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His Royal Highness, Jonathan Sanchez

Posted By Dan Wade On November 8, 2011 @ 4:15 pm In Starting Pitchers | 6 Comments

Well, Tuesday was certainly a busy day in the AL Central. And while I’d love to drop 1500 words or so on Bill Smith’s exit and the return of Terry Ryan, unless you’re in an AL-Only front office league, that’s not exactly fantasy relevant. Also, if you’re in a league that counts front office members, tell me in the comments, I’d love to see that.) The Sanchez-for-Cabrera swap, on the other hand, is worth looking into.

I love this deal, not for either team per se, but as an observer with no rooting interest. This is a deal that could make either GM look really good, and while I have my suspicions as to who will look better come this time next year, I wouldn’t bet much money either way. Jonathan Sanchez is a high strikeout arm who can’t keep runners off base, while Melky Cabrera hasn’t exactly been the model of consistency throughout his career either. It will be an interesting story line to follow next year.

From a fantasy perspective, I don’t see Sanchez being an option except in very deep mixed and by default in AL-Only. His strikeout rate — the 11th highest in baseball (min 100 IP) — makes him alluring, but he was owned in just 44 percent of Yahoo! leagues last year because of his substantial downside.

In 2010, his .252 BABIP kept his hit rate down, which meant he posted a WHIP you can live with, 1.23, despite a BB/9 of nearly 4.5. In 2011, his BABIP didn’t even fully regress to his career average, but a jump of 20 points up to .272 was enough to pull his hit rate back into the 7s. In and of itself, a H/9 of 7.1 is fine, but when it’s paired with a BB/9 of 5.9, his resulting WHIP of 1.44 is tough to swallow. He’s never been particularly good at run prevention, and he matched his career ERA of 4.26 precisely in 2011. The strikeouts and walks are part-and-parcel of Sanchez at this point, and while perhaps a new pitching coach will know how to help him, I’m not banking on that happening. A change of scenery will be nice, I’m sure, but it’s not going to help him a lick statistically speaking.

A good rule of thumb when a pitcher switches from the NL to the AL is to add half a run to his ERA — as of 2008, the actual number was .41 runs, but if your just looking for a ballpark figure, .5 is easier to remember — which would give Sanchez an ERA of nearly 4.75. He’s also moving from one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the majors to a relatively even park in KC. Home runs haven’t been one of his major issues in the past, but he’ll need to be a little more careful in a stadium that doesn’t suppress them the way AT&T Park does. If his HR rate does jump with the park switch, his walk rate will make those bombs all the more costly.

One thing working in Sanchez’s favor, and it isn’t much, is that he was injured for a large portion of the 2011 season. Biceps tendinitis and an ankle sprain caused him to miss nearly 80 days of the season, limiting him to just 19 starts, his fewest since he became a full-time starter in 2008. It isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest that the biceps injury may have been causing him trouble before it pushed him to the disabled list, but suggesting that it made a profound difference is going too far. He should be healthy next year, which is a good foundation, but it’s not going to solve his location issues.

It may seem odd, given the rather grim take I’ve presented above, but I like this deal for the Royals. To understand what they see in Sanchez, I think it’s important to look at what they gave up. Part of the reason I like this deal for the Royals is that they’ve essentially purchased two lottery tickets with found money. They grabbed Cabrera last offseason for $1.25 million, and by moving him at what was almost surely peak value, have now turned him into two players who could be useful parts. Yes, both have serious flaws and Cabrera could well prove to be the best player in this deal, but with Lorenzo Cain waiting in the wings, it’s an interesting gamble to take.

If the choice was a player like Sanchez, who may or may not be valuable or someone like Bud Norris, who will be more consistent at a similar WAR level, I think the Royals made the right call. Sanchez is likely to give them at least a handful of starts where he has his good stuff and shuts down an opponent, but I just don’t see them coming often enough for him to be worthwhile in most fantasy contexts. Anything he produces above and beyond that is found money once again for KC.


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