Photo credit: By Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Even with a sizzling Gary Sanchez ensconced in the lineup, I did not expect to find the Yankees atop any team home run leaderboards.
Yet when I scanned the rankings of home runs by teams over the last 14 days, just prior to the Yankees’ series finale in Seattle, the Bronx Bombers were sitting on top. On Wednesday, Sanchez added an exclamation point with a upper deck shot to left field in the first inning. That was the Yankees’ 29th home run in their last 14 games.
Sanchez has been garnering the headlines — and the attention of Fantasy owners — having provided nine of those homers. He hasn’t catapulted the Yankees to the top of the leaderboard all on his own, though. Starlin Castro chipped in five home runs and his double-play partner, Didi Gregorius, added another four. Castro and Gregorius each have 17 home runs on the season, and that’s a career high for both.
Coming into this season, if you were imagining the Yankees to go on a major league-leading power binge, you likely would have expected Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann to be leading the charge, and not a rookie and a couple of middle infielders. Beltran is a Ranger, Teixeira is now a part-timer and McCann has gone cold, notching only three extra-base hits in his last 117 plate appearances.
It’s all the more astounding that the Yankees have remained in the wild card hunt and been on a slugging tear with those three hitters being either entirely or virtually absent. It’s both a great story and a notable turn of events for Fantasy owners to follow. If a Twitter poll that I ran on Wednesday is any indication, owners have almost universally bought into Sanchez’s power, or at least the notion of Sanchez being the Yankees’ preeminent power source. When asked who would lead the team in home runs over the rest of the season, out of 220 respondents, 156 (or 71 percent) chose Sanchez. Castro and Gregarious got 15 votes apiece.
It’s not hard to see why Sanchez ran away with the voting. He has made the biggest splash of any Yankee over the last two weeks, and despite relatively modest power numbers at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season (10 home runs in 313 plate appearances), he had shown good power at other points during his minor league career. Whether or not Sanchez can come anywhere close to his current home run pace, he has both the playing time and the résumé to earn the distinction of being a No. 1 Fantasy catcher.
Owners in most formats have missed their opportunity to add Sanchez, but perhaps because they have been overshadowed by their teammate, Castro and Gregorius could still be available. Earlier this season, I had argued that Castro was one of the most overowned players in Fantasy, but his recent binge puts him in a different light. Suddenly, his strong finish to 2015 (.284 Isolated Power over his final 116 plate appearances) looks more like foreshadowing than an outlier.
Castro had hit at least three home runs in every month this season, except for July, and the Yankees played only 10 home games that month. To be sure, the former Cub has relied on the favorable park factors of Yankee Stadium for his power, belting 12 of his 17 home runs there. That doesn’t bode well for Castro when the Yankees visit pitcher’s parks, but over the next five weeks, that won’t be an issue. Out of 33 games, they will play 16 at home, four at Rogers Centre and three at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Even their three-game set at Tropicana Field in Week 25 could work in Castro’s favor, as the Rays’ staff has allowed the second-highest flyball rate in the majors.
Even though Gregorius is going on three months of solid power production, he is the hardest to trust of the three. Particularly since the All-Star break, Gregorius has boosted his Iso by hitting more flyballs. According to FanGraphs, only 33.5 percent of his hit balls in the first half were flies, but since the break, that mark has been a gaudy 47.6 percent (excluding Wednesday’s game). Batted ball extremes from relatively small samples come and go, and with shortstop being much deeper this year, owners in standard mixed leagues don’t need to go out of their way to find room for Gregorius.