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Entries in Anibal Sanchez (4)


Sanchez Shouldn't Count on Sox Chasing Soft Stuff

Anibal Sanchez might not have the fastball zip or name recognition of fellow Tigers starters Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, but he has arguably been manager Jim Leyland's best option in 2013. The 29-year-old Venezuelan has a better park-and-league adjusted ERA (163 ERA+) than 2011 Cy Young Award winner Verlander (121 ERA+) or the possibly soon-to-be Cy Scherzer (145 ERA+).

Sanchez has emerged as an ace due in large part to the quality of his "soft" stuff -- his slider, changeup and curveball. He throws breaking and off-speed pitches nearly as often (48.4%) as his fastball, and he has enticed hitters into chasing his soft stuff off the plate at one of the highest clips among starting pitchers in the Junior Circuit. With a 36.1 percent chase rate on breaking and off-speed pitches, Sanchez trails just Mark Buehrle, Ryan Dempster and Ervin Santana in 2013.

Highest chase rate on soft pitches, 2013

By inducing so many hacks on soft pitches thrown out of the zone, Sanchez has limited hard contact. His .298 opponent slugging percentage on sliders, curves and changeups is sixth-lowest in the AL, behind Chris Sale (.294), Scherzer (.286), C.J. Wilson (.284), Yu Darvish (.243) and Justin Masterson (.181).

Sanchez's winning strategy -- expand the zone with breaking and off-speed stuff -- might not play as well against the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 the ALCS. Collectively, Boston hitters have chased the fourth-lowest percentage of breaking and off-speed pitches in the majors.

Lowest team chase rate on soft pitches

David Ortiz has shown an especially sharp eye against soft pitches, chasing out of the zone only 19 percent of the time this season. Mike Napoli (23.1 percent), Stephen Drew (26 percent), Jonny Gomes (27.8 percent) and Dustin Pedroia (28.4 percent) also resist the urge to go fishing and sliders, curves and changeups.

The Sox do a good deal of damage against soft pitches -- they're slugging .386, fourth-highest in the bigs -- but the real value in their patient approach may be how it puts them in favorable counts and allows them to sit on fastballs. Boston is slugging an MLB-best .484 versus fastballs this season, with Ortiz (.633) and Napoli (.569) leading the way. If Sox hitters lay off Sanchez's soft stuff, he may be forced to challenge Boston with more fastballs. That could lead to some shiny new dents on the Green Monster.


Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez: Closer Than You Think

Zack Greinke's megadeal with the Dodgers made him the highest paid pitcher on an annual basis, at $24.5 million per season. The second-best arm on the market, Anibal Sanchez, seems likely to settle for something closer to $15 million per season. Is there really a $10 million per year gap in performance between these two 29-year-old righties, though? When it comes to the holy trifecta of pitcher skills -- whiffs, walks and preventing homers -- Greinke and Sanchez are much closer than you might think.


Over the past three seasons, Greinke has gotten hitters to miss 22.2% of the time that they have swung. That's well above the 20.2% average for major league starters. Sanchez, however, has actually induced more whiffs (23.3%) over the same time frame.

Greinke gets many of his whiffs on pitches thrown below the knees and out of the strike zone...

Greinke's contact rate by pitch location, 2010-12

...Whereas Sanchez does a better job of limiting in-zone contact...

Sanchez's contact rate by pitch location, 2010-12

Greinke has managed to rack up a higher strikeout percentage (23.3% of batters faced from 2010-12), but Sanchez (21.1%) isn't too far behind.


Sanchez has thrown more strikes (64.8%) than Greinke (62.9%), whose rate is actually somewhat below the 63.4% average for starters. Sanchez pounds the zone, throwing a much higher percentage of pitches over the plate (52.5%) than the MLB average for starters (48.7%):

Sanchez's pitch location, 2010-12

Greinke, by contrast, throws more arm-side pitches out of the strike zone. He has tossed 46.3% of his pitches in the zone from 2010-12:

Greinke's pitch location, 2010-12

When you take intentional walks out of the equation, Sanchez has issued just slightly more free passes (6.7% of batters faced) than Greinke (6.1%).


Both hurlers have progressively scorched more earth, with Sanchez (47% ground ball rate) and Greinke (48.1%) besting the 45.5% average ground ball rate for starters. Sanchez and Greinke both get grounders on pitches that go below hitters' knees or tail in on their hands:

Sanchez's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010-12


Greinke's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2010-12


With above-average worm-burning skills, Sanchez and Greinke have each allowed 0.8 home runs per nine innings pitched.

Overall, here are the totals for Sanchez and Greinke over the past three seasons:

Sanchez: 587 IP, 3.70 ERA,  3.40 FIP

Greinke:  604 IP, 3.83 ERA, 3.16 FIP

You can certainly make the argument that Greinke deserves more dough. The most serious item in his injury history is some cracked ribs suffered during a pick-up basketball game, while Sanchez has Tommy John and shoulder surgeries in his past. Greinke also has the lower Fielding Independent ERA, suggesting he may reverse Sanchez's edge in ERA in future seasons. But the gap between Greinke and Sanchez hardly seems worth $10 million per year. Considering how close his resume is to Greinke's, Sanchez could be a bargain if he ends up signing for something like five years and $75 million.


Sanchez Fools Batters and Computers

Anibal Sanchez of the Florida Marlins threw the fourth low-hit game of his career on Saturday.  Sanchez raises an interesting question based on how PITCHf/x classifies his throws.  If a pitcher can fool a computer, does he also fool batters?

The following graph shows the spin of Anibal's pitches in the 2011 season:

Anibal Sanchez, spin by velocity, 2011.The big orange spots represent his fastballs.  The green spots below are the slider and change up, the slider moving toward left-handed batters, the change up toward right-handed batters.  The blue blob at the lowest point on the chart represents his curve ball.

PITCHf/x has trouble with the slider, however:

Anibal Sanchez, slider spin, 2011.Does Sanchez throw a hard and a soft slider?  Probably not:

Anibal Sanchez, slider and cut-fastball spin, 2011.There is a fastball that the computer model doesn't identify well.  It mostly looks like a cutter, but supposedly, Sanchez does not throw a cut fastball:

Sanchez throws five pitches:
A four-seam fastball that has a good deal of cutting action but doesn't sink like many other cutters.

Compare that to his four-seam and two-seam fastball, the latter called a sinker by PITCHf/x:

Anibal Sanchez, fastball spin, 2011.Notice that there is some overlap between the fastball and what is called the cutter.

So are batters fooled? They are a combined 61 for 254 on the slider-cutter combination, a .240 BA.  They hit .252 overall against Sanchez, so that combination does seem to fool them a bit.  Batters slug .378 on the pitches, versus .402 overall, so they drive these pitches less as well.  Finally, they strike out 29% of the time on the slider-cutter, 24.2% of the time overall.  The pitches that are fooling the machines are fooling the humans as well.

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