Anibal Sanchez Didn’t Start Out Well In Detroit, But Quickly Turned To Dominance


May 1, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) pitches in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Anibal Sanchez is the current WAR leader in all of baseball according to FanGraph’s FIP-based calculation. He was this past offseason’s $80 million man, and he was, perhaps, The Detroit Tigers’ best pitcher in the postseason. We now clearly see the pitcher the Tigers were trading for as they prepared for the stretch run a season ago, but Sanchez’s tenure in Detroit started just about as poorly as one could imagine.

After being acquired in late July last year, Sanchez got hit around in his first four starts with Detroit. In those games he posted a strikeout rate below six per nine innings, a WHIP over 2.10, and an ERA just shy of 8.00. Detroit went 1-3. Needless to say, Tigers fans were beginning to bemoan the giving up of their top pitching prospect and top catching prospect for this “bum”.

An off day in the schedule allowed the Tigers to skip a pitcher’s spot in the rotation, and they decided to bump Sanchez. He reportedly spent the week with pitching coach Jeff Jones in an attempt to fix his woes. I don’t know if Sanchez was simply putting too much pressure on himself as “the guy” brought in to lead the Tigers to the playoffs, if he was struggling to adjust to life in the DH league, if he had some mechanical issues to work out with the pitching coach, or simply was having a string of bad outings. Whatever the case, Sanchez immediately snapped out of his slump upon his return and been lights out ever since.

Since that skipped turn in the rotation, Anibal has made 17 starts (including playoffs) with 114.1 innings pitched and a 1.97 ERA. In this current stretch he’s fanned 112 batters, alowed just four home runs, and posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio of better than 4.5-to-1.

It’s probably impossible to have a 100+ inning stretch of sub-2.00 ERA pitching without benefitting from luck in some form, but Sanchez’s 1.97 ERA is backed up by a FIP in the 2.25 range.

I don’t think there’s any way we could expect him to continue to put up these type of numbers – or even an ERA under 3.00 – but we’re definitely seeing that the Tigers gave him $80 million for reasons that are more than “he was really good last fall”. Anibal has the underlying skills to be a top-flight starting pitcher (even if not Cy Young caliber), and he’s apparently setting out to prove he’s not at all overpaid.