Don't look now, but Anibal Sanchez is a hidden ace

Everyone knows that the Marlins have Josh Johnson, the staff ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball, available to pick up wins for them every fifth day. And everyone knows that if and when Ricky Nolasco figures everything out (and it may very well happen soon), he will also be a force to be reckoned with. But what some fans may still be overlooking is the tremendous success of Anibal Sanchez, especially since returning from his shoulder surgery.

Sanchez IP ERA FIP xFIP
2009 86 3.87 4.60 4.58
2010 195 3.55 3.32 4.04
2011 73 2/3 2.57 3.01 3.09
3-year Total 354 2/3 3.43 3.56 3.98

It’s hard not to look at that as a Marlins fan and smile. Sanchez not only fought through a two-year bout with the disabled list due to a torn labrum but also fought through an emotional battle after losing his child. He had come back from both better than ever before. What is the catalyst for this season’s improvement? The strikeout rate.

Sanchez PA K%
2009 383 18.5
2010 841 18.7
2011 297 24.9
3-year Total 1521 19.6

After Sanchez returned for sure from his shoulder problems, he upped his strikeout rate from his rookie season. You had to figure that some of that was perhaps slight improvement was from experience-based improvement. But as we found out late last season, Sanchez’s velocity had been improving as the season went along, and that may have been a matter of his improving health. As I mentioned before 2011, the only way that I saw Sanchez “improving” upon his strong 2010 was if his health still had a ways to go until it returned to full strength. The hike in strikeouts along with the fact that his velocity is currently at the highest of his career (91.8 mph based on BIS data available on FanGraphs) indicates that indeed he did have something left in the tank, and that perhaps his shoulder has just hit its peak performance level and allowed Sanchez to dominate to his full potential.

I also mentioned before this season that it was a guarantee that Sanchez would allow more home runs than he had in seasons past. Last year, he only let ten homers leave the park, which is a low number for a guy who is not pounding the playing field with grounders. Well, this season he has allowed homers on 8.2 percent of fly balls, a number greater than his career average and yet still below average. Despite that, looking at hix xFIP shows an expected ERA of 3.09 based on his current performance, which is still an impressive feat. Baseball Prospectus’s SIERA stat gives an also acceptable 3.25 expected ERA, but neither result would be unacceptable to Fish fans. And given the fact that we’ve seen some home run suppression skill above the league average from Sanchez, regression should not hit too hard.

Sanchez’s walk rate should be on the rise, but those strikeouts look fairly stable; according to Pizza Cutter’s research, such a sample of almost 300 batters would be regressed 30 percent of the way to the mean. If we can continue to expect Sanchez to play this well, the Marlins may very well have a third ace-type starter on their hands, and they could very well need him given the quality of their fourth and fifth starters.

Tags: Anibal Sanchez Miami Marlins

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