Oct 27, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) throws a pitch against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning during game three of the 2012 World Series at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: H. Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

What Can We Expect from Anibal Sanchez?

We know that Mr. Ilitch made him a $16 million man, to sit in a comfy #4 chair behind Verlander, Scherzer and Fister, but why?

Toiling in relative obscurity with the Marlins, most Tigers fans never glimpsed Anibal’s stuff until July 28, 2012, when he pitched into the 7th inning of a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays, his first foray wearing the Old English D. He earned his first AL victory the following week vs. the Tribe, scattering 8 hits over 6+ innings and striking out 5. The adjustment to a new league was a bit uneven, but he did pitch into the 6th inning in all but one of his twelve Tigers starts; his last two outings were stellar, including a complete-game shutout of Kansas City to pull even with the Sox, and a 2-1 nailbiter over the Twins to clinch a tie for the division.

Originally a member of the Bosox system, Sanchez was part of a package (with Hanley Ramirez)  that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. While his record with the Marlins was an unimpressive 44-45, that can be one of the most misleading stats for a starting pitcher. Anibal’s peripheral numbers suggest an above-average pitcher: career ERA of 3.75, ERA+ 110, 8.8 H/9, 7.6 K/9. His stuff translates a notch higher, as he posted a no-hitter (as a rookie in ’06) and three 1-hitters with the Fish. As an intriguing comparison, Matt Garza and Max Scherzer are two of the top-10 in similarity scores to Sanchez.

Digging into FanGraphs for some meatier metrics, his BABIP has been consistently high (around .310), and we shouldn’t expect that to improve given the pedestrian defense behind him. In Sanchez’ favor, however, batters tend to hit the ball in the air off of him (7% more often than Rick Porcello, for instance); considering Comerica’s expansive outfield and Hunter, AJax and (hopefully) Dirks hawking flies, most of what stays in the park should be outs.

His velocity has been consistent and actually has ticked up slightly in the recent past, averaging about 92 MPH, although it appears he finds too much of the plate; batters swung and missed at his fastball only 4.4% of the time, and turned it around on him at a .342 clip. Anibal’s slider, and especially his changeup, rank as plus pitches, equally effective in getting swing-and-miss K’s. Indications are he adjusted his repertoire’ a bit after the transition to the AL – keeping hitters off-balance, instead of sitting on the heater, should serve him well.

Adding it all up, the needle nudges narrowly toward Anibal exceeding his career numbers. He is playing for a talented team, in a park that suits his strengths, at an age where pitchers tend to be entering their prime. Slotted as the 4th starter, his matchups should be favorable. Sanchez was stalwart during key matchups down the stretch, and posted a 1.77 ERA, with 18 K’s in 20 postseason innings. His defense and bullpen may proffer the occasional letdown, but I am enthused to watch his season unfold.

FEARLESS FORECAST: 14-9, 3.67 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 168 K,  2.8 WAR

Now we can debate the value of $16 million a year – or more importantly, the value of the prospects traded for Anibal and Omar Infante. Stay tuned…

Tags: Detroit Tigers

  • YODA777

    I agree with your logic here; however, given the strength of the Tigers and the fact he is in the number 4 starting spot in the rotation, I would suggest a range of 14 – 18 wins for Sanchez. I also think Porcello wins the 5th starter role and gets to 14 -16 wins as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matthewjmalek Matthew Malek

    I am with you completely and think your analysis is accurate. I actually think our infield defense will be up from the worst just a notch. Bottom 10 with our OF defense being Top 10 this season. That could lead to career years for all of our pitchers. What I don’t think people are seeing….is that our team is so much better defensively and offensively to start this season that our Pitchers will tend to be in better situations all the way around. The way I see it is we have the best pitcher in the game…..A great number 2 trying to become a 1(Scherzer) and two guys that would be 2′s almost anywhere and are probably the best 3-4 combo in baseball Fister Anibal. If Porcello can stay at a 4.0 ERA we will have the best 1,2,3,4,and 5 pitchers in baseball.

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