During the offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays had some decisions to make. They needed to address their bullpen, possibly even bring in a closer. As a result, there was much talk about the possibility of using Aaron Sanchez as the stopper at the back end of the ‘pen. It was a topic of debate for a long time. And, it made sense.
Sanchez has filthy “stuff”. It’s the kind of stuff that makes us drool and hitters look silly. Some thought this would be a good reason to have him close out games. The ninth inning would allow him to come in guns blazing and maximize his repertoire in one inning. This was furthered by the fact that in his minor league career, Sanchez struggled to get through a lineup repeatedly. The second and third time through the order gave him difficulty.
necessity being what it is, the Blue Jays needed a starter thanks to the ‘injury that shall not be named’. They needed Sanchez. And, it didn’t start prettily. At all. That said, looking at his last few starts, it appears the Blue Jays made the right call. His most recent outing against the Astros was brilliant.
Aaron Sanchez is a starter and we can finally move on from the “closer debate”. Here’s why:
Toronto Blue Jays
The knocks against Sanchez have been addressed by his steadily improving performance. He’s showing that he belongs in the rotation. When you talk about going through an order, you’re also talking about pitching deep into games. They go hand in hand. You can’t go through an order multiple times without pitching deep unless, I suppose, you’re giving up an obscene amount of runs early, which means you won’t be long for the league, let alone games.
So, we need to talk about the ability to pitch deep into games. I checked Fangraphs.com. In his first start of the season on April 11, Sanchez went a whole 3.1 innings. It was a bad start to a bad trend. But, recently, it has been improving. It has led to 8 innings in that last start.
Here is the pattern of his 11 starts: 3.1 IP, 5.1 IP, 5.1IP, 5.2 IP, 5.2 IP, 7 IP, 5.2 IP, 7.1 IP, 6.2 IP, 6 IP, 8 IP.
Over the course of 11 starts, Sanchez is going deeper into games. Whether it is just a case of a pitcher getting more comfortable and into a ‘groove’ as the weather warms up, etc or it is Sanchez improving on his control, etc. remains to be seen, I suppose. Though, it could just be a combination of both.
Now, we need to get back to the thought that Sanchez cannot repeat his success multiple times through the order. I wanted to find out if Aaron Sanchez has done anything to quiet these criticisms. ESPN has a sortable stat sheet that I used to get Sanchez’ info for this. Here is what ESPN had to say:
1st time through lineup- 25 IP, 3.24 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 14BB, 17K
2nd time through lineup- 23 IP, 4.18 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 12 BB 17K
3rd time through lineup- 16.2 IP, 2.16 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 8 BB, 8K
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Is it any surprise to see that the 2nd time through the order has the highest ERA? Probably not. That would be about the time where things started to go wrong and he was pulled from a game. The bulk of his time has been spent going through a lineup once, maybe twice. He hasn’t had many innings where he’s seen a batter for the third time.
But, as we said, this is starting to change. These handful of innings happen to show a lower ERA and coincide with his more recent success. As he pitches deeper into games and sees more batters, Aaron Sanchez is having success. Of course, you could also say that he is having more success and therefore is pitching deeper into games and seeing more batters. But, that’s sort of the point. Sanchez is having success as a starter.
Time will tell if Aaron Sanchez can maintain this success as the season wears on. He’ll be turning just 23 years old soon. There will likely be times when this rookie falters a bit. But, that is to be expected. What is encouraging is that, based on his recent success, faltering can be considered just part of regular growth rather than the norm for a questionable starter. All starting pitchers have bumps in the road. Aaron Sanchez is no different. What is good is that we can finally forget the idea that he should be a closer.