The Blue Jays’ right-hander is facing an unknown workload limit in 2016
After the Blue Jays broke out for five runs in the bottom top of the sixth against the Minnesota Twins last night, starter Aaron Sanchez worked a scoreless bottom half to hold a 7-1 lead on 78 pitches.
Toronto tacked on another in the top of the seventh to make it 8-1, but Sanchez still emerged for the bottom half where he allowed a Jorge Polanco double and Robbie Grossman RBI-single. Sanchez added a throwing error of his own, sailing one high on a throw to second.
For any other pitcher, this isn’t worth a moment’s attention the day after. Perhaps it isn’t for Sanchez either. But for a young arm working on a still-uncertain innings limit in what the Blue Jays hope will be his first “full” season as a starter, those blowout innings could be more valuable down the line.
It’s important not to oversimplify this, though. Ten fewer pitches on May 20th do not directly equal ten extra pitches for the Jays to pull out of Sanchez as a starter in August. No two pitchers are the same, either, and no two 100-pitch starts cause the exact same level of wear on a pitcher’s arm, which is why the hard-line innings limit has faded in the MLB. Last night’s decision to leave Sanchez in only holds value when viewed in Toronto’s larger strategy.
The bullpen was limited with Joe Biagini unavailable and Jesse Chavez serving the final game of his suspension, but Chad Girodo (who eventually threw) and Pat Venditte could both use the major league reps and save some stress on Sanchez by taking some of the load.
Through a combination of removing Sanchez from lopsided leads or deficits, pushing back the odd start, or even skipping him once through the rotation, the Blue Jays do have the means to extend his arm deep into the season. It’s also possible that Sanchez reacts very well to the workload given his offseason body changes, and pushes through strongly regardless.
It must be a cumulative effort between those different factors, though. Last night’s added inning, despite the poor results, was a small bump in a much bigger picture, and perhaps a learning experience. There’s an entire other conversation, too, about the impact of clipping Sanchez’s wings and not allowing him to push through adversity or rising pitch counts.
There have been no signs of Sanchez slowing down thus far. Brooks Baseball data shows that Sanchez was averaging his highest velocities since opening day. Pair that with a 3.20 ERA and and an excellent ground ball rate, and there are no signs of worry.
Sanchez has pitched 59 innings over nine starts, averaging nearly six and a third per outing. It’s evidently not happening just yet, but across the coming months, expect to see his workload managed on a more micro level.