If you’re looking at a calendar, you’re aware that it’s April 19th and that most of the early season narratives will melt away once we get a few more weeks under our belts. Jose Iglesias probably isn’t Tony Gwynn and Shane Greene isn’t Pedro Martinez. The Tigers have played tremendous baseball over the season’s first fortnight, but we know lots of the highs and lows will even out as the year goes forward. While most of the Tigers’ 12 game run has been full of joy, one of the most concerning aspects has been Anibal Sanchez’s most recent two starts in which he gave up eleventy billion home runs.
Now, you’re probably thinking that “elevently billion” isn’t a “real number,” but in 382.2 innings as a Tiger entering the season he had allowed 21 HR. If you don’t like doing math in your head, that’s 0.49 HR/9, which is a terrific mark. In 16.1 innings this year, he’s already allowed 5 HR, which is 2.76 HR/9. Obviously, that number is enormous, and it’s equally obvious that number will come down as the season goes on. Even bad pitchers don’t allow that many dingers. The size of the number is a function of a small sample. A couple bad pitches have a huge impact on your numbers when you’re only 16 innings deep into a season.
But, while I’m a huge fan of Sanchez, I’m not going to tell you the last two starts have been flukes. He threw bad pitches and got hit hard when he did. In Pittsburgh, he actually did keep most of the batters off balance, but when he made mistakes they were bad ones. On Saturday against the Sox, there weren’t a lot of positives.
So the question we have this early in the season is if there are any concerning signs other than some badly timed mistakes.
Let’s start with the good. His strikeout rate (23.3%) is shy of his 2013 peak, but it’s perfectly in line with 2014 and some of his other good seasons. His walk rate (5.5%) is also very good. There’s more to pitching that those two statistics, but he’s not allowing too many balls in play and he’s not allowing a lot of free base runners.
The first warning sign is velocity loss, and Sanchez hasn’t thrown as hard this year as he did last season. Now, early season velocity data can be tricky because there are temperature issues and calibration problems, but Brooks Baseball tries to correct for those things and he’s lost about a full mile per hour off his fastball in 2015. To mitigate that concern, however, is the fact that in 2012 and 2013, his velocity went up as the season went on, so this might not be a red flag. It’s something to watch, though.
He’s allowed a .401 wOBA against in 2015, which is obviously very bad. In his last two seasons, he’s been in the .270 wOBA allowed range. Over a full season, you’re talking about allowing another 3-4 runs per 9 innings, so the ERA is reflective of the actual hits and walks allowed. He’s allowed a .612 slugging percentage on the young season, to give you some idea.
He’s allowed six doubles and five homers, which is basically one third of the way to his extra base hit total from a season ago. The single rate isn’t crazy high, so we’re really worried about the power. Let’s take a peak at how these home runs have happened to see what’s there.
First, we have the leadoff homer by Harrison. It’s a straight fastball up in the zone, but it’s not as hard as it needs to be to generate a swinging strike. Not a good pitch, but if you notice, Avila is set up low and away, so it’s a command mistake.
He’s a slider to Pedro Alvarez. Avila wants it at the back foot and he leaves it up, asking to be crushed. It hangs too, which is a recipe for a bomb.
Corey Hart takes this slider to souvenir city, and while the location is a lot better here, it doesn’t slide and winds up like a BP fastball.
Adam LaRoche probably deserves some credit here. It’s a hard fastball off the plate inside. It needs to be lower to be effective, but it wasn’t as bad a pitch as the ones in Pittsburgh. Still not good.
Oh dear. PITCHf/x called this a cutter, but it looks like a bad slider again and it’s just right in the danger zone. Bad pitch.
It’s hard to draw a ton of conclusions from a couple of starts. The average movement on his sliders isn’t much different from last year, so there’s a velocity question and a command one. All five are bad pitches to varying degrees, so this surely isn’t a question of bad luck early in the season. I won’t slow your computers with six more GIFs, but I watched the doubles too, and there are some bad pitches there as well.
We can’t take two starts and say for sure that Sanchez is broken or that he will continue to allow the hard contact, but this isn’t hard luck damage. It’s possible that his bad pitches just happen to all have been clobbered when most of the time hitters miss mistakes some of the time.
This is something to keep an eye on going forward. I don’t think there’s any one single thing he’s done wrong, just that he’s made some bad pitches that have been crushed. All pitches do that at some point during the season, so we need to wait and find out if this is a problem for him going forward or he just happened to get his clunkers out of the way early. He’s getting killed on mistakes, but after only 16 innings, it’s too early to say if he’s making more mistake pitches or it’s just noise. Let’s hope for the latter.