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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: November 28, 2020 9:26 am PDT
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Less is more. In baseball, and in life.

If you try to do too much on the ballfield, like always trying to hit home runs, it will catch up to you eventually. There are many examples of that and here at BallNine we are not afraid to look hard at an issue that is choking baseball.

Operation Overload.

That is the beauty of Baseball Or Bust, it’s about what we see is happening to the game and we will call baseball on it. And that is all that matters.

While the Information age is a positive for so many players, it’s a negative for a number of players as well, and teams would be wise to cut back on giving some players too many changes to absorb at one time.

Without a doubt, the player that is most hurt by too much information which leads to too little activation of his own talents – talents that have regressed mightily – is Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez.

What the hell happened to him? Sanchez has gone from a tremendous threat to one of the easiest outs in the game.

Sanchez can be his own worst enemy with his approach, lack of hustle and defensive weaknesses, but there is still talent in that body and none of that talent showed up for the Yankees in 2020. Sanchez had one of the worst seasons any catcher could possibly have in the major leagues and still have a major league job.

Overnight, Sanchez became Jesus Montero.

A little tough love might go a long way with Sanchez because as one talent evaluator told BallNine this week, “There has been a lot of babying and pampering with Sanchez through the years.’’

The Yankees are good at that, babying their young players but no one has gotten the special treatment like Sanchez.

“We believe in Gary,’’ is Aaron Boone’s favorite line.

It’s okay to believe. It’s crazy not to look at the regression and not reassess what is happening with Sanchez and trying a new way.

The Yankees believe in Gary Sanchez so much they keep trying to help him, going overboard in that department. At some point Sanchez has to want to help himself and prove he can make the changes needed to be a solid catcher. Not a star, a solid catcher.

Every year it seems like the Yankees import a new catching instructor to try to unlock the keys to get the most out of Sanchez’ talents.

Talent that keeps evaporating.

That’s the problem. The Yankees keep looking to fix the Sanchez problem by bringing in new catching instructors and the like, but maybe the problem is Sanchez just needs to get in gear himself. Sanchez needs to take accountability. There is no magic formula or new way.

Just learn to go out there and catch and make life easier – not harder – for your pitcher.

As one scout told BallNine, “Sanchez has always lacked focus or any ‘give a shit’ about how he calls a game, why he calls a game, and how important this is.’’

The defensive approach Sanchez takes at times is mystifying. For Yankee fans there is nothing more disheartening than seeing Sanchez’ No. 24 jogging to the back wall after one of his many passed balls, or his swinging strikeout on a slider off the plate.

Those two items have become Sanchez’ calling card.

gary 2016

2016: Sanchez burst onto the scene in MLB, winning AL Player of the Month in August.

Kyle Higashioka cares about calling a game and trying to keep his pitchers from having wild pitches. You could see it in his ‘sellout his body’ approach to catching. It’s totally different than Sanchez’ approach and it was so obvious this year that even the Yankees could not hide Gary Sanchez’ shortcomings any more behind his occasional 425-foot home run.

The catching risk wasn’t worth the minimal offensive reward.

The Yankees thought they would be set at catching for the next five years, but now everything is up in the air and the window is closing for Sanchez. In all my many conversations with Sanchez he seems to care about being a strong catcher and has a high level of pride. There is just no consistency. All the promise of the future has been replaced by the broken promises of the present and that is difficult for any player to handle.

That’s why I would love to see the Yankees back off on Sanchez this year. Enough with trying to find a secret passageway to success with yet another catching instructor or a new way to frame pitches. Just tell Sanchez, “Look, you’ve caught your whole life. You know what the job entails. We will help you get there with all the work you need to do and all the positive instruction we can give you, but Gary, it’s sink or swim time.

“This is on you. You need to help yourself. You need to find that confidence that you once had, no one can catch for you, no one can throw for you, and no one can hit for you. Try doing less, not more. Work on making contact and driving the ball into the gaps. We don’t want home runs, we want contact. Home runs will come.’’

Again, I’m sure the Yankees and Boone have had such conversations with Sanchez, to a degree, but I’m also sure they never said to him, “Hey, scholarship time is over. It’s not about expectations anymore, it’s only about production.’’

It is not about anybody helping Sanchez. It’s about Sanchez helping himself.

For too long, it’s been blaming the teacher for a student’s inability to study or to put in the effort to get positive, consistent results. It’s not up to the teacher, it’s up to the student. Sanchez has always relied on his arm strength and his power to get to the big leagues and stay in the big leagues so maybe instead of putting the ball in a coach’s court and saying, “Here, fix Gary’’ the Yankees need to say, “Gary, fix yourself.’’

It’s really that simple. Baseball is hard. Everyone knows that but don’t make it more complicated than it is. When in doubt, I always go back to Yogi Berra for baseball wisdom.

It’s the safest bet in the sport.

Yogi once said: “How can you think and hit at the same time?’’

Truer words were never spoken.

The same for being a catcher, do your thinking before you set up but once the pitch is called and on its way, be balanced and be strong. “How can you think and catch at the same time?’’

Going back to my high school days at David Brearley Regional High School in Kenilworth, NJ, my baseball coach was also my football coach. His name was Nelson Gibble and every once in a while he would come up with a gem. I still remember this one from 50 years ago that he said my junior year. This advice, as silly as it sounds, worked wonders.

“If you think, you stink.’’

sanchez crouch

2020: Gary Sanchez shows off his new crouch

That was his way of saying when the rubber hits the road, also a popular saying in 1970, you don’t have time to think, just react. Do your thinking ahead of time. I’ve repeated that phrase often to star players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Jacob deGrom and they all love it.

