A Theory of Gary Sanchez Part 2: Juiced Ball Still the Difference

Last August, I posted my theory of Gary Sanchez. At the time, he was hitting .400/.467/.900 in his first 21 games. We all know how that turned out: Sanchez continued to be hot into September, and put up one of the best debuts in MLB history. Sanchez had always been a pretty good hitter in the minors, but didn't seem like a player likely to hit 20 home runs and 12 doubles in barely 200 plate appearances, even during his hottest of hot streaks.

Something changed. I argued that Gary Sanchez, like many up-the-middle major league hitters in 2016, had the perfect batted ball profile to capitalize on the juiced major league baseball:

Sanchez's batted ball profile overlaid on graph by FiveThirtyEight's Rob Arthur.

Sanchez's batted ball profile overlaid on graph by FiveThirtyEight's Rob Arthur.

Did this hold up after September? We both have twice as much data on Sanchez and a new tool from Baseball Savant to answer the question.

Sanchez's exit velocity and launch angles stayed steady in the 10-25 degrees, low-90s exit velocity range. On fly balls and line drives, Sanchez's average batted ball was 96 mph and 23 degrees. He was a (hard) line drive hitter the whole time, rather than a guy trying to loft the ball. So, what difference did the 2 mph of exit velocity make for Sanchez? 

Baseball Savant now provides spray charts for batted ball profiles. On the right, I've put a 94 mph, 23 degree profile. On the left, I've put a 96 mph one. Check out the difference:

Both of these hitters are good at baseball. Mr. 94 mph hits .302 when he gets the ball in the air. He hits the occasional home, but mostly hits doubles. A slow player like Sanchez likely turns a number of those into singles. This resembles Sanchez's minor league profile. Mr. 96 mph hits twice as many home runs, while still getting plenty of doubles, and hits .369 (!) on fly balls. 2 mph makes a huge difference to line drive hitters like Sanchez.

Of course, Sanchez hit a lot more home runs than Mr. 96. Any hitter hits his balls in a range of exit velocity. While Sanchez averaged 96 mph, his median exit velocity was actually higher at 99 mph. So, let's compare Mr. 99 to Mr. 97:

For reference here is Sanchez's 2016 spray chart:

Looks a lot like Mr. 99, right? Assuming the ball stays juiced, I interpret this as a very good sign for Sanchez's future. His 2016 story is similar to guys like Brian Dozier, Didi Gregorius, and Daniel Murphy, just that his previous performances were hidden in the minor leagues.