Gary Sánchez has had a rough year. Before last night’s game, he was slashing just .180/.280/.386. It’s been a very un-Sánchez like year despite Sánchez’s peripherals looking more or less the same. Fortunately for him, Yankees fans are very patient and forgiving. They’ve been willing to bear with him as he’s come back from injury, and they see that his bad year at the plate is more bad luck than an indictment of his talent. They see his .194 BABIP and they know that things are bound to turn around sooner or later.
His BABIP is rather remarkable though. I thought Carlos Santana was unlucky with his .231 BABIP, but Sánchez is nearly 40 points lower than that. Among batters with at least 300 plate appearances in the Wild Card era (since 1995), Sánchez’s BABIP is tied for second-lowest with 2014 Stephen Drew behind 2001 Mark McGwire (.171) McGwire, like Sánchez, stayed above replacement because he could still hit dingers.
Statcast numbers show that Sánchez isn’t hitting the ball with less authority than he has in the past. His 90.0 MPH average exit velocity ties him for 68th in the majors, and his 8.4 barrels per plate appearances rank him 22nd. He’s still hitting for power, but he’s not having as many balls drop in.
The results have been much worse since he returned from the disabled list, but aside from those few weeks before going on the disabled list, he hasn’t stopped hitting the ball hard.
One way to explain Sánchez’s low BABIP is the increase in fly balls and the decrease in HR/FB. Sánchez’s fly ball rate rose from 36.6 percent in 2017 to 41.9 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, his HR/FB rate dropped from 25.4 percent in 2017 to 17.2 percent this year.
In 2018, major leaguers have just a .117 BABIP on fly balls. At Yankee Stadium, that number is even worse. Opponents have just a .097 BABIP on flies in the Bronx. It make sense because Yankee Stadium is just a little bit bigger than the little league field I played on when I was 11, so fly balls usually either go over the fence or are caught.
The increase in fly balls is also coming at the expense of line drives rather than ground balls. Grounders, of course, are similarly bad for BABIP. Major league average BABIP for grounders has been .236 in 2018. For Sánchez, it’s been just .082. His infield hit percentage has gone way down, from 9.3 to 2.1 percent. He’s been criticized for not going max effort on ground balls, but that’s likely related to his groin injury. Even if his body allowed him to go full speed on every play, the few extra infield hits would raise his BABIP on grounders to raise by 150 points. That’s likely small sample noise and no one should wring their hands about some lost singles on grounders.
Sánchez will be fine. His discipline stats haven’t in any significant way. If anything, he’s chasing fewer balls outside the zone. He’s just been unusually unlucky. It would feel better if the playoffs weren’t next week, but weird BABIP noise can end just as soon as it begins.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville.