Breakout candidate: Jonathan Sanchez

Jonathan Sanchez misses a LOT of bats.

Unfortunately, sometimes that’s because he throws too many balls. But he also induces a lot of strikeouts. And he’s primed to break out in 2009.

Sanchez had an okay year in 2008, posting a 5.01 ERA. He managed 157 strikeouts in only 158 innings, although this came with 75 walks and 14 homers as well.

However, Sanchez’s ERA is misleading: his 08 campaign was actually pretty good, and, more importantly, there are several signs that his 09 could be a lot better.

First of all, Sanchez was somewhat unlucky to post an ERA over 5 in 2008. His FIP was an impressive 3.85, and his tRA was 4.23 (league average is 4.77). Part of the problem was his BABIP: Sanchez allowed an inordinately high .327 BABIP this season. Additionally, Sanchez gave up an extremely high amount of hits in situations in which they scored the most runs: with runners at first and third, batters were 6-for-15; with runners at second and third, batters were 6-for-13; and with the bases loaded batters were 3-for-10 (with three walks). In those three situations, batters hit a combined .395, leading to an inordinately high number of runners scoring.

Furthermore, of the 14 homers that Sanchez allowed, only six were solo shots – despite the fact that 55% of at bats against Sanchez came with no one on base.

In other words, Sanchez gave up far more hits and homers with runners on base than he “should” have, leading to a disproportionately high number of runners who reached base coming around to score. Sure enough, his 67.5% LOB% provides further evidence of this.

On the bright side, Sanchez struck out almost a batter per inning over 158 innings – not an easy feat. Despite not throwing terribly hard (his fastball averaged 91 MPH), he showed a remarkable ability to induce swings-and-misses – in fact, batters swung and missed at 10.9% of his Sanchez’s pitches, the 9th highest total in baseball. Pitchers who induced higher rates of swings-and-misses were a who’s who of major league baseball’s best pitchers: CC Sabathia, Scott Kazmir, Ryan Dempster, Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, Edinson Volquez, and John Danks. That’s some elite company.

Certainly, Sanchez threw too many balls this year (38.6%, to be exact – league average is 36.5%), and walked too many – 4.27 per nine innings. However, starting pitchers who can get as many swings-and-misses – and, therefore, strikeouts – as Sanchez are few and far between. Sanchez’s ERA was artificially inflated by his inability to “stop the bleeding” this year – a fact that is probably borne from a combination of inexperience and bad luck. Therefore, it’s likely that Sanchez will fare better in “clutch” situations next season, thus lowering his ERA, perhaps considerably. He will almost certainly rack up a lot of strikeouts. And, if he can cut down on his walks – certainly possible – he could lower his ERA even further. However, even if Sanchez walks too many, he’ll more than make up for it with a ton of strikeouts and a respectable ERA.

*Thanks to Stat Corner for providing some of the statistics – specifically, swinging strike % and ball %.

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14 Responses to “Breakout candidate: Jonathan Sanchez”

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  1. Jim says:

    I have a bit of a dilemma in my keeper league….we keep 10 and I am planning on keeping 7 bats, 2 starting pitchers and a closer. My options for SP are Brett Myers, Javier Vazquez and Jonathan Sanchez. All of them are great K guys and I am definitely keeping Myers, but I can’t decide between Vazquez and Sanchez. Both are great K guys with unpredictable ERA’s and neither have trade value in my league. Which do you prefer? I am leaning towards Vazquez just because I can probably steal Sanchez lower in the expansion draft but I’m not sure….

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  2. Peter Bendix says:

    I think Sanchez has less value right now than Vazquez, but I think I’d rather have Sanchez going forward. If you’re pretty confident that you can get Sanchez back in your draft, keep Vazquez instead. However, I think Sanchez will be better in 09, and if you’re not sure you can get him back, you’re better off going with the better pitcher.

    It also somewhat depends on whether Vazquez is traded, and where he’s traded to. If he goes to a park that depresses homers, he could be a steal next year too.

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  3. dproc0219 says:

    Any chance that it’s something as simple as Sanchez is a much better pitcher from the windup rather than the stretch?

    Seems like Randy Johnson had similar stats his last year with the Yankees — very good with no one on base, but terrible with runners on.

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    • Peter Bendix says:

      I think it is possible than Sanchez was legitimately worse with runners on base than with no one on, but I think that a) this is unlikely, and b) even if it’s true, he can learn to handle men on base better.

