Monday, June 23, 2014

Hector Sanchez Getting Overexposed

It brings me no pleasure to criticize a professional baseball player, but something needs to be said about Hector Sanchez. For some reason, Giants fans and even broadcasters seem to think he’s some kind of force in the batter’s box.
It seems to be one of those scenarios in which people make an assumption based on a small sample size then hold onto that assumption despite heaps of evidence to the contrary displayed over time.
Sanchez had moderate success early this season and has had his fair share of playing time since Brandon Belt’s thumb injury. In fact, Sanchez has collected 135 plate appearances in 73 games, or 1.85 a game. He plays less than a regular but far more than the average bench player. This is in part due to the abundance of caution the Giants exercise in dealing with their fragile yet extremely important starting catcher, Buster Posey.
Despite Sanchez’s reputation as a good offensive catcher, his performance at the plate this year has been atrocious.
He’s struck out in a whopping 32.6% of his plate appearances, fourth-worst in the National League (min. 130 PA).   
To make matters worse, Sanchez doesn’t draw walks. His 3.7% walk rate is eighth-worst in the N.L. (min. 130 PA).
When you have a guy who strikes out a ton and walks next to never (Sanchez has drawn just five walks this season, 20 in his career, and never more than seven in a season), you have an abysmal offensive player—unless that player is knocking the cover off the ball when he does manage to put it in play.
But Sanchez’s slugging percentage is just .344, which ranks 29th among 32 MLB catchers (min. 130 PA).
You might argue, “Sanchez has been in a slump. Of course his slugging percentage is low right now. Let’s look at his career slugging percentage instead.” Well, OK, let’s. It’s .364, and that mark would move his SLG% from third-worst to fourth-worst among NL catchers this season (min. 130 PA).
Sanchez has also swung at an MLB-leading 61.5% of all pitches he’s seen this season (min. 130 PA), including an astounding 46% of pitches out of the strike zone. In other words, Sanchez is arguably the least disciplined hitter in all of Major League Baseball.
While it’s true that Sanchez’s 24 RBI are eighth most among NL catchers, he has stepped up to bat with at least one man in scoring position in 31.1% of his plate appearances, 5.5% more than the N.L. average of 25.6%. So Sanchez has had more than his fair share of RBI opportunities. As the saying goes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
So, now that the “Hector Sanchez is an above average offensive player” myth has been debunked, it’s worth noting the positives that Sanchez brings to the field every day.
He’s arguably an above average defensive catcher. He almost always takes a savage beating when he’s behind the plate and he is, at the very least, adequate at pitch framing and ball blocking.
He also seems like a good guy who’s well-liked by his teammates and the fans, despite his shortcomings. Heart and character matter in baseball, and that’s why it’s hard to rip this guy.
That being said, the Giants would be better off having a backup catcher with better plate discipline.
In 146 plate appearances for Triple-A Fresno, Andrew Susac has an 11.6% walk rate and a 23.3% strikeout rate to go along with a strong .262/.363/.452 slash line.
Perhaps down the road, Susac will take over behind the plate, allowing Posey to permanently move to a new position. It’s imperative that the Giants preserve Posey’s health, as he’s easily their best and most important player.
We’ve seen way too much of Posey getting injured behind the dish, whether he’s being rocked by a foul ball off the mask, drilled in the hand by a foul tip, or blown up by Scott Cousins in a brutal, season-ending injury.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we’re seeing less of Posey behind the plate. The trouble is that the man who’s replacing him is not disciplined enough to be an everyday big leaguer.  
If the Giants are going to be ultra cautious with Posey and give lots of PA’s to their backup catcher, they need to lose patience in Sanchez and replace him with someone who is, quite fittingly, more patient.

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