Check this out:
Anibal Sanchez, 2008: 51 2/3 IP, 241 BF, 5.57 ERA, 4.87 FIP
Sanchez, 2009: 86 IP, 383 BF, 3.87 ERA, 4.60 FIP,
Sanchez, 2010: 62 1/3 IP, 266 BF, 2.89 ERA, 2.99 FIP
I know the guy from 2008, and I recognize the guy from 2009 a little, but who is this pitcher who is dominating for the Marlins in 2010? Quietly, Sanchez has been the team’s second-best starter on the year, racking up 1.8 fWAR (FanGraphs) or 1.2 rWAR (Rally’s WAR, from Baseball-Reference) so far this season. Where is this effectiveness coming from?
A quick glance at his defense-independent peripherals may make it fairly obvious:
The two places where Sanchez has played better are obvious. Sanchez has walked fewer men this year than in seasons past, but he’s also gotten really lucky on home runs. The walks are intriguing, because Sanchez’ problem for so long was a lack of control. One potential source for the falling walk rate is in his plate discipline numbers from BIS:
Sanchez, 2008: 25.1% O-Swing%, 54.6% O-Contact%
Sanchez, 2009: 22.9%, 59.5%
Sanchez, 2010: 30.7%, 62.1%
That O-Swing% in 2010 has to be helping Sanchez avoid walks; more pitches that would have been balls last season are now being hacked at. However, that is being tempered by an increased contact rate on those outside pitches, but the extra contact is not evening out the increase in whiffs out of the zone. Not only is Sanchez getting about eight fewer balls per 100 pitches out of the zone, but he is also inducing about three more swinging strikes as well. Assuming similar foul ball and batted ball rates, Sanchez is doing significantly better outside of the zone than before, and this success must be contributing to the decreased walk rates.
However, a lot of his success this season also has to do with that absurdly low home run rate. There is no way Sanchez can maintain home run prevention at this pace, but there is reason to believe that he’ll return to career norms rather than the usual 10.6% used. Both SIERA and xFIP (ERA skill estimators based on component stats) have Sanchez in the 4.20 ERA range, but for his career he’s allowed home run son 7.5% of his fly balls. He is below league average as well when you include line drives. Going forward, ZiPS has him projected at allowing five home runs in 306 BF the rest of the way, a rate of 1.6% HR%, leading to a 3.81 projected FIP. I think as Marlins fans, we would take that.
The final question in the puzzle of Anibal Sanchez is, of course, his health. Can Sanchez stay healthy throughout the season? His rookie year remains the season with the most innings pitched and batters faced (114 1/3 and 469, respectively), and Sanchez at the moment is only about halfway there. Right now, there seems to be no significant concerns of injury, but we should always heed health concerns with Sanchez given his history of shoulder issues. For now, I would say enjoy while we still can, and hope for the best. A season of 150 IP at decent efficiency for Sanchez may be the difference between contention or otherwise.