      However, it’s unlikely that Sanchez isn’t mentally strong enough (or whatever) to pitch well with men on base. In fact, his strikeout rate with men on base (22% of plate appearances) was very similar to his rate with no one on base (23% of plate appearances).

      Sanchez did perform much worse after he threw 75 pitches in a game, and this could have an effect on his splits. As the game went longer, Sanchez wore down, and allowed more runners on base, and was more likely to allow these runners to score since he wasn’t pitching as well later in the game anyway. This, too, is fixable, if Sanchez can build his endurance.

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  4. Steve Shane says:

    I dont have time to look it up but I remember watching a giants game where he started, around august, and they should very telling stat. I dont remember the exact numbers but the premise was Sanchez’s #’s were really good when pitching out of the windup, and really terrible when pitching out of the stretch, much more disproportionate than a normal pitcher.

    Even my novice eye could notice a difference in his ‘stuff’ between the 2 deliveries.

    My unsolicated advice is to not use a worthwhile draft pick on him, theres a reason why hes been rumored to be traded for so-so players like hardy and delmon young. And why would a team even think about trading a young lefty high k/9 pitcher if he was going to be any good?

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  5. Mike says:

    Steve – His numbers are probably worse in the stretch because there are runners on base, making it far more likely to give up runs :).

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  6. DanDuke says:

    Since when is JJ Hardy a so-so player???

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  7. Ender says:

    Hardy was the 3rd most valuable SS in baseball last year and 4th most valuable in 2007, guess we have very different ideas of what so-so means, heh..

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  8. Matt says:

    Hardy has a career .334 wOBA, 176 ISO, .329 OBP, .270 avg… Certainly nothing to get excited about… His power is a pretty direct result of Miller Park being extremely hitter friendly (especially to right handed hitters)…

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  9. Steve Shane says:


    my original post should say, “they SHOWED, not should, a very telling stat”, we’ll call that a ‘write-o’….
    anyways, the #s they showed had to do with the fact that he couldnt throw strikes out of the stretch and his stuff become much much more hittable. Obviously pitchers are going to have higher ERAs when pitching with runners on base.

    Heres where you need to take a step back from the stats and look at the real world. I dont know how you quantified valuable, but theres no one beside Mrs Hardy who will claim that Hardy is better than Hanley, Reyes, or Rollins. If Hardy is sooo good, why did he have 134 ABs from the #7 spot last year, I would wager that the Brewers mgmt knows just a tad more about baseball than you.

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    • Jim says:

      In the real world, defense counts. Hardy was the 3rd most valuable shortstop last year. While his stats may not have been as flashy as the Big 3, he is an elite defender, and that contributes greatly to his value.

      Also, since when did Delmon Young become so-so? He has long been considered one of the game’s top prospects. His stock has fallen a little recently, but the guy is 23. People tend to forget that.

      If he was rumored to be traded for guys like you mention, there is a reason…he is a pretty damn good pitcher.

      Why would you think about trading a high k/9 pitcher if he was going to be any good? Maybe because you have guys like Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Tim Alderson and your offense is pathetic..

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  10. R M says:

    Hmmm…..2nd year in a row that his FIP is significantly better than his ERA….could this be a trend? Just a side note, he must be rediculously nasty if he can manage a 4.29 FIP while walking 6.03 batters per 9 innigns.

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  11. Josh S. says:

    As a Giants fan Jonathan Sanchez is becoming maddeningly frustrating. One of two things needs to happen, he needs to be traded for a bat (hopefully another year of a miserable BB rate hasn’t completely derailed his trade value) or he needs to move to the bullpen. I would lean toward trading him as there are likely pitching coaches around the Majors who see his swing and miss stuff and figure they can reshape him and get his mechanics consistant so he’ll pound the zone… let him be their project. Otherwise it’s time to realize how much better he is out of the wind then the stretch and let him be a lefty capable of facing lefties and righties with an emphasis of facing left handed stacked orders in relief (such as the Phillies). I have no doubt the Giants could fill the back end of their rotation with someone, perhaps Kevin Pucetas, or maybe move Henry Sosa up to AAA and prep him to fill the 5th starter spot? A back end of the bullpen featuring RHP’s Valdez/Romo/Wilson and LHP’s Affeldt/Sanchez seems pretty legit to me (I did purposely ommit Howry as he is garbage).

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