Blue Jays Player of the Week: Aaron Sanchez

Apr 17, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Aaron Sanchez (41) pitches during the first inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

One certainty early in the 2016 season is the fact that Aaron Sanchez has delivered on the hype surrounding him following the end of spring training and the conclusion of the rotation announcement.

In three starts, including two this week, he’s been absolutely fantastic. His command has wavered at times, but his stuff is dynamite, the new-found reliance on his changeup is excellent to see, and his confident mantra on the mound is encouraging. He’s been dominant and he’s looked like everything that fans have wanted to see out of him as a starting pitcher.

In two starts this week, he went a combined 13 IP while striking out 12 batters and only allowing 2 earned runs. He walked 7 batters in that stretch, which is higher than you’d like to see, but he allowed only 5 hits, which limited the damage opposing teams could do with free baserunners. These performances, especially on Sunday against Boston in order to keep the Jays from losing three in a row, has earned Sanchez the player of the week.

Not only has he looked dominant, but he did it against good lineups in the Yankees and Red Sox. His line against New York finished as 6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, and while he didn’t walk away with the win, he pitched well despite not being as sharp as his first time out.

An important step for young pitchers to make, is the ability to make adjustments, and grind through starts when their best stuff isn’t there on that particular day. Sanchez was able to do that, and for the most part, kept the left-handed hitter heavy lineup of the Yankees in check, which is another huge plus to the start of Sanchez’s 2016 season.

His problems with left-handed hitters in 2015 have been well advertised, but he’s shown in his first three starts that he may have found a way to neutralize that issue. The development of his changeup has definitely played a role in this, and if he can continue to throw it with confidence he should be able to continue having success.

In his start against the Yankees, Sanchez  threw 11 four-seam fastballs, 60 sinkers, 20 curveballs and mixed in 6 changeups. His four-seam and sinker velocity dropped nearly 2 mph from his first start in Tampa Bay, but that velocity returned in Boston, so that’s not something to worry about at the moment.

He didn’t generate as many swing and misses as his first start (7 compared to 16 in Tampa), but he still notched 5 K’s and got the ball on the ground with 9 groundball outs compared to only one in the air. His combination of heavy groundball tendencies and strikeout potential makes it extremely difficult for opposing lineups.

In Boston, he finished with a line of 7 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 7 K and continued to get the ball down and get the ball on the ground with 8 ground ball outs. His velocity averaged 95.54 and 95.75 with his four-seam and sinker respectively, which was a good sign to see it back up after it was down a little against New York.

He only threw one changeup in the start, but he went to the cutter for the first time this year, throwing it 5 times. The cutter is very clearly a work in progress at the moment, but it’s good to see him mixing it in at the very least, as it adds another wrinkle to his repertoire and a pitch he can use to jam lefties.

He only generated six whiffs, but four of his seven strikeouts caught guys watching, and he clearly kept hitters off balance and generated weak contact while still being able to freeze guys with his sinker.

What else could you ask for from this guy? He’s been dominant and there’s still plenty of room for him to grow. The potential is sky high, and he’s starting to show it as a starter at the big league level. Not to mention, he ended a losing streak against a good team on the road. Wonderful job from Sanchez, his starts are becoming must-watch television.