It cuts through the B.S.

React. A coach can’t think for you, either. Be prepared, be ready and react.

For Sanchez through the years, each new coach works overtime feeding data and information to the catcher, working diligently with him, and Sanchez takes it in with the pitching staff. But it’s past time for the Yankees to just put the ball in Sanchez’ court and say, “Gary, prove to us you deserve to be the Yankees starting catcher.’’

This is not about having faith in Sanchez. I’ve been watching this movie since Joe Girardi had faith in Sanchez just like Boone now has faith in Sanchez. It’s about performance.

Now, it is possible the Yankees have overrated Sanchez from the beginning since he signed in 2009. He has not adjusted. He has shown himself to be a one trick home run pony in a stable full of such players these days.

Sanchez was one of the worst players in baseball this season and was by far the worst catcher I watched play on a daily basis. He hit .147 with 64 strikeouts and only 23 hits. Think about that for a second. I know the nerds don’t believe in batting average, but I still believe in batting average and .147 is hard to grasp.

And you still have a job, Gary?

You mean to tell me you hit .147 in the major leagues and you were not hurt, and you are still catching in the majors and not for the Pirates, but the mighty Yankees.

Wow, that’s impressive in a non-impressive way.

Yes, this was a bizarre short season, so save it, I don’t want to hear anything about small sample size, and it was not just this year.

jake gibbs

Jake Gibbs

Over the last three seasons Sanchez is batting .200 with a .296 on-base percentage and a .453 slugging percentage. That is Jake Gibbs territory, a .233 lifetime hitter, going back in Yankees history to 1970, my junior year in high school, and nothing against Jake Gibbs. Gibbs hit .301 in 1970, gathering 153 at bats that season, 25 fewer than Sanchez had this season.

The wake-up call should have come a long time ago for Sanchez, who will be 28 next season. It should not have waited until this past season. In the postseason the wake-up call was never louder than when ace Gerrit Cole moved on and Higashioka became Cole’s personal catcher.

C-ya Gary.

True, Cole and Higashioka have a longstanding relationship and it was smart for the Yankees to make that move as Higashioka became all the starters’ personal catcher in the postseason. Sanchez was benched.

By the way, in his postseason career, over 30 games so that is not such a small October sample, Sanchez’ batting average is .173. He owns 44 strikeouts in 110 at bats.

If that’s not a wake-up call, there is no hope for Sanchez in the Bronx. He’s in Winter Ball now and maybe Sanchez will face his shortcomings and became a true major leaguer again. He doesn’t have to be a star. Just be solid. That’s all teams want from their catchers nowadays. Be strong. Be solid. Be there for your pitchers.

The ‘give a shit’ factor has to improve as well. Sanchez needs to show improvement on his own and value calling and catching a game. In his defense, learning a new catching style is never easy and that’s what the Yankees tried to do this year. In spring training I remember talking to Sanchez about the changes and you could immediately tell he wasn’t fired up about the changes.

That experiment turned out to be one huge failure as the Yankees season mimicked Sanchez’ season and became one huge failure even though the Yankees finally went out and signed their ace in Cole for $324 million. That should have put them over the top, but it was an embarrassing regular short season for the Yankees with the Rays winning the AL East and then it became a humiliating postseason with the Yankees and all their money unable to get them back to the ALCS. Knocked out in the ALDS in five games by the Rays.

The Rays were an excellent team and should have forced a Game 7 in the World Series, but we all know what happened there as they tried to get too cute and it backfired on them as they took Blake Snell out of Game 6 when he was pitching a shutout after only 73 pitches. That’s the baseball world we live in now and with the recent hire of Tony La Russa, maybe managers should get back to a little more baseball and a little less of making it another calculus class.

Sanchez certainly needs a change of pace and if I were the Yankees I would not get rid of him this winter. I would give it one more shot but I also would make it clear this is it. Get the job done, make the most of your talents or we are moving in another direction.

The Braves showed how easy it is to improve your catching, just get an ex-Met like they did in Travis d’Arnaud.

D’Arnaud is a little bit like what I am talking about where less is more. Sanchez should follow the d’Arnaud mode. Always a tremendous prospect, d’Arnaud never put it together with the Mets mostly because of injuries.

But his head was not in the right place either. I remember when Mickey Callaway was going to have d’Arnaud rely more on his cheat-sheet nerd info packet on his wrist than having d’Arnaud calling the game. Make it more of a group effort and take the pressure off d’Arnaud but in the end that just seemed to frustrate d’Arnaud even more – and that defensive frustration crossed over to his offense.

The Mets got rid of d’Arnaud. They ran out of patience and he went to the Dodgers for a cup of coffee and wound up with the Rays, who smartly reunited d’Arnaud with his old hitting coach with the Blue Jays, Chad Mottola.

Mottola simplified everything for d’Arnaud, getting back to my point of paralysis by analysis. Suddenly d’Arnaud became a major offensive threat for the Rays. He turned that into a two-year, $16 million contract with the Braves and guided a young pitching staff to the NL East title and then had the Dodgers in a 3-1 hole in the NLCS, but it all fell apart.

Sanchez should be in the prime of his career, instead he has gone off the cliff with one of the worst seasons imaginable in the 60-game Covid year.

This is on Gary Sanchez and the Yankees need to tell him so. He needs to fix it in 2021. Less is more, Gary.

Either release the Kraken or the Kraken will be released.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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