The Blue Jays are receiving a second-straight season of bullpen value from Aaron Sanchez. While the organization would still prefer that he establish himself as a frontline starter, it’s hard for the Blue Jays to be disappointed with his relief performance. Through 13 relief appearances since returning from injury, Sanchez owns a 1.46 ERA with a lethal 0.405 WHIP.
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When we dig into Sanchez’s splits, however, I was shocked to see the gap between his numbers against left and right-handed batters. Sanchez has faced 149 right-handed bats in 2015 and held them to an impressive slash line of .152 / .242 / .189. Toronto couldn’t ask for better numbers at the back end of their bullpen. His performance against the lefties, however, is scary.
In 174 plate appearances by left-handed batters, Sanchez has coughed up a triple-slash of .286 / .390 / .517. Toss in the nine home runs he’s allowed to those hitters compared to the goose-egg against righties, and something is off. Eight of those came as a starter, but we’re looking at the bigger picture here with all things considered. Furthermore, Sanchez has walked 24 left-handed batters while striking out just 22 of them.
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Sanchez’s 2014 numbers, albeit from an even smaller sample size and to a much lesser extent, still show a pitcher who fares worse against the left-handers. Much of his success begins and ends with the movement on his fastball, and that’s where we should focus in.
While his natural tailing action breaks down and in on a right-handed batter, and towards the skinny of their bat, that pitch can cause problems when it flattens out against lefties. Case and point? Carlos Beltran‘s three-run homer this past weekend in Toronto. The high heater flattened out, and even though Beltran’s bat speed isn’t what it once was, that ball left in a hurry and took Toronto’s win with it.
In the short-term, the Blue Jays can allow other arms to handle situations with back-to-back left-handed bats. Sanchez still has extremely high value in the position he holds now, and as John Lott of the National Post wrote last week, Sanchez is embracing the relief role wholeheartedly.
“They sat me down and told me the reasoning — we lost 15 games after the seventh inning prior to the all-star break, and if we just win half of those we’re in first place by seven games. So I understood.” Sanchez recognizes that his bullpen move was part of the bigger picture in retrospect, as well. “I knew we had a really good team, and obviously he did what he did at the trade deadline and made us that much better. Everything has just kind of fallen into place, like I’m sure he envisioned when he made that move with me going back to the ‘pen.”
It will be interesting to monitor these splits over the remainder of the season, especially if the Blue Jays enter the eighth inning with multiple left-handed bats coming at the heart of an order. Thankfully, there’s a role for pitchers who mow down righties at a ridiculous rate. If we’re to entertain the “starter or reliever” debate again this offseason, though, this has to be a leading discussion point.