Jays need to stay course with Sanchez


Ever since rejoining the bullpen in mid-summer, Aaron Sanchez has been lights out as the Toronto Blue Jays 8th inning man before giving way to the nearly unhittable rookie Roberto Osuna.

However, that was then, this is now, and Sanchez has been struggling mightily in his last 15 games of so. When you look at it, Sanchez’s ERA is what jumps out at you immediately in his last 15 games. It sits at a despicable 4.38 in 12.1 innings, but as you make the sample even smaller–to his last seven games–the problem is even worse. His ERA in that time frame is a whopping 8.44.

Although the numbers over September are rather abominable, it’s really more of his last five appearances that have been the big problem. The conundrum for Sanchez began in Atlanta when he came on in relief in the 8th inning as he retired three of the four Braves he faced for a near perfect 8th inning. With the game tied 2-2, manager John Gibbons elected to stay the course with Sanchez and hold off on bringing in their bullpen ace Osuna. Adonis Garcia led off the 9th inning with a “single” that should have been an out had first baseman Justin Smoak scooped the throw from the diving Darwin Barney at second base. After allowing a single, putting runners on first and third, Sanchez induced a ground out for the first out of the inning. At that point Gibbons elected  not to go with his ace Osuna, instead letting Sanchez pitch to Andrelton Simmons who promptly hit a weak ground ball through the infield, who were playing in to cut off the run, for the winning run of the game.

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With that, what should have been a managerial decision to bring in a strikeout pitcher in a situation in dire need of a strikeout, transformed into a, “the sky is falling, Aaron Sanchez has lost it” thesis.

Looking at it closer, it’s easy to see that his walk rate is the major factor behind his struggles in September as he’s idly watched it balloon to 15.2 per cent with his strikeout rate plummeting to 9.1 per cent. While that certainly presents an issue going forward, it’s a minuscule sample size and could quite easily be corrected with a minor mechanical adjustment.

When Sanchez does hit the strikezone, the pitch hitters seem to be doing well on is surprisingly Sanchez’s bread and butter, his sinker. Per Brooks Baseball, Sanchez delivers the pitch 65 per cent of the time this season. Although he’s relied on it a tad more in the fall (80 per cent), the sample size again is too small to say he’s getting hammered because of his dependence on the pitch. Again, according to Brooks Baseball, Sanchez’s velocity and movement on his sinker seem to be in the same neighbourhood as in months past making it even more confusing why hitters have posted a .333 batting average on it this month.

Most likely, Sanchez is a victim of being marginalized by a small sample size and a case of bad luck. His BABIP in the last 14 days is a whopping .563 meaning all you basically had to do was put the ball in play to get a hit. Given that batters have only hit Sanchez hard 12 per cent of the time this month, it’s more likely this is an example of some spotty command magnified by some bad luck on balls in play. Alternatively, Sanchez’s struggles could be attributed to his lack of command forcing him to groove more pitches in less optimal places in the strikezone ergo leading to batters getting more hits.

Even then, the sample size is so small it would be completely ignored had it occurred at any other point in the season but now. So you can put down your stones and pitch forks, for now. Sanchez, despite his lack of overall command, is largely the same pitcher he’s been since joining the bullpen this summer. Once he’s able to hone in on his command of the strikezone, it’s likely Sanchez returns to his previous self and marches out for the 8th with renewed confidence.

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