With a two-homer performance in an 11-5 victory over the Rays on Wednesday night, Gary Sanchez became the fastest player in major-league history to reach both 18 and 19 home runs, having done so in 43 games. Individually, Sanchez also has 38 RBIs and a patently preposterous .337/.410/.747 slash line. Called up and given full-time status following a trade deadline that should have ended the Yankees’ season, Sanchez has instead been the catalyst for his team’s continued relevance in the AL playoff picture.
At the plate, Gary Sanchez displays a confident demeanor more indicative of a veteran coal miner than a rookie player in the big leagues. Even through a pitcher’s full windup, he rests his tool of destruction, his bat, on his shoulder like a pickax, only raising it at the last possible second to exert his will on some American League spot-starter. The vengeance and frequency with which he jettisons baseballs into alternate planes of reality is, in a word, striking, suggesting a ruthless revenge for some generations-long grudge Sanchez holds against the pitcher, the crowd, Rawlings, the ball itself and/or the very idea of baseball as a sport.
Even more than that, however, what sticks out in a Sanchez at-bat, particularly when he hits a homer, is the immediacy. Though his average batted ball exit speed is currently ninth in the league, it isn’t at the level of, say, Giancarlo Stanton. Yet the ball seems to jump off Sanchez’s bat with a unique fury. Along with his underrated-by-comparison defense behind the plate, Gary Sanchez’s mercury-hot season makes him the best candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.
To be frank, subjective awards, particularly for first-year players in any sport, are mostly as useless as college ranking systems and Yelp reviews. What we should be asking is if the AL ROY is worthy of Gary Sanchez, rather than vice versa. Because criteria can vary so wildly from person to person, the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” trope takes on more of an air of “one man’s bored afterthought is another man’s staggering paradigm shift.” Alas, awards continue on ceaselessly against the future, unprepared to deal with Gary Sanchez though they might be.
The common argument against Sanchez as a Rookie of the Year candidate is that he simply hasn’t played enough games, having only been called up for good in August, after the Yankees had all but scuttled their season with eyes toward the future. Ken Davidoff of The New York Post, for example, suggests that “The award goes to Rookie of the YEAR. Not ‘Most Likely to Wind Up in Cooperstown.’ Best player for the defined period, not best potential for the future.”
Davidoff has a point insofar as the award must go to the player who has achieved the most success rather than the player who may achieve the most success, though his train of logic goes AWOL when he capitalizes YEAR as “the defined period” measuring eligibility. By that logic, no player is eligible, because the nature of the league’s schedule prevented Michael Fulmer from playing a regular season game in January.
The BBWAA, it should be noted, has no set minimum requirements for the Rookie of the Year, only that, per MLB, a player cannot have accumulated more than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched or 45 days on an active roster in any previous season. Of course, as has been regularly cited recently, there is some precedent for something like this: Willie McCovey hit 13 home runs and added 38 RBIs on .354 from the plate in 52 games in 1959, snagging the NL hardware. Why not El Gary?
Sanchez’s flash in the pan has thus far been a full-on nuclear reaction when set against the average rookie’s scrambled eggs. As the Washington Post’s Neil Greenberg noted, is closest competitor for the AL Rookie of the Year Award, Detroit’s Fulmer, has cooled off after an excellent start, partly as a result of the Tigers’ expanded and dubiously fluid pitching rotation. Despite Fulmer’s sublime 3.03 ERA, Sanchez’s WAR is 3.2, compared with Fulmer’s 2.6. Even Cleveland’s Tyler Naquin, another erstwhile ROY candidate, has seen his production slide recently, not that it was much direct competition with Sanchez. The latter owns a wRC+ a full 63 points higher than Naquin, his next-closest rival among rookies.
Of gods and men, Gary Sanchez has annihilated expectation, to the point past which anyone was prepared. What was supposed to be a time purely for prospects to gain big league experience has instead become a nightly showcase for unprecedented talent in the case of the 23-year-old Dominican. Whether our constantly reformed dreams as fans meet his rapidly shifting career aspirations will be seen, but as of now, it is fair only to dissect actual results. For Gary Sanchez, efficient production deserves just reward. Fortunately, there is one that fits the bill.
Photo: Kim Klement / USA Today Sports