Deep League Waiver Wire: Sanchez and Suzuki

The two players I’m recommending this week share almost nothing in common. One is young, powerful, and crushingly enticing. The other is nearing the end of a magnificent career with the same fleetness of foot he enthralled us with 15 years ago. Endless potential versus a potential storybook ending. And if you own either of them right now, you’re likely playing in a very, very deep league.

Gary Sanchez (1% Yahoo, 0.7% ESPN, 12% CBS) – one of the best pieces of player news I read last week was a recent report that the Yankees’ top catching prospect started fielding grounders at first while rehabbing a broken thumb. As I alluded to in last week’s column, catcher has been historically bad this season. So any news that an offensively gifted and show-ready backstop may be switching to a less demanding position while retaining his catcher eligibility is noteworthy. Just read this blurb from Chris Mitchell written right around his brief call up back in May:

Sanchez’s bat has always been well-regarded by scouts. He boasts 70 raw power, which has helped him to be an above-average hitter at every minor league stop. However, while Sanchez’s offensive numbers have been consistently solid, his strikeout rates were a tad high in the past. Not high enough to be overly concerned — especially coming from a catcher with power — but high enough to make him less than a slam dunk to hit in the majors.

Prior to his injury, Sanchez had quietly posted a .289/.336/.521 line in AAA with 6 home runs in a little over 150 plate appearances. While he hasn’t walked as much as he had in past years, he’s also cut his strikeout rate down to a shiny 15%, appearing to have addressed the weakness Mitchell expressed some modicum of concern over.

Sanchez is an advanced power bat eligible at a position lacking them. If he convinces the Yankees he’s capable of manning first, he has two paths to playing time, plus the DH. It’s possible that learning a new position could hamper Sanchez’ offensive output however, given the state of catcher that’s a risk I’m willing to take. Sanchez was cleared to resume baseball activities last week and should make a return to the Bronx sometime this summer.

 

Ichiro (3% Yahoo, 3.2% ESPN, 3% CBS) – I briefly considered doing an All-Old-Guy edition of this week’s column but as one might imagine, the choices are rather limited. The 40+ crowd in 2016 is like a bag of trail mix in which David Ortiz and Bartolo Colon are chocolate chips and roasted cashews and everyone else is unsalted pretzels, fermented tofu, and half-composted diapers. As such, I’d like to talk to you about unsalted pretzels.

At 42 years old, Ichiro is closing in on 3,000 MLB hits. This is something to be celebrated and is truly a remarkable achievement given that they all came after the nearly 1,300 hits he accumulated in Japan. Perhaps then it shouldn’t be all that surprising that Ichiro, notoriously dedicated to his craft and conditioning, continues to produce as a quadragenarian. Yet, it is surprising because prior to this season, Ichiro had posted five consecutive seasons of sub-100 wRC+. So what gives?

Ichiro has never been known for his patience, walking in just under 6% of his plate appearances over a long MLB career. If held, the 8.6% walk rate he’s posting now would be his best since his sophomore season 14 years ago. And his strikeout rate which sits under 5% would be by far the lowest of his career. He’s walking a little more, striking out a lot less, and making contact at the highest rate of his career. Perhaps we can attribute some of this to a lower chase rate and a higher zone swing percentage. Except that these gains are marginal at best.

Quite honestly, he doesn’t really seem to be doing anything differently, yet his batted ball outcomes have changed somewhat significantly, sacrificing some groundballs for the highest line drive rate of his career. And even at 42, he’s a threat on the base paths, attempting steals at his highest rate since 2009.

Lost in a crowded outfield filled with stars, playing time is the obvious concern here. But owners in daily leagues needing speed should consider the future Hall of Famer who’s turning back the clock just in time for 3,000 hits.

 





Rylan writes for Fangraphs and The Hardball Times. Look for his weekly Deep League Waiver Wire and The Chacon Zone columns this season.

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Goms
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Sanchez is only available as a DH on ESPN unfortunately :/