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Making the case for Gary Sanchez as AL Rookie of the Year

Sanchez, Michael Fulmer, and Tyler Naquin are finalists.

Gary Sanchez (Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

Gary Sanchez (Photo by Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

On Monday, November 7, Major League Baseball announced the winners of the Golden Glove and Silver Slugger awards in both leagues as well as announcing the finalists for MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year. The winners of those three awards will be announced on Monday, November 14.

Along with Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer and Indians center fielder Tyler Naquin, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is a finalist for AL Rookie of the Year. Sanchez deserves to win and I’m going to tell you why.

Let’s start by talking about his competition. Tyler Naquin was certainly a decent player, especially for a rookie, and he definitely deserves recognition for his play. He definitely has a bright future for an Indians team that reached the World Series. He had a slash line of .296/.372/.514 while showing decent power by hitting 14 home runs along with 18 doubles and five triples. He also had 43 RBIs and six steals in his 116 games and 321 at-bats. You’d like your center fielder to show a bit more speed than that, but it was a very solid season for Naquin.

Michael Fulmer, however, was more than decent. He was fantastic as a starter for the Tigers. He made 26 starts this season and finished the year with a 3.06 ERA and a record of 11-7. Among pitchers who pitched at least 140 innings (Fulmer threw 159), his ERA ranked 14th, his WHIP was 18th, and his WAR was 17th. He also had a great K/BB at 3.14, which was best among MLB starters. These are all very solid numbers for a rookie. However, he wasn’t dominant, as shown by his 58th ranked K/9 at just 7.47. He doesn’t have the stuff to blow opposing hitters away, but he was very consistent and doesn’t give up too many hits or walks. I would say that Fulmer is the likely favorite for the award.

Now, on to Sanchez. He deserves this award. It shouldn’t matter that he only played in 53 games this season, he was absolutely dominant. In just 202 at-bats, he raked in a whopping 20 homers, 12 doubles, and 42 RBIs. He was batting well over .300 until late September when his average started to dip. He still finished with a .299 average on the season, to go along with a .376 on-base percentage and .657 slugging. The most eye-popping stat, in my opinion, is his ridiculous 1.033 OPS. OPS is a combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It’s a great indicator of how good of a hitter a player is, combining power with ability to get on base.

If he had enough at-bats to qualify for it, he would’ve lead all of baseball in OPS. He even would have been ahead of David Ortiz. Ortiz, even though he announced he was retiring after his age-41 season, had one of the best seasons of his Hall of Fame career and Sanchez was essentially better. Let’s put it into perspective by taking the season Sanchez had and setting his pace to the course of a full 162 game season. While his slash line doesn’t change, it was still a very good line. What does change is  his overall numbers, which would’ve been out of this world. He would’ve slammed an incredible 61 homers, 37 doubles, 104 runs, and 128 RBIs. He also would’ve stolen three bases on three tries. He also would’ve racked up 183 hits and 73 walks. He really had a magical season.

It wasn’t just the bat either. He was an excellent backstop. His percentage of base runners that he caught stealing of .406 would’ve put him second in baseball behind only the Royal’s All-Star Salvador Perez. He caught 13 of 32 base runners. He wasn’t known for defense, but he displayed an absolute cannon for a right arm as well as great accuracy. His range factor, which accounts for putouts and assists based on innings behind the plate, of 9.63 also would’ve been second in baseball. Sanchez also had just six passed balls and three errors in his 36 games behind the plate. His defense was certainly excellent and something he can continue to build on as the future full-time catcher for the Yankees.

Another good stat to determine just how dominant Sanchez was this season is WAR (Wins Above Replacement), both offensive and defensive. His 0.5 defensive WAR doesn’t look impressive, but over a full season, his WAR of 1.5 would’ve put him fourth among qualified catchers. His offensive WAR is a different story. In his 53 games this season, his managed an offensive WAR of 3.0, which is already fourth among catchers. FOURTH. That’s without playing a full season. Over a full season, he would’ve had the best WAR, regardless of position, in the MLB at 15.0. If that stat doesn’t blow you away, I don’t know what would.

When you look at what Sanchez did, it was certainly one of the most impressive stories of the season. His dominance was a huge reason for the Yankees being able to get back into the playoff race late into the season. He, almost immediately, moved into an everyday catcher role, while sending Brian McCann into the DH role. That’s impressive considering that McCann was already playing like one of the league’s better catchers.

The only knock on Sanchez is that he only played in 53 games this season, which makes it harder to pick him for AL Rookie of the Year because of the smaller sample size. But look at it this way, Michael Fulmer, who is expected to win, is a starting pitcher. He only started 26 games, meaning he pitched in slightly less than half the games that Sanchez started. I understand it’s different, because of the position they play, but at the same time, it’s not. Sanchez deserves this honor more than anyone.

It’s been some time since we’ve seen such a dominant performance from such a young and inexperienced player. Just imagine what he’ll do in the coming years for the Yankees as the full time starter. I certainly can’t wait to see his career unfold. We may be looking at baseball’s next great catcher.

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