This doesn’t follow my normal comparison as I usually have two players with similar stat lines and try to explain why one player might be better or more surprising. This time I found two players who couldn’t have looked more different in 2009, but looking at the numbers they should have been more similar. These two pitchers are two of the better strikeout pitchers, but they also can’t keep from giving up the free passes.
Name W L ERA WHIP K BB IP K/9 BB/9 K/BB GB% FB% HR/FB% Jonathan Sanchez 8 12 4.24 1.37 177 88 163.1 9.75 4.85 2.01 40.70% 43.10% 10.30% Clayton Kershaw 8 8 2.79 1.23 185 91 171 9.74 4.79 2.03 39.40% 41.60% 4.10%
This matchup in 2009 came down to one thing. Kershaw gained a huge advantage in his number of homers allowed. You could argue he is going to continue this since he’s pitching in Dodger Stadium for half his future games, but as we know AT&T Park is not friendly to hitters either. Kershaw had the lowest HR/FB% in baseball this year and less than half the amount of any other pitcher on the Dodgers staff. On the other hand Sanchez threw a fairly high HR/FB% based on other Giants pitchers such as Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum. Using xFIP we can get an idea of how similar they are with Kershaw at 3.94 and Sanchez at 4.22.
|MLB: OCT 15 Phillies at Dodgers – NLCS Game 1
Oct. 15, 2009: Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw throws against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Dodgers lost 8-6 to the Phillies in Game One of the 2009 NLCS at Dodger Stadium. (Icon/SMI)
Obviously we are dealing with two pitchers who came into the league in very different situations. Kershaw was drafted seventh overall in 2006 out of high school while Sanchez went to college and lasted until the 27th round of the 2004 draft. Also using John Sickels ratings from Minor League Ball we see Kershaw was rated an A-grade pitcher and Sanchez was a B-grade pitcher.
Kershaw has the pedigree of a much better prospect and spent so little time in the minors we have very little to work with in minor league numbers. He struggled with control in the minors, though, topping 3.8 walks per nine innings at A ball and Double-A. His EqERA in Double-A was 6.94 in 2007 and 5.19 in 2008, which is also a bit concerning. On the other hand, Sanchez did not top 3.8 walks per nine innings until Triple-A in a small sample size of 44.1 innings. Their strikeout rates are comparable as they averaged around 11 strikeouts per nine in the minors.
These two pitchers do come at hitters just slightly differently. Kershaw has a two-pitch approach going with fastballs and his dominating curve nearly 90 percent of the time. Sanchez goes with a fastball and a slider nearly 90 percent of the time. This seems to be a trend as you could probably add lefty J.A. Happ who also is throwing two pitches nearly 90 percent of the time (fastball and a cutter).
Many pitchers take a few years to work out control problems once they make the majors and these two have almost the same amount of experience at 66 games started for Sanchez and 51 for Kershaw. Next year will be a defining moment for these youngsters.
Looking to the Bill James projections here is what we see for 2010 so far:
Name W L ERA K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP Jonathan Sanchez 8 12 4.24 9.59 4.6 0.88 3.92 Clayton Kershaw 13 7 3.25 9.4 4.55 0.55 3.42
Seems like more of the same for both here. The projections expect both to have big control problems with each walking more than a batter every 2 innings. At the same time, Kershaw is expected to be much better at home run control than Sanchez. Unless they expect Kershaw to improve his groundball numbers, I don’t think we should expect the HR/9 to be this widely separated between the two.
I am not confident either one can make huge strides in their control. Based on this, though, Sanchez makes a better value in 2010 as he will be largely forgotten compared to the publicity Kershaw already got before finishing 2009 with a 2.79 ERA. Based on the unpredictability of HR/FB it could easily be Kershaw with the 4+ ERA next year.