Statliners Awards: AL Rookie of the Year Gary Sanchez

The Statliners team has voted on all the major awards, and we’ll be presenting our winners with a little bit of an explanation. With this installment, we bring you American League Rookie of the Year Gary Sanchez.

American League Rookie of the Year Statliners Vote: Gary Sanchez 8, Michael Fulmer 5, Tyler Naquin 4

Just 49 games ago, the American League Rookie of the Year race wasn’t much of a race. There was the Detroit Tigers’ Michael Fulmer way ahead of the pack, with maybe someone like the Cleveland Indians’ outfielder Tyler Naquin getting some recognition. But, to the majority of people, including those voting for the annual award, the winner was going to be Fulmer. That was 49 games ago, and in the span of time Fulmer has continued his impressive rookie campaign. What he, and no one else, knew was that all of a sudden we’d be smacked in the face with .316/.390/.701.

Those numbers weren’t supposed to happen, certainly not over the course of 49 games and 187 at-bats. Yet happen they did, as well as an, if possible, even more impressive 20 home runs and an on base plus slugging percentage of 1.090. With those numbers a contender, and Statliners pick for eventual winner, to Fulmer’s supposed crown had emerged. He came from New York, he plays for the Yankees, he’s a catcher, and his name is Gary Sanchez.

Throughout his minor league career, Sanchez had proven to be a top prospect in the Yankees system. He had good power, was competent and improving in his defensive catching ability, and he had shown an ability to adjust to the struggles of moving up the minor league levels. However, Sanchez had never shown anything like what he has brought to the baseball world in his 49 games with the Yankees in 2016. The idea of him hitting for average, power, and getting on base at an elite level were not considerations. The Yankees had called up Sanchez for the experience and to add some life to a team that appeared to have little left to play for this season.

All Sanchez would do is go on to post a wins above replacement of 3.0 in those 49 games. When you look at where Sanchez ranks in that category, he’s all the way down at number 72. If you look at who he is surrounded by; it’s players who have appeared in far more games. The only player with a similar WAR and game total is the Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner with a 3.1 WAR in 69 games. Sanchez does come up short against Fulmer in the WAR category, Fulmer has a 5.0, but Fulmer has the luxury of having been in the starting rotation since the end of April. That’s a level of disparity that simply cannot be discounted.

Produce–that’s all Yankees catcher has done since getting his call-up. He’s produced at a level not often seen in rookies. His 20 home runs in 51 career games (he played two games for the Yankees in 2015) ties Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves for the fastest to 20 home runs in a career in Major League Baseball history. We may live in a day and age where more players than ever are hitting home runs, but that doesn’t diminish Sanchez’s accomplishment in the least bit. That he’s doing it from the catcher position makes his home run heroics all the more special.

The one thing that it seems most want to hold against the Dominican Republic native is what I view as his greatest strength. The 49 games are a point of contention with some, with the main narrative having been formed that the amount of games he’s played simply aren’t enough for Sanchez to win any sort of award. I understand that small sample size is a real thing and that the rookies who have played the majority of the 2016 season have put in a lot more work.

What can’t be dismissed is that in only 49 games Sanchez has put up full season numbers. Going back to his 3.0 WAR again, it’s first in the American League among all catchers, not just rookies. That’s the sort of dominance that makes me see the 49 game number and say, “Man, in that span of time too? This guy is as legit as they come.”

Prior to writing this article I had cast my vote for the American League Rookie of the Year for Fulmer. While I still place great value on what Fulmer was able to do this year, I’m no longer certain in my vote. What Sanchez has done isn’t just impressive, it was special. The only knock I can see against him is the amount of games played, and the more I dug into his stats the more I was floored by the numbers he put up in such a small number of games.

There’s a reason the Statliners crew has chosen Gary Sanchez as our 2016 American League Rookie of the Year. A slash of .316/.390.701 is an awfully hard set of numbers to say no to, no matter how many games have been played.