Fluke Watch: Anibal Sanchez

Anibal Sanchez is a pitcher who has overperformed his peripherals each of the last two years (unless you believed he genuinely had a way to suppress homer runs last year). But this year the opposite has happened: Sanchez has greatly improved his peripherals, but has—due to some bad BABIP luck—an ERA 0.87 higher than his 3.10 xFIP. In other words, he certainly seems like a natural candidate for positive regression and a potentially nice buy-low target.

Of course, such a strategy relies upon Sanchez being able to keep up his improved peripherals, which involve striking out more than two extra batters per nine while also walking nearly a batter less per nine innings. We’re talking about career best in both of these and a strikeout rate increase that seems out of the blue. (His walk rate did improve last year from 2009, so this would seem more logical on the surface.) Could this improvement be real?

Sanchez’s pitches

Sanchez throws five pitches:
A four-seam fastball that has a good deal of cutting action but doesn’t sink like many other cutters.
A Two-seam fastball that has a decent amount of tail (but a good amount compared to the four-seamer) but basically without any sink at all.
A slider with good velocity and okay movement.
A change-up with okay velocity and good sink relative to the fastball.
A curveball with an 11-5 movement that doesn’t drop or tail an exceptional amount.

Most of his pitches haven’t changed over the last three years, but there have been a few tweaks.

Sanchez’s slider has increased from 83.3 MPH in 2009 to 84.5 MPH in 2010 to now 85.4 MPH in 2011. His two-seamer has increased by 1.0 MPH per year also during this span, while his four-seam fastball has increased by around 0.5 MPH per year each of the last two years. The change-up’s movement has also become more like the two-seamer, but the pitch is hard to distinguish from the slider at times, and this could just be an illusion.

Other changes and the results

Sanchez has a set strategy of throwing mostly fastballs against both types of batters, with the change-up being the primary offspeed pitch against lefties and the slider as the primary off-speed pitch against righties. However, three of every five fastballs he threw previously were four-seam fastballs. In 2011, he’s dropped his two-seamer use dramatically (now his fastball use is essentially 80 percent four-seamers).

The result is that Sanchez has increased his usage of a pitch that gets more swinging strikes—and thus more Ks—which is the reason why his swinging strike rate is up. That’s a pretty good explanation for why Sanchez’s whiff rate has increased.

Sanchez’s improved walk rate, on the other hand, is not easy to explain. He’s hitting the zone less often than previously, yet he’s getting called for slightly fewer balls than last year. The only pitch that’s improved in accuracy has been the four-seamer, but that alone isn not enough to explain the better results. In other words, while the walk rate improvement last year was easily trackable to an improvement in accuracy, that’s not the case this year.

Conclusion

So our conclusion on Sanchez is a mixed bag. His great improved in swinging strikes seems real—the result of going more frequently to his cutting four-seam fastball instead of his two-seamer. Thus, we should expect his strikeout rate to remain high. But his improved walk rate isn’t explained by anything really.

So what to expect? Anticipate Sanchez’s K rate to stay high around nine, but expect his BB rate to drop closer to last year’s than this year’s walk rate. He’s not a fluke, but he’s not completely for real, either.

Print Friendly
« Previous: Anatomy of a failed GM
Next: THT Awards »

Comments

  1. Mark said...

    Couldn’t part of this simply be that with the elevated SwStrk% and lower Contact% that he’s winding up more frequently in deeper and particularly more frequent two-strike counts, putting him in a position to “expand the zone” more often?  Of course, the only other season where he had SwStrk% and Contact% numbers like this year was his 10 start, injury shortened 2008, and his walk rate was elevated that year.  The one key difference here, however, is that his F-Strike% is a career high 63.5%, 4% above the league average and 7% above his career average.  These things are probably all related to some degree (More SwStrk means more F-Strk since the two sets overlap, more F-Strk means lower Zone% later in PAs, and lower Zone% in deep counts lends to higher SwStrk%), and combined they all likely lend to a higher strikeout and lower walk rate than his career marks. 

    For what its worth, I agree with your conclusion, its difficult to explain why his walk rate has dropped as low as it is, but I do think some of the drop is explainable/sustainable.  He’s just more likely a 3.0 BB/9 (a bit below last year’s mark as long as he can sustain the F-Strk%, but not as good as this year’s) or a bit above than 2.5 with these marks.

  2. Jeffrey Gross said...

    Josh,

    Fstrike% is important in BB%, and Sanchez is posting a career high rate of 63.5%. BB% takes a season or so to stabilize from what I read, so maybe it is not ‘for real’, but my expected BB/9 calculations peg his 2011 expected rate at around 2.90

  3. Tyler said...

    soooooooooooooooo do I drop this guy from my fantasy team or what? He was one of my best pitchers all year but has been so unbelievably awful for the past couple of months that I’m having a hard time justifying keeping him heading into fantasy playoffs.

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    No, you keep him!! From two weeks ago in the NL WW column:

    Anibal Sanchez has been nothing short of awful in the second half, second in disappointment only to Tommy Hanson. After quietly posting a strong 3.58 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, more than a strikeout per nine, and a 3.25 K/BB ratio in the first half, Sanchez’s ERA and WHIP have sat at 5.40 and 1.53, respectively, since the All-Star Game. Moreover, to fantasy owners’ dismay, he has not won a game since June 10.

    But it is not for a lack of talent or some form of regression. In the first half, Sanchez struck out 117 batters (9.3 K/9) and walked 36 (2.87 BB/9), good for a 3.23 FIP despite a relatively high 11 home runs surrendered. In the second half, Sanchez is giving up home runs at essentially the same rate, but his strikeouts per nine rate has risen to 9.7, while his BB/9 has fallen to 1.62, for a 6.00 K/BB. That puts his second half FIP at 3.02.

    The real difference between Sanchez’s first and second half has been his BABIP. It was .311 in the first half, and has been .414 in the second half. Sanchez’s peripheral pitching splits by month essentially confirm that he’s been the same breakout pitcher all year.

    Make no mistake. If you liked Anibal Sanchez in the first half, there is no reason to avoid him now. Bad luck can last for only so long. Right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *