A last-ditch effort by the Tigers brass prevented Anibal Sanchez from tossing for this third team in less than a year, and also gives fantasy players a bit more clarity in regards to his fantasy expectations for the upcoming season.
I had largely touted Sanchez prior to last season for a couple of reasons. For one, his durability the past two seasons led me to believe he’d rack up another solid season near 200 innings. Granted, unless it’s Mark Buehrle or Justin Verlander, one can’t really predict such a thing, so I won’t count this as a feather in my cap. One thing I was counting on was the strikeouts, which had returned in a big way in 2011 after taking a hiatus in 2010. Additionally, Sanchez’ walk percentage was trending quite nicely, and in fact settled under 6% when the dust settled on 2012. Finally, I had heard rumbles from a few different folks that the new Marlins Stadium would be Petco East. For a pitcher who is kind of a tweener with batted-ball rates, I figured he’d benefit from these conditions.
And I wasn’t entirely wrong. Nobody could have predicted the move to Detroit, or really any of the mayhem and carnage that happened in Miami, but you have to roll with the punches when you draft an NL guy and he’s a Marlin. I had thought the most movable ‘asset’ in the Marlins rotation was going to be Ricky Nolasco, so that shows you really what I know.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s pretty easy to see why Sanchez ranked where he did. At the end of the season he had only nine wins. Only Jeff Samardzija — who played for the Cubs for crying out loud — and the immortal Cliff Lee had single-digit wins and finished ahead of Sanchez. And it’s not hard to think that Sanchez could set a career high in wins next season — his high water mark right now is 13 — on a Detroit Tigers club that may be even better next season.
But even if he wins say, 15 games, I think his ceiling is severely limited due to what has happened to his peripherals with his move and subsequent planting* in the junior circuit.
For me, it’s not hard to see him potentially doing the Ryan Dempster bit. Dempster, like Sanchez, swapped locations from the NL → AL in 2012, going from a cesspool to a contender virtually overnight. Dempster, for what it’s worth maintained top-35 value, and will also pitch next season in the AL.
And the similarities probably end there; I’m not terrific at making comps that the higher-ups really like, but there are some things to actually consider here. One, neither pitcher really pitched enough in the ‘other’ league to accurately gauge their talent level. In fact, Dempster is erratic across the map: way more strikeouts, way higher ERA, nearly 100 point BABIP discrepancy, and an unsustainably-low strand rate. If people think Dempster lost it because of the 1.3 HR/9 rate and the 5.09 ERA, he may in fact have something to say about that (though I’m not positive Fenway will be all that kind to him).
One thing to look at with Sanchez is his arsenal. His fastball comes in as hard as he’s ever thrown it, but it is not and will not be overpowering (he’s never cracked 92.0 mph average in any full season). To Sanchez’ credit, upon switching leagues he sacrificed his heater for a few more offspeed offerings, with at least the changeup appearing above-average. It was a smart move; Sanchez’ fastball was extremely hittable last season (94.3% in zone), as was his curveball (95.6), which his changeup registered in the mid-70s percentage-wise.
So it sort of has to be troubling for Sanchez that he only registered a 4.4 percent swinging strikes rate — not now because I told you about the contact rate before, but overall — on fastballs last season. The curveball was just as bad. And that’s the entire season, including time in the NL where he was allowed to face pitchers.
One thing that’ll be impossible to account for is the usage of his changeup and slider, which I’d deem his best two pitches. If his trends continue to the point where he throws his changeup and slider as often as his heater — 47.6% heater/42.8 SL/CH — I think he’ll still remain a relatively effective strikeout pitcher. I’m no math guy, but I think multiple seasons of 8.0ish K/9 are probably possible even in the AL.
And I think the things that make Sanchez play up further are his continued improvement with control, as well as the fact that Detroit remains a tremendous park to pitch in (97/97 HR park factor via StatCorner). Throw in Austin Jackson and the newly acquired Torii Hunter to shag his flies, and I think Sanchez can actually improve on his value from 2012. Again, he should do that almost solely by winning 12-15 games, which seems almost certain. I think one could easily be confident in Sanchez as a second or third starter in a fantasy rotation.
*subtle Arrested Development joke