It seems way too easy to compare Jonathan Sanchez to Oliver Perez. They’re both lanky left-handers with similar stuff and around the same age who had early success before the wheels came off. The comparison is so easy that it runs the risk of seeming lazy, something I’ve warned about in the past, but this is one of those situations where the fit is just really strong.
Sanchez, who was cut by the Pirates after posting an 11.85 ERA in five outings (including four starts), is about to sign a minor league deal with the Dodgers. Some are using the move to belittle the Dodgers as an example of how desperate they are, but like many minor league deals, this is a low-risk, high-reward transaction.
Perez and Sanchez both had their first big year in their third season in the majors. For Perez that was 2004, where he posted a 2.98 ERA in 30 starts thanks to a 3.45 FIP and 3.62 xFIP (good for 4.4 WAR overall). For Sanchez that was 2008, where he amassed 2.6 WAR thanks to a 3.85 FIP. His 5.01 ERA was obviously high, but a .317 BABIP (as compared to his .294 career mark) and a left-on-base percent of just 67.5 contributed mightily to that number.
After 2004 Perez imploded, tallying consecutive years of below-replacement level WAR and FIPs above five. Sanchez actually had a nice run after 2008, with ERAs of 4.24 and 3.07 the next two seasons.
After finding a home with the Mets in 2006 (and even starting and pitching decently in Game Seven of the 2006 NLCS), Perez had pretty good seasons in ’07 and ’08, posting solid ERA’s that were significantly below his FIP and xFIP. In 2009, Sanchez hit a road bump when he started just nineteen games and walked 5.86 batters per nine innings, a career high. Still, he put up a 4.26 ERA and a nearly identical FIP, so it wasn’t all that bad.
Then both pitchers simply became shells of their former selves in exactly the same way: they started walking everybody. For Perez it was the 2009 season, when he became a villain in Queens by posting a 6.82 ERA and walking 7.91 batters per nine innings. He was even worse the next year (if that’s possible to believe), finishing at -1.1 WAR for the season. He was released by the Mets and could not make a major league roster for the 2011 season.
For Sanchez, the crash happened last year. Like Perez, he went from walking four to five batters per nine to walking over seven, and his strikeouts decreased as well, leading to a perfect storm of terrible pitching. In 15 starts he had a 8.07 ERA, a truly horrid number. But it was last season when Perez put himself together. After finding an opportunity in Seattle’s bullpen, Perez had the lowest walk rate of his career (3.09/9) and finished with an astounding 2.12 ERA in 33 appearances, pitching primarily to left-handers.
This season has been even worse for Sanchez, who now finds himself, like Perez in 2011, off a major league roster. Although his ERA was 11.85, he did have a 5.03 xFIP (a HR/FB rate of 36.8 percent, as well as a .419 BABIP, really did him in). Perez is shining once again this year with a 1.17 ERA and 3.58 FIP.
What the Dodgers need to do is what the Mariners did with Perez: put him in the bullpen and make him a LOOGY. Here are the career splits for the two relievers:
vs. lefties: .223/.315/.364 (.303 wOBA), 3.36 xFIP
vs. righties: .243/.355/.431 (.345 wOBA), 5.01 xFIP
vs. lefties: .215/.313/.363 (.304 wOBA), 3.75 xFIP
vs. righties: .245/.356/.416 (.342 wOBA), 4.58 xFIP
Those numbers are strikingly similar, and it shows that neither is good enough versus lefties to make up for how mediocre they are versus righties. The best bet is the bullpen, where they can be mixed and matched late in the game. That’s what the Dodgers should do with Sanchez, and if they don’t figure it out, somebody else will.