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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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….