In 2016, Gary Sanchez came up midseason for the New York Yankees and was sensational. In only 53 games, Sanchez hit .299/.376/.657 with a 171 wRC+ and 20 home runs. At 20 home runs in just 53 games, that is a pace of over 60 (6o!!!) home runs in a full 162 game season. By the end of the season, there was a lot of talk about Sanchez winning the American League Rookie of the Year award despite playing in less than 1/3 of the season. The award ended up going to Detroit Tiger’s starting pitcher Michael Fulmer, but Sanchez was turning heads.
On the other side of the coin, in 2016 prospect Aaron Judge had very little success in his first taste of the MLB. In 27 games, Judge hit just .179/.263/.345 with a 63 wRC+ and only four home runs. Although Judge did so poorly in his short MLB stint, there was still reason for optimism after having hit .270/.366/.489 with a 147 wRC+ and 19 HR in 93 AAA games earlier that season.
Coming into the 2017 season, a lot of people were skeptical about Sanchez because he had never shown the kind of power in the minor leagues that he had shown in 2016, but he was still supposed to be a good catcher and above average hitter. However, Steamer bought into Sanchez and projected him to hit .268/.329/.491 with a 118 wRC+ and 27 home runs for the 2017 season. For any player, this would be a good season. For a catcher, it would be great.
For Judge, despite a rough cup of coffee in 2016, Steamer projected him to .248/.324/.446 with a 106 wRC+ and 17 home runs. This projection looked very much in line with what he had been doing in the minors, and something the Yankees would have gladly taken.
Fast forward now to the middle of June, and the Yankees look like they have an incredibly powerful core anchored by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. For Judge, he has been the talk of baseball in 2017, hitting mammoth home runs seemingly every couple of days, and now even leads all of the MLB in fWAR at 3.9. He has been so spectacular that Ryan Spaeder of the Ace Of Spaeder twitter account tweeted this yesterday:
Through 58 games played:
22 HR & .341/.481/.726
22 HR & .234/.341/.566
21 HR & .344/.450/.718#Yankees
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) June 11, 2017
Quite the company for the young slugger.
As for Sanchez, he has quietly hit a very good .276/.358/.530 with a 138 wRC+ and 10 HR in 35 games so far this season. It would seem to be a tall task to overshadow someone doing that well after doing what he did in 2016, but Judge has just been that overwhelming. Jared Diamond tweeted about the two and it was just perfect:
I never thought I’d see anyone do anything like 2016 Gary Sanchez again. Then Aaron Judge came along.
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) June 11, 2017
The pair of sluggers are a big reason why the Yankees are not just in first place, as some divisions aren’t doing so wonderfully right now *cough cough AL Central cough cough NL Central*, but 14 games over .500 at the moment with a .617 winning percentage.
The story gets even better for Yankee fans when looking at both players vs the rest of baseball since their call-ups in 2016. Sanchez technically made his debut for one game in May, but he made the team for good on 8/3. Judge came up shortly after on 8/13. Going from 8/3 till now, Judge is 6th in wRC+ at 167, and Sanchez is 8th at 161. That puts them ahead of stars like Josh Donaldson (156), David Ortiz (154), Kris Bryant (151), Nelson Cruz (151), Paul Goldschmidt (146), Miguel Cabrera (140), Bryce Harper (140), and many other excellent hitters. The only players above them are guys just hitting out of their minds like Freddie Freeman (204), Mike Trout (196), Adrian Beltre (176), Jung Ho Kang (175), Joey Votto (171), and Alex Avila (167).
For the Yankees lineup, this youth revolution has been a big change for them compared to a few seasons before. In 2015, the Yankees had many old position players with big contracts taking up space on the roster such as Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and Brian Mccann, with little youth outside of Greg Bird and Didi Gregorious. Now, just two years later, the Yankees have Judge, Sanchez, Hicks, Castro, Gregorious, all 27 order younger, all with a wRC+ of 125 or higher outside of Bird.
Not only do they have that young core already providing big value to the Yankees, but they also have one of the few best prospects in baseball in shortstop Gleyber Torres as well as outfielder Clint Frazier just a step away in AAA waiting to help out possibly as soon as later this season. With a group of players this talented all approaching their primes at once, no one could blame Yankees fans for thinking back to the lineups of the late 1990s with Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and other key contributors and wondering if it could be happening again for them.
It may still be too early to fantasize about such things for New Yorkers, but the Yankees are back to power much earlier than anyone thought. For a while, the Yankees were known for their payroll being filled with old and bloated contracts for players past their prime. Soon, thanks to young emerging potential stars like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, that will be a thing of the past.
For an explanation on wRC+ and other advanced statistics, check out Fangraphs.com