Gaby Sanchez on the rise?


Earlier today I responded to a comment from DelrayBob regarding Gaby Sanchez and his odds of keeping up his production through the course of the season.

"I agree that both Dobbs and Bonni are going to regress, but I do not think Gabby (sp) has too. He is good enough a hitter to ride this through a season, he is using the whole field and really being consistent. He always projected as a plus contact guy and he is proving to be just that. His error yesterday aside, the defense has been stellar and I think the confidence is carrying over. He belongs. He knows it. He is going to hit a ton."

Also, today I read this piece regarding Sanchez as an underrated player at first base.

"But there is an emerging first baseman who is making a lot of noise in South Florida, even if he is not as well known on the national scene.A major reason the Marlins are one of the surprise teams in the NL is the consistency of first baseman Gaby Sanchez.The 27-year-old Miami native is batting .336, seventh in the NL, and he paces the Marlins in batting average, home runs (six), hits (46) and RBIs (23).A fourth-place finisher in the NL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2010, Sanchez also is making a case that he’s building on his first year to be one of the most productive at his position.“People are going to start talking about him a little bit more often,” Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez said.Sanchez has seen his profile rise. On Monday, for the first time in his career, he was named NL Player of the Week, after hitting .464 for the period ending Sunday."

I don’t completely disagree with DelrayBob or this article necessarily. It is obvious that Emilio Bonifacio and Greg Dobbs are much more likely to return to being bums at the plate than Sanchez’s odds of becoming a bum. But that’s because he was never a bum, and we all knew that from last year. Last year, Sanchez hit .273/.341/.448, a line which most projection systems more or less guessed prior to that season. But this year, his .336/.414/.533 line has been completely out of this world so far, and it has really come out of nowhere. But of course (and I’m sure you saw this coming), we simply can’t expect him to hit as well as this going forward. To expect Sanchez to regress as much as Bonifacio and Dobbs does not mean that he is as bad a player as those two, but rather that he just is not as good as he has shown here.


Let’s take a look at the factors I often use to analyze players and see how they are performing the way they are. Here are the numbers Sanchez showed last season, this season, and in the minors for his career.

Sanchez, 201112.111.40.587.195.354
Sanchez, 201015.78.90.641.175.299
Sanchez, Minors12.012.00.607.183.318

One of the great things about Sanchez is how predictable his game has been up until now. Last season went almost exactly as advetised, and as you can see from some of his peripherals this season, they are going about as well advertised this year again. Sanchez’s walk and strikeout rates are strongly mirroring what he did in the minors, and his power right now is lying somewhere in between his major and minor league numbers.

The only clear difference is obviously in BABIP, a category in which Sanchez has never excelled. Even in the minors, he never held a sky-high BABIP, garnering his superior slash line primarily from his excellent plate discipline numbers and acceptable power. None of th indicators, both from the past and of predictive nature, think that he can continue to do this well on balls in play.

ML before 2011.298
Minor leagues, career.318
ZiPS rest-of-season proj.307
PECOTA, rest-of-season proj.300

I actually think those .310 or so marks seem about right for Sanchez. You figure he will probably adjust well enough to the majors to get better at making solid contact given his minor league track record, so it would not surprise me to see a return to a BABIP that is closer to his career minor league totals. Still, a .353 mark would be difficult to ask for; among players with at least 1000 PA since 2008, only six players have a BABIP higher than .350 throughout that time period. Do you think Gaby Sanchez is of similar hitting caliber as Joey Votto, Ichiro Suzuki, Joe Mauer, Josh Hamilton, Shin-Soo Choo, or Matt Holliday? I’d hesitate to make that conclusion this season.

What is good?

Of course, that does not mean that we should expect Sanchez to return to being a .270/.340/.440 hitter. As previously mentioned, his strikeout and walk rates are currently right at his career minor league rates, and an improving plate approach would not surprise me. Let’s compare what we’ve seen so far before this season and this year.

SanchezPitches/PASwing%Whiff%Called Strike%

There is some encouraging news here, but nothing completely out of the ordinary. The biggest difference is in Sanchez’s swing rate, which is down about five percent from last year. A decrease in swings is going to lead to an obvious decrease in swings and misses, and combined with a bit of a decrease in called strikes, Sanchez has been able to cut down on his strikeouts pretty decently from last year. With 157 PA this season, there is some reason to believe that at least half of Sanchez’s true strikeout rates are indicated by his strong performance this season, and a projection halfway between this year and his previous career average yields a non-entirely unbelievable 13.9 percent rate.

A decrease in strikeouts and increase in walks would obviously be beneficial to Sanchez’s game, but neither of those two things will up his wOBA as high as his BABIP has this season. Right now, we feel pretty strongly that he is a better player than what we thought we had, but it seems pretty obvious that he is not as good as advertised so far this year. Nevertheless, Marlins fans, first base is in good hands; ZiPS predicts a .281/.353/.446 line (.355 wOBA) from Sanchez the rest of the way this year, and that would be a decently above average player for the Fish. If I told you the Marlins could have a 3.5-win first baseman by the end of the season this year, I am certain Marlins fans would have gladly accepted that.