As you surely know by now, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez just had one of the most unique and impressive rookie seasons of all-time. Not since Willie McCovey had a rookie been that valuable (3.1 fWAR) in so few games. Only Mets legend Mike Jacobs had a higher rookie year slugging percentage, among players with at least 100 plate appearances.
It was really an unprecedented couple of months, and not just by a rookie. Sanchez’s August included one of the greatest hot streaks of all-time. Overall, it made him one of the stars of the season and has those poor, long-suffering Yankees fans feeling some hope, and believing they have another superstar in the making.
There is one way, however, in which Sanchez’s season was not just historic for a rookie, but historic, period. And that is how he hit with two outs.
Baseball-Reference has a stat called sOPS+, which measures an individual player’s OPS+ in a given split relative to the league average OPS+ in that split. These are going to be completely made up numbers, but say you notice player A has a 150 OPS+ in 2-1 counts, but then you see that the league as a whole has a 125 OPS+ in those counts. That player’s sOPS+ on 2-1 would be 120 (150/125 * 100). Make sense?
Now, back to Sanchez. With two outs in 2016, he hit .389/.470/.986, good for an OPS of 1.468, and a two-out sOPS+ of 297. Obviously, that’s a huge number. So huge, in fact, that only one player in the history of baseball had a better two-out sOPS+ in a season than Sanchez did in 2016. And that player was Ted Williams.
Greatest 2-out hitting seasons in MLB history (min: 80 PA)
Besides former Cardinals first baseman Mike Jorgensen and Sanchez himself, there aren’t a lot of surprises on that list. Every other player is either in the Hall of Fame or should be in the Hall of Fame. The best hitters with two outs are almost always the best hitters overall, and that’s why we see Barry Bonds on there three times. The fact that there are outs doesn’t cause a player to alter his approach all that much.
Still, the league as a whole hits worse the more outs there are. In 2016, MLB progressed from a 103 wRC+ with no outs, to 96 with one out, to 91 with two outs. That’s a progression that makes sense, logically. Generally speaking, the pitcher who starts the inning is the one who finishes it. And if that pitcher was good enough to get two outs, he’s probably good enough to get the third as well. Therefore, the pitchers out there with two outs are a bit better than those out there with fewer.
Recognizing that fact, it was unusual to see Sanchez hit better with two outs than he did with either zero or one down:
Gary Sanchez splits by out
For as unusual as this was, I am in no way saying it’s predictive of anything. You shouldn’t look for Sanchez to hit like a pretty good hitter with zero or one outs, and like the greatest hitter of all-time with two outs. I would be surprised to see that happen in the first month of 2017, let alone for the rest of his career.
In fact, this Gary Sanchez fun fact on which I’ve constructed this entire article is itself a bit misleading. Much like Sanchez’s rookie year as a whole, it’s mostly about how crazy good he was in August right after he first came up.
Sanchez two out splits by month
It’s surprising Sanchez never burst into flames in August. He hit .621 and still had an ISO of 1.000. Unfortunately, there is no Baseball Reference tool that I know of that allows me to put together a leaderboard of the best two-out months ever, but I have to imagine this is right up there with anything anyone has ever done in this specific, narrow category.
It was between August 16 and 27 that Sanchez was really cooking with two outs. In 19 two out plate appearances in that ten-game stretch, Sanchez got 12 hits, including a double and eight home runs. Here are a couple of those moonshots, just for fun (the call on the second one is especially good:
I suppose this has all been a roundabout way of saying something you already knew: Sanchez was crazy, unbelievably good in August. That hot streak probably had nothing to do with the fact that he was hitting with two outs a lot, but he did, and it made what was already one of the most fun rookie seasons in memory historic in another, albeit smaller, way.