By Steve Silverman
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Gary Sanchez is the American League Rookie of the Year.
In truth, he is a lot more than that.
While he will end up playing only 50-plus games, he has surpassed all of the other junior circuit first-year players, including Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer
There is no arguing with the way Fulmer has pitched this year. Even though he struggled Wednesday night during a key game against the Indians, he is 11-7, with a 3.06 ERA and a 1.119 WHIP.
But Sanchez is not hanging around with Fulmer or any other AL rookie. This guy in the conversation with Willie McCovey, who won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 1959 with very similar numbers to the type that the Yankees’ slugger has put up this year.
Let’s examine those numbers. Sanchez has a .303 batting average, and while that may be an outmoded stat to most, it still looks good in this corner. He has belted 20 home runs, and that’s the most of any player who was not called up by Aug. 1 in the history of baseball. He also has 42 RBI and 32 runs scored.
As far as advanced stats are concerned, Sanchez has a .378 on-base percentage, a .672 slugging percentage and a 1.050 OPS.
Not bad for a player who was recalled on Aug. 3.
McCovey also came up late in his rookie season. He opened eyes right from his first day, as he began his career July 30 with a 4-for-4 performance against the Phillies that included two triples and two singles against Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts.
But “Stretch” was known for his power, as he would go on to lash the ball with incredible fury from foul line to foul line. McCovey would eventually become one of the most dangerous pull hitters in the National League, but he started off as an all-fields hitter.
During that first year, McCovey hit a remarkable .354 with 13 home runs, 38 RBI and 32 runs scored. They didn’t keep advanced stats in 1959, but Baseball-Reference has done the work for us. McCovey had a .429 OBP, along with a .656 slugging percentage and a 1.085 OPS.
Sanchez is walking with one of the greats of the game, as McCovey would play 22 years in the big leagues, including 19 with the Giants. His home runs were bombs, much like Sanchez’s have been this season.
Sanchez carried the Yankees on his back in August and September, allowing the team to remain on the outskirts of playoff contention. The Yankees were not eliminated until Thursday night, when the Orioles blanked the Blue Jays.
Sanchez said he was thrilled to help the Yankees stay relevant.
“It’s great when you achieve something like that, but what makes it better is helping the team win,” Sanchez told Neil Greenberg of the Washington Post.
Sanchez leads all rookies in runs created, according to FanGraphs. Not just American League rookies, but he is ahead of Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Trea Turner of the Washington Nationals. Sanchez has created 181 runs, while Turner has created 142 and Turner has 140. Ryon Healy of the Athletics and Tyler Naquin of the Indians are second and third in the American League with 139 and 137, respectively
Seager is tops among rookies in WAR with a remarkable 7.5 mark, but Sanchez and Turner are tied for second at 3.2.
The numbers are helping Sanchez tell his story, but there’s more to his game than just stats. He can hit virtually any pitch as well as he crushes fastballs.
Joe Girardi couldn’t be happier with what Sanchez has brought to the Yankees, who completed a sweep of the AL East champion Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.
“You just watch him, and he continues to come up with big hit after big hit,” Girardi said. “It’s hard to believe. I haven’t seen anything like it.”
There are those out there that are not overly impressed with Sanchez. The critics acknowledge the greatness of Sanchez’s contribution, but they don’t like the two-month pedigree.
My WFAN.com colleague, Ryan Chatelain, made the full-year/fairness argument earlier this week in taking up for players like Fulmer and Naquin, and making comparisons to Texas rookie Nomar Mazara, who was hot in April and May, but is nowhere to be found these days.
OK, I get it. He hasn’t played a full year. But Sanchez has had more impact in two months than any other American League rookie has had in six months, even if he did strike out four times Thursday night.
Sanchez walks with McCovey and he has a place in history. He deserves to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and he has the stuff to walk with McCovey for many years to come.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy