Blue Jays: Lost in frustration- Aaron Sanchez has been healthy

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 3: Aaron Sanchez #41 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the first inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on June 3, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - JUNE 3: Aaron Sanchez #41 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the first inning of the game against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on June 3, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

While Aaron Sanchez’s season has been frustrating overall, there has been an overwhelming positive that’s easy to forget: He’s been healthy.

When the 2018 started most folks believed that the Blue Jays should have one of the stronger rotations in the game. In fact, I recall Mike Wilner saying that the Blue Jays have easily the best rotation in the AL East after they signed Jaime Garcia, and at the time I whole-heartedly agreed with him.

Fast forward to June 3rd, and it seems hard to believe that we were that optimistic just a few months ago. The last piece of the puzzle that was brought in to solidify things has done anything but, with Garcia currently sitting at 2-4 with a 6.08 ERA and a 1.606 WHIP through his first ten starts. He’s been far from alone in his struggles though I’m afraid.

Marco Estrada was brought back on a one year deal after showing signs of life down the stretch of the 2017 season, and so far he looks more like the pitcher that took the mound last summer. Right now he’s 2-6 with a 5.68 ERA and a 1.466 WHIP through his first four starts. He’s been worth 0.2 bWAR to Garcia’s -0.5, but he hasn’t been a whole lot better.

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Marcus Stroman‘s struggles were well documented before he hit the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, and this year has been anything but a step forward for the Blue Jays’ best pitcher in 2017. He was uncharacteristically bad through his first seven starts, pitching to a 7.71 ERA, a 1.714 WHIP, an 0-5 record, and a unsightly -0.7 bWAR. Stroman was among the best in the American League last season, so his struggles have definitely come as a surprise. The Blue Jays have been very lucky to have had a solid season so far from J.A. Happ, who is 7-3 and has 1.1 bWAR earned so far.

What I always believed would be the key to the 2018 for the Blue Jays was the health and performance they received from Aaron Sanchez. The hard throwing right-hander was the 2016 AL ERA champion, and has the kind of talent to lead almost any rotation in baseball. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to do that last season as he spent all but eight starts on the disabled list dealing with a variety of blister, fingernail, and tendon issues on his pitching hand.

We collectively crossed our fingers that he would be able to put those issues behind him after a complete offseason, and so far he’s been able to take his regular turn in the rotation every five days, which has been a huge plus. He hasn’t been the same starter he was in 2016, not by a long shot, but if we’re looking at the big picture there are definitely some positives to take away from having Sanchez back in the rotation.

Overall he’s struggled to a 3-5 record with a 4.48 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP, so it’s easy to lose sight of the good things that have been happening for the California native. Obviously the most important thing has been his health, and through 12 starts he hasn’t had to miss any time. He also turned out an excellent outing against the Tigers on Sunday, throwing 6.1 and giving up just two hits and one earned run while walking three.

He’s also started using his change-up a lot more, and while there have been a few instances that it’s been hit pretty hard, it’s becoming a pretty effective offering. His usage is up from 9.1% of the time in 2016, and 6.5% last year, to 26.9% in 2018. That’s a pretty substantial jump, but a deeper look at the numbers makes it more understandable. The off-speed pitch has been his most effective tool thus far according to Fangraphs, as it’s his only pitch with a positive pitch value rating. It’s easy to miss something like that when his ERA is a run and a half higher than it was in 2016, but it’s definitely a positive.

Stuff like that along with his appearance on Sunday lead me to believe that things should get a lot better for Sanchez as the season progresses, as long as he can stay healthy of course. There’s no denying that he’s been far from his best, but having him back in the fold is huge for the Blue Jays, and his ability to turn it on the rest of the way could be like adding a premium arm to the rotation.

He hasn’t been that yet, but Sunday was a great step in the right direction. It was his first time breaking the 100 pitch mark, and he looks healthy and strong.

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