There are few two-way catchers in baseball, forcing many clubs to favor either offense or defense when they pencil in its backstop. When a catcher underperforms in both aspects, the team suffers.
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez will likely face criticism for his defensive abilities until he stops squatting behind home plate. A leaner body and hard work might ease some of the miscues, but Sanchez's offensive production is what the Yankees have counted on most. When Sanchez couldn't provide consistent offense in 2018, the masking agent for his defensive woes was wholly transparent.
Sanchez, who is just 26 years old, is primed for a bounce back year in 2019 because there is virtually nowhere to go but up. While it's admirable that Sanchez has seemingly leaned in body mass in an effort to increase mobility behind the plate, a returning lethalness from his bat is what will propel him back into the conversation of the top catchers in the game.
Despite Sanchez's disastrous .186 batting average, .291 on-base percentage and .406 slugging percentage (an 86 OPS+) in 2018, there is reason to believe those numbers can become a distant memory in 2019.
Sanchez's barrel percentage (13.9 percent) ranked him in the top five percent of all MLB batters in 2018. Sanchez's hard hit percentage declined slightly last season, but it was still a very respectable 41.1 percent and well above league average. Sanchez's walk rate of 12.3 percent was by far a career-high, while his batting average on balls put in play was a ridiculously low .197 in 2018. Add in Sanchez's history as an offensive power - above-average minor league measures and exceptional results in his first two seasons in the big leagues - and it's not difficult to surmise results more similar to 2017 than 2018 in 2019.
Sanchez has always possessed outsized expectations in the batter's box, however they have been accompanied by a "but his defense" follow up. Sanchez takes a good deal of heat for his shortcomings at blocking balls and rightfully so - his 18 passed balls in 2018 topped MLB despite much fewer chances than other starting catchers. Sanchez often comes across as being lackadaisical behind the plate, but his proclivity to running to the backstop for errant pitches is more about readiness or anticipation than laziness.
The interesting thing about Sanchez's catching ability is that it's not all bad. Sanchez owns very quick pop times, possesses a strong throwing arm and he's improved as a pitch framer. Quite honestly, if Sanchez could shave a handful of passed balls from the ledger in 2019, with all else staying flat or improving, his defense would be minimally considered league average.
That said, we shouldn't anticipate Sanchez to all of the sudden transform into a stellar pitch-blocker. His inefficiency in the area is as longstanding as his ability to crush baseballs.
The point is this: the Yankees can only live with the passed balls if Sanchez once again displays the offensive prowess that got him to the big leagues in the first place and there is enough evidence to suggest he can.