Feeling good about Gaby

michaeljong
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OK, it’s early in the season. I will never say that a player is “the real deal” or “awful” after 23 plate appearances. You and I both know that that is simply irresponsible. But if you felt a little jittery about Gaby Sanchez (as I did) going into the season, his start has certainly been encouraging. Sanchez is batting .250/.379/.500, good for a .372 wOBA.

Now, none of that is going to stick by the end of the year. It’s highly unlikely that Sanchez is as good as he is right now. But we do know a little bit about him from the minors, and I would like to see what has a chance of sticking and what doesn’t.

A Careful Eye

One thing that Sanchez was well known for in his minor league days was plate recognition. He had always combined two things: high walk rates that indicated a good eye for the zone and low strikeout rates which indicated both discipline and good contact skills. For his minor league career, Sanchez struck out in only 12.0% of the time and walked unintentionally 11.7% of the time.

Of course, we know that that won’t stick as he moves up to full-time play in the majors. Here are what three big projection systems said about Sanchez’ rates in 2010.

Proj. SystemK%BB%
CHONE15.4%10.8%
ZiPS15.4%9.6%
PECOTA16.2%9.%

There is very little difference here. Sanchez has not disappointed about this eye so far either. According to BIS data recorded on FanGraphs, Sanchez has swung at just 22% of pitches out of the zone, and Pitch f/x data using a dynamic strike zone has him swinging at just 17.2% of pitches out of the zone. That careful eye for the strike zone has done a good job of keeping him plate appearances.

The Question Marks

I’ve mentioned before that Sanchez does not necessarily need big power numbers to succeed, but his projected lack of pop does come into play when considering another aspect of his game. The lack of power and average BABIP skill leads to only a .270-ish average at the major league level; in fact, all of the major projection systems have Gaby at a .269-.272 average. With that average/OBP, Sanchez would need more power to approach an average first baseman (assuming average defense). This power has always been that concern, and it remains to be seen if he will reach that level.

I suspect that Sanchez could improve on either his power or his BABIP skill, but he does not have much time to do it. As a 26-year old, there is not a whole lot of room for additional growth, and John’s Sanchez projection piece reflects that. At this level, the best he can likely be is an average player, which by no means is awful.

Comparables

I wanted to bring up some of PECOTA’s comps for Sanchez’ 2010 season. Here are the names I found intriguing:

1. Lyle Overbay (2003)
2. Kendry Morales (2009)
3. John Gall (2004)
4. Robert Fick (2000)

Two names on there have become solid MLB regulars, while the other two, well, didn’t. On the positive side, Sanchez could very well develop into Overbay with fewer strikeouts, which would be quite a boon over the next few seasons for the Marlins or for a team that acquires him. On the other end, Gall’s skillset of contact, no power, and first base/corner OF defense scares me.

All of this is to say that, as of right now, we can’t be certain of what will happen. In about a month, we’ll know if Sanchez’ plate discipline can stick in the majors. His power and other developments will have to wait. Waiting in the wings to prevent a long wait is Logan Morrison, so Sanchez needs to prove his worth to this team (or any team for that matter) this season. If he looks like what CHONE and John have projected, he might be just valuable enough to keep around, possibly at third to replace Jorge Cantu. If he turns into a slap/doubles hitter who needs to play first to be useful in the big leagues, he might not find himself around the bigs for long. After the first week, I feel more confident in the former. Talk to me in a month or two and I’ll have a bit of a clearer response.

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