With Anibal Sanchez on the disabled list, and Max Scherzer continuing to dominate this year on his way to a 12-0 record, Sanchez has been seemingly forgotten about lately. Sanchez is set to return soon, and with that hopefully comes his continued success this year (2.76 ERA, 1.151 WHIP, 11.1 K/9). He is on pace to have the best year of his career in almost all of the major pitching statistics (minus wins, but that’s as flawed a statistic as there is). He has been truly great, and actually has a better ERA than Scherzer and every other Tigers pitcher this year. The main reason(s) for this success this year has been his secondary pitches, particularly his slider and sinker, and his ability to use these pitches to strike batters out.
Anibal Sanchez’s slider has been a very good pitch for him over his career, and has been his number one strikeout pitch with over a 30% K rate and a 14.2% swinging strike percentage in general to go along with a .623 OPS against. His sinker has been an average pitch for him across his career, with a 17.3% K rate, only a 5.6% swinging strike percentage, and he has allowed a .717 OPS for his career. He has had some pretty good secondary pitches, along with his curve, changeup and cutter, but the jump he has made this year has been drastic as far as the aforementioned slider and sinker.
In Sanchez’s 13 starts in 2013, he has seen drastic improvement in results for his slider and sinker. His slider’s K rate has gone from 30% to 39%, its swinging strike percentage has gone from 14.2% to 17.9%, and the OPS against for his slider has dropped from .623 to a ridiculous .421. His sinker’s K rate has gone from 17.3% all the way up to 41.0%, its swinging strike percentage from 5.7% to 14.5%, and its OPS against from .717 down to .546. Sanchez has thrown these two pitches a combined 30% of the time so far, which is actually less than his career average of 33%. According to these numbers, he might want to start throwing them even more than his career averages.
Sanchez’s heat/location maps seem to show a big reason for the improvement in these two pitches. While I would like to not embed the images I am looking at, they can be found here and here. It seems that he is throwing his slider down and away from right-handers with more consistency this year as compared to years past. This is obviously a good thing, as it is much tougher to be beat on a slider the further away it is from the batter, while also increasing swings and misses. As far as the sinker, it seems that Sanchez has mainly thrown it to lefties over his career, which makes sense, as it will tend to tail away from them. He seems to have spotted this pitch a bit better than in years past, throwing the ball more consistently, again, low and away. This has resulted in a drastic (but most likely unsustainable) improvement in the results of this pitch, along with an increase in ground-ball percentage. If Sanchez can continue to have success with these two pitches, while also obviously throwing his others at a continued pace, he will be on his way to the best year of his major league career, and may get a Cy Young vote or two.