The case for Anibal Sanchez to be the Detroit Tigers number 1 playoff starter

It’s finally time, guys and gals.

The playoffs have finally arrived, after what seems like an eternity (actual: one month) of worries and speculation about injuries, bad decisions, and suspensions. Now we just sit back and watch as the Tigers square off against one of the hottest teams in either league, the Oakland Athletics.

Thankfully, the Tigers have a serious strength when it comes to these playoffs, a strength that lines up properly with that old baseball adage: pitching wins in the postseason. Sure, it’s clichéd, but as we can surmise judging by recent World Series winners, it’s true.

Detroit’s opening round series against the A’s is going to be a rough one, and one has to imagine that Jim Leyland has one of the best problems to have for any manager, and that’s deciding who to start in Game 1 from the Tigers’ ridiculous stable of award-caliber starting pitchers. In this article, I’d like to throw in my two cents and recommend that the playoff ace this year should be Anibal Sanchez.

Sep 28, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) kisses the baseball during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

First, we have to remember his killer postseason stretch last year. Despite his 1-2 record, Sanchez sported a 1.77 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP, not to mention an 18-6 K/BB ratio. He went nearly seven innings every star t (6.1 in a loss to the A’s in round 1), and arguably was the Tigers’ best pitcher in 2012. That’s what Dombrowski acquired him to be, afterall.

In terms of his success against Oakland, he handled them pretty well this season, going 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP over 12 innings, and that looks even better when just his start at O.co Coliseum is inspected: 7 innings, 1.29 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 8 K’s and 4 BB’s.

What about Scherzer against the A’s? Well, he no decisions over two starts, with a 4.91 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and a 16-2 K/BB ratio, which is thankfully fantastic. Also fantastic was his start at Oakland, where he went six innings, struck out 11 and walked one, and had a 1.50 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP.

Essentially, both Scherzer and Sanchez were fantastic in September, but Sanchez is coming off a stronger start: against the Marlins on Saturday he struck out 8 over five innings and allowed no walks or runs. Scherzer allowed no runs against the Twins on Wednesday, but he had a 10/6 K/BB ratio, and gave up two hits over seven innings.

And like I said previously, I’d rather have to choose between these two because this just doesn’t seem to be Justin Verlander’s season, and he always seems to leave us fans wanting more in the playoffs. Maybe a turn out of the brightest spotlight, where everything he does gets scrutinized, will do him some good and he can relax and get back into a dominating rhythm.

Again, this is a magnificent problem for a major league club to have: you can bet that any team in the league, and any team in the playoffs for either league, wishes they had a problem like this.

Still, I’m all about Anibal this time around.

Topics: Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer

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  • chrisHannum

    Strangely, the impression that I have gotten from the Tigers last two postseason series losses is that long relief wins in the postseason. [And streaky power hitters]

    As for Sanchez v. Scherzer v. Verlander, I’d start with a completely different argument: Scherzer has (by far) the highest fly ball rate of any Tigers starter. The A’s have (by far) the highest fly ball rate of any offense (though they’re one of the worst teams at actually doing anything with those flies). If we imagine that fly ball rate is an expression of some kind of “angle of trajectory spread” you would imagine that the worst possible “angle of trajectory spread” would be centered on “line drive” – which would mean roughly league average GB/FB ratio and unusually high LD%. I did some statistical analysis (on this site) before that suggested that extremes highs and lows in GB% are better than an average GB% for a pitcher.

    If you buy that argument, combining Scherzer’s fly ball tendencies with the A’s fly ball tendencies and you ratched up the angle of trajectory a bit further and get flies that don’t carry. Combine Sanchez’ ground ball tendencies (not to mention Porcello or Fister’s) with the A’s fly ball tendencies and you get a lot of line drives up the gap. What do you think?

    • http://tomaroonandgold.blogspot.com Matt Snyder

      I think in The Book it was determined that GB-FB tendencies are platoonable just like R-L. The pitcher is favored when the tendency of the batter is the same (i.e. FB pitchers benefit when facing FB batters and GB pitchers benefit when facing GB batters). So your argument probably has merit.

      • chrisHannum

        Good to know that The Book backs me up

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