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…

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