Over the past few weeks, both John and I have covered three of the five starters that are in competition for the last three spots in the Marlins rotation. John covered the issues of Chris Volstad as he wrapped up his discussion on ground ball pitchers, and I talked about Andrew Miller and Rick VandenHurk with regards to their prospects in the Marlins pen.
One guy we haven’t discussed but will absolutely be critical to the team’s success this season is Anibal Sanchez. Since Sanchez is all but assured a spot in the rotation if he’s healthy, he’ll have to make big strides for this team to do well. Since he’s been injured for so long, I wanted to take a quick statistical glance at him to see what he does as a pitcher.
Right off the bat, you can tell that these numbers aren’t figures to get excited about. Considering also that Sanchez has barely pitched two full seasons in the majors, split amongst four different years, it becomes difficult to track any sort of gradual improvement in his performance. Sanchez’ rookie year was aided by a lot of luck; that 2.83 ERA was shiny compared to his 4.22 FIP. The ERA was helped by timely pitching, as Sanchez was able to strand 79.3% of his baserunners. The FIP was actually deflated a bit as well thanks to a low home run rate (0.71 HR/9 innings). It was unlikely that that rate would remain for the following years given Sanchez’ batted ball profile; he was league average with ground balls and allowed only 6.4% of his fly balls to leave the park, a very low total.
The two years prior to 2009 were injury-riddled seasons for Sanchez that yielded very little information. The 2009 campaign fared a little better, as Sanchez put up 86 innings, the highest total since 2006. He also put up a shiny 3.86 ERA that was once again undershot by his 4.60 FIP. Again, a high strand rate was part of the cause for the low ERA. Sanchez stranded 78.6% of his runner in 2009, again well above the league average of 72%. Most pitchers stay around the league average, and even the best pitchers in the game are marginally better at stranding runners than the average pitcher, so we should expect some regression in that solid ERA from 2009.
What about the peripherals? As you can see above, they aren’t amazing, but they have been trending the right way it seems. In the last two seasons, encompassing 137 2/3 innings and 617 batters faced outside of intentional walks, Sanchez has struck out 19.6% of batters and walked 10.7% of those batters as well. So while the walks have remained similar in rate, the strikeouts have increased. This trend prompts me to believe that, of the five remaining guys left in the running for those three spots, Sanchez has the best stuff among them (or at least tied with VandenHurk).
The question will be how he controls that. Those walk rates are high, but if he can drop those rates and maintain an average home run rate, he can be a solid, 2 WAR pitcher. Part of the problem has been his splits in the past.
|vs. Handed Batter
If you’ll recall from my splits article on the Marlins’ relievers, those runs/PA are runs above average ball in play (thus BIP count as 0 runs above average, not far from the true -0.04 runs). The HR/FB% are going to be a bit more volatile than they probably actually are just due to randomness of the stat and of classifications of fly balls versus line drives, but the strikeout and walk rates are quite telling. Against lefties, Sanchez has been really bad. After doing a regression, I got a projected “FIP” (really runs/9 innings) of 4.77 against lefties and 4.37 versus righties. This is the same sort of split we generally saw with the relievers, but Sanchez needs to fair a bit better if he wants to stick as a good starter.
Without having looked at Pitch f/x data on Sanchez, I’d say that he needs to improve on his control and cut those walk rates to be effective. It’s clear he has very little issue with right-handed batters, so the key will be to miss bats against the other side. This problem points to his secondary stuff outside of his fastball and slider not being very effective. Perhaps his curve and changeup are not enough to supplement his fastball against lefties. Whatever the case may be, he’ll have to fix it on the fly, as the Marlins are all but assured to give him a rotation spot. With his current performance and his penchant for injury, I don’t know if he’ll get enough work to fix these issues, but for the Marlins’ sake I hope he does.