Pittsburgh Pirates: A Look at Gaby Sanchez’s 2013 Season
By Noah Wright
The Pittsburgh Pirates got some really productive seasons from many batters in 2013, but Gaby Sanchez was one of the overlooked performers of that year.
The 2010 decade saw the Pittsburgh Pirates have essentially a merry-go-round of first basemen. By the start 2013, the Pirates had already seen about five different players take over at first base with varying levels of success, but none establishing themselves as long term pieces.
In 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates opted for a platoon at the position. Garrett Jones was the left handed end of the platoon, and Gaby Sanchez was the right handed bat of the platoon. When you look back at it, Sanchez quietly had a pretty decent 2013.
Now, to start with, Sanchez was nothing worth writing home about defensively, but he got the job done. He had -5 DRS, but just -0.8 UZR and -1.6 range runs above average. He got the job done, but I want to focus on his bat here.
In 320 plate appearances, Sanchez batted for a solid .251/.361/.402 line. Not necessarily fantastic, but it still resulted in a 117 OPS+, 118 wRC+ and 113 deserved runs created plus. Pretty solid numbers for 2013. He also hit 18 doubles.
Sanchez also made hard contact quite often. With a 35.5% hard hit rate, he was third on the team in hard hit percentage, only falling behind Pedro Alvarez (41.2%) and Andrew McCutchen (39.9%) (min. 300 PAs). He also only had a 15% soft contact rate, or 1% better than the league average.
What really made Sanchez notable in 2013 was how good of a platoon guy he was, and how frequently he got on base. Sanchez walked at an outstanding rate of 13.8%. That actually was the highest rate in the Pirates’ line-up, even surpassing the MVP, Andrew McCutchen who was second at 11.6%.
Sanchez’s platooning abilities were outstanding as well. In the 126 plate appearances he faced lefty pitchers in, Sanchez put up a .333/.348/.539 line, with four home runs and nine doubles. In 500 plate appearances, that comes out to about 12 long balls and 36 doubles.
Overall, that comes out to a 181 wRC+ and .428 wOBA. Sanchez’s 181 wRC+ that year vs LHP was the 14th highest in baseball, even out-doing rookie sensation Yasiel Puig (180), who should have been the American League MVP, Mike Trout (172), and National League MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt (163).
Sanchez was also outstanding for the Pittsburgh Pirates after the All-Star Break. His first 84 plate appearances after the break saw him hit .314/.393/.414. Though he didn’t hit a home run, Sanchez walked (11) more times than he struck out (10).
The other end of the platoon, Jones, only hit .251/.295/.435 vs RHP with a 104 wRC+. Not completely awful production, but there was much better out there. So to replace Jones, they decided to go and trade for former MVP Justin Morneau.
Now Morneau was better vs RHP than Jones was, having a .280/.352/.467 line and 125 wRC+ in 2013, but Morenau started to struggle down the stretch vs righties. His final 75 plate appearances vs RHP saw him still have a .279 batting average and outstanding .400 OBP, but Morneau’s power completely disappeared as his slugging percentage went from .488 before the trade to .344 post trade. While that would have been really good if he were batting lead off with McCutchen, Alvarez, Starling Marte, Marlon Byrd, Neil Walker, and Jordy Mercer batting behind him, most of Morneau’s plate appearances came from the clean up spot.
It was understandable why the Pittsburgh Pirates were batting Sanchez in the clean up spot when he was in the line up. He had a .333/.421/.552 line and 174 wRC+ coming from the spot. But not so much with Morneau. They instead kept Morneau in a spot where he was supposed to be a run producer, and much less of a get on base guy and set up a run scoring situation for the bigger bats.
Regardless, Sanchez’s 2013 season was one of the more under the radar performances that year. Many look him over because McCutchen had an MVP season, Marte established himself as a top tier defender with a plus bat, Alvarez led the league in home runs, and deadline addition Byrd all left bigger imprints on the 2013 team. But Sanchez was fantastic at getting on base, and hitting left handed pitching.