he will be part of the next good Yankees team. He will not continue to hit like the ball slew his father and he is Inigo Montoya.
We writers have to write a paragraph like that every few months. Bursting bubbles is not fun unless you’re a giddy four-year-old and you just blew those bubbles yourself.
So know this, Yankees fans.
There has been much made over the schadenfreude of seeing the Yankees struggle after so much success. That’s all well and good and likely earned. Few things are more satisfying than seeing a bully earn their just desserts. But know this.
This is happening. You’ve seen it happen to other teams, and now it’s happening to yours. Yes, Greg Bird ascended last year to much success. But Bird wasn’t a notable prospect for long before he made his debut. Sanchez first appeared on top prospect lists in 2010.
It has been a long road for him. There were concerns about his maturity, his work ethic, and his ability to stay behind the plate. As recently as two years ago, he was being written off. Now, he’s here. And the reviews from the last year have been glowing.
Do not listen to the talk of the regression that you know is going to happen, regardless of whether or not someone with a byline tells you it will. Don’t let the name Kevin Maas drive you into a lather. And indeed, this goes for all who revel in the glorious arrival of a long-awaited prospect.
The future is important and something to be considered. Just don’t forget to enjoy the moment.