Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Anibal Sanchez is better than you think

Anibal Sanchez has been on the edge of this writer's mind since his blazing debut in 2006 when he went 10-3 and pitched a no-hitter against the Azizona Diamondbacks. Since that rookie season, Sanchez has a record of 32-38. But he is better than that. He was better than his 13-12 record for the Marlins in 2010 and better than his 8-9 record for the Marlins last season. Much of that lack of success has been due to the Marlins' proclivity in the past to pull starting pitchers early and having a weak bullpen. In his last two seasons, he has averaged only 6.09 and 6.06 innings per start respectively. But how good is he?

Since the start of the 2010 season, Sanchez has been the fourteenth best pitcher in baseball. Considering each team has five starters and there are thirty teams, that is a base of 150 pitchers. Yeah, fourteenth is pretty good. He is just behind Hamels, Lester and Cain. Despite Lester's struggles since late last season, that is pretty good company, don't you think? And if you look at FIP, then Sanchez has been the twelfth best pitcher since 2010 with a better FIP than Cain, Sabathia, Hamels and Haren. Yes, he is very, very good. And yet very few people recognize him in that kind of company.

Again, this year, his record is nothing to get excited about. He is 3-3. Ho-hum. But he is even better this year than he has been in the past two seasons. He is averaging 6.6 innings per start. In ten starts, he is averaging a 61 game score when 49 is average. He has a 2.57 ERA and a 2.63 FIP and a 2.96 SIERA. His ground ball rate is up and over 50 percent. He is striking out a batter per inning and has a 3.94 strikeout to walk ratio. He is having a great season. And yet, he is 3-3 and that is what people will notice.

And despite the fact that he is in his seventh major league season, Sanchez is only 28 years old. In a week where it seems that the Red Sox are being picked on because of their trades (Lowrie and Reddick), Sanchez was a product of Boston's Latin scouting arm. He was signed as just a kid out of Venezuela and became a part of that big trade after the 2005 season when the Marlins dumped everyone to save money. The Marlins shipped Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell (among others) and got back Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez. A year ago, a look was taken at that trade in this space and the Marlins were the clear winners. To be sure, the Red Sox would not trade their 2007 championship to undo that deal and rightly so.

Here is a fun fact for you, when Sanchez threw that no-hitter back in 2006, he was one of six rookies in the Marlins' lineup in that game. Isn't that amazing? Okay, back to business.

So what makes Sanchez so good? For one, he has six pitches the throws regularly and he can throw them at any time in any count. Of all six, the only one that Pitch/FX gives a negative ranking to is his curve. All of his other pitches have positive value. That is pretty special. He has learned to limit his walks and his current 2.3 walks per nine this season is a career best. A big part of his success and evolution as a pitcher is that each year for the last five, he has increased the number of pitches outside the strike zone a batter will swing at. Naturally, the 33.9 percent this year is a career best. In other words, he makes you think you are swinging at strikes and you are not.

Sanchez is also getting ahead of batters. His 66 percent first pitch strike rate is currently fifteenth in baseball and of the top fifteen, only one other of those starters has a swing and miss rate higher than Sanchez's ten percent miss rate. Sanchez will get ahead of you and then get you to miss his pitches. That's an effective combination. 

One of these years, the Marlins will win a string of Anibal Sanchez's starts and perhaps then people will know how good he really is. Sanchez is as reliable as he is effective. Johnson has gotten more hype and has perhaps more pure "stuff.". But Anibal Sanchez is the best of the Marlins' pitchers.

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