September or August Anibal for Game Three?

Tonight’s game three between the Tigers and Athletics features two starters that weren’t on their team’s active roster when the season began. But since Brett Anderson‘s absence was due to injury, it was Anibal Sanchez that has given us a full season’s worth of stats to digest and so he’ll be the subject of our inquiry.

The fact that he’s given us stats all year isn’t to say Sanchez has been the same guy all year. If August Anibal shows up, the Athletics might be able to take advantage of their depth, defense and speed. If September’s version of the Tigers’ pitcher takes the mound, it will instead be the story of Detroit’s depth in the rotation that will end the series.

You could check the gun to see what’s going on with Sanchez:

So Anibal has added some gas as the season has gone on. The new fastball velocity (93.4 mph in September) is not so far removed from June’s number (92.15 mph) or his career number (91.4 mph) that it seems unsustainable, so that’s the good news. He’s also been showing this velocity for a little while, so maybe it’s real. The problem — for our purposes — is that the velocity has been slowly ramping up and doesn’t look like a strictly September phenomenon.

His pitching mix, however, seems to have changed some. Let’s compare June, August and September. June was his worst month by results, August was second-worst, and September was his best. Thanks to Brooks Baseball:

Looks like he’s been throwing the four-seam less and favoring his changeup and curveball especially. That’s a common reason cited for an improvement on our fantasy blog, and it’s an easy way to mix things up. Offspeed pitches all have more swinging strike rates than fastballs, and so this change has a lot to do with the fact that Sanchez put up his best strikeout percentage of the year in September. You see it in his monthly swinging strike splits, too: August (7.9%) had his lowest whiff rate of the year, and September was much better (10.1%). Then again, April (10.3%) and July (10.9%) were both better than September.

This looks more like a metamorphosis than an epiphany. The difference between August and September is 38 curveballs in more than 600 pitches, or a move from using the curveball 9-10% of the time and using it 14%. Five percent more curveballs did the trick? Why did his walk rate plummet in September as well? Not quite the definitive finding you might want.

There is something that changed drastically from August to September. His horizontal release points moved about two inches. Check out the release points from his August start against the Twins in Minnesota (left), compared to his last start of the season against the Twins in Minnesota (right):

It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s there. And it’s the same park, so it’s the same PITCHf/x system. And multiple PITCHf/x sites have the same result. Sanchez moved on the rubber, most likely.

A change in release point, even on the order of a few inches, can be a big deal for a pitcher’s control. Ask the Rays about how it went with their move on the rubber for Fernando Rodney. And featuring an offspeed pitch a little more can lead to more strikeouts, that’s tried and true.

There wasn’t even a July Brett Anderson this year. But this Anibal Sanchez wasn’t really around in July either. The September version of both pitchers should make for quite the pitching duel this October ninth.

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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Funny how a really useful and insightful post is no guarantee of attracting even a single comment, apparently.

This, along with Fister’s improvements in Detroit and Scherzer’s post-April dominance, has me maybe really impressed with the Tigers’ coaching of starters (except Porcello).