Jonathan Sanchez is the pitching equivalent of the three-true-outcomes hitter: He matches eyepopping strikeout rates with equally huge walk rates. While Sanchez is a wild, fireballing young lefty, there is more than meets the eye when delving into his rate statistics.
Sanchez began his career in 2004 as a 27th-round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants. Though he arrived with little fanfare, Sanchez quickly rose through the ranks, registering as San Francisco’s sixth-best prospect in 2006, before peaking as the system’s second-best and MLB’s 59th overall in 2007. Sanchez backed up these lofty prospect rankings with stellar performances in A-ball in 2005 and a three-level season in 2006 culminating with a stint with the big club. His 2005 season really put him on the map, as he posted 166 punchouts against 39 walks in 125.2 innings. His overall minor league career line boasted an incredible 333 strikeouts in 252.2 innings (11.9 K/9) while walking just 98 (3.5 BB/9) over parts of three seasons.
Sanchez brings a quality three-pitch mix to the mound featuring a 91-92 mph fastball, 81-82 mph slider, and 83-84 mph change-up. Through his tenure in the majors, this repertoire has been one of the hardest in the MLB to hit, as the hurler has amassed a career 75.3 percent contact rate over 388.1 innings through parts of four seasons.
The major leagues haven’t been all fun and games for Sanchez, however.
While Sanchez has been one of the hardest pitchers to hit since his premier in 2006, he has also had some painful struggles with his command. From the get-go in 2006, he gave batters little reason to swing the bat, walking 5.18 batters per nine (23 BB in 40 IP). This rate has never dipped below 4.00 in his career, as his best showing was in 2008, when he walked “just” 4.27 batters per nine innings. This trouble with walks has been the theme in the pitcher’s young career, as is the story with many lefties with exceptional stuff. Word gets out quickly that they cannot command the zone and they have problems getting batters to chase pitches off the plate and struggle with walks. Randy Johnson is probably the best example of this. The Big Unit struggled with his command until 1993, his age 30 season, after posting walk rates of 6.8 BB/9 and 6.2 BB/9 in 1991 and 1992, respectively, a period which spanned 411.2 innings. While high walk totals are nothing to scoff at, they are not unheard of.
But if there was ever a redeeming quality in fantasy and major league baseball, it is the ability to miss bats—and Sanchez has this in spades. His strikeout rate has been off the charts since 2007, as the pitcher is the proud owner of a career strikeout rate of 9.41 K/9, including 10.02 K/9 this season and 10.73 K/9 in 2007. Ever wonder how a pitcher can throw a no-hitter? Don’t let the opposition put the ball in play. If you can get 10 outs per 27 via the K, the chances are much higher for a no-no. Don’t be surprised if Sanchez throws another one in the next couple seasons.
But there is more than just high strikeout and walk totals that make Sanchez such as interesting pitcher. In reality, he is not nearly as wild or doesn’t have as little control as his numbers make it seem. His command ratings are not far from league average, so it is a bit surprising that his walk rates have been so high over the last two seasons.
Sanchez’s primary indicators of control, being his Zone percentage (48.5 percent, a little lower than is desirable) and F-Strike percentage (59.2 percent) are right around league average. Sanchez seems to have fallen victim to a stigma of being “wild,” as hitters are less inclined to swing at his offerings, evidenced by his low Swing percentage (43.5 percent). This, coupled with a very low contact rate (73.0 percent), means that at-bats against Sanchez tend to drag on longer, resulting in more walks, as well as strikeouts. It would be beneficial to Sanchez if batters would swing more, meaning fewer walks. Still, he does benefit from the additional called strikes.
Overall, Sanchez looks to be a good candidate for improvement over the rest of this season and for years to come. His expected strikeouts are still phenomenal, around 9.6 K/9, while his walk numbers should improve a lot from this season, as his rates are more indicative of a pitcher who allows 4.0 BB/9, not 5.
As it stands, Sanchez is performing right around where he should, with a 4.03 ERA, close to his 3.83 FIP. His WHIP of 1.35 is reasonable as well, though it could climb closer to 1.40, but not above that. If Sanchez can make the aforementioned improvements in his walk rates, he could see his ERA drop to the low 3.8s and his WHIP improve to around 1.30. Either way, Jonathan Sanchez is an above-average fantasy pitcher for 12-team mixed leagues, worth about 1-2 points above average. Not too shabby for a hurler who has been left to rot on waiver wires across the fantasy landscape. Grab him if you can; you won’t be disappointed.