Apr 13, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) delivers a pitch against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Twelve games in the season, the Detroit Tigers are almost firing on all cylinders with a 10-2 start and a +33 run differential in those games. One of the only Tigers not performing well is Anibal Sanchez who has taken both of the losses for the Tigers.
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Sanchez currently has a 1-2 record with a 7.71 ERA and 1.47 WHIP after 3 starts and 16.1 IP. Sanchez’s troubles that have led to his elevated numbers has been his inability to keep hitters in the ballpark in 2015. In 2014, Sanchez only surrendered four home runs over 21 starts and 126 innings pitched. In his 16.1 IP, Sanchez has already surrendered five home runs.
Looking closer at Sanchez’s numbers, his HR/FB percentage is up at 20.0% over his first three starts compared to the 7.8% rate over his career. In 2013 and 2014, Sanchez’s HR/FB numbers were 5.8% and 3.1% respectively. His fly ball rate is also elevated to 49.0% compared to 32.7% and 34.9% in 2013 and 2014 which have directly come from a decrease in ground balls.
Sanchez has not looked terrible while pitching either. His fastball is down from 92.1 mph to 91.0 mph from 2014 to 2015, but he seems to still be hitting his spots, his breaking balls still have movement, and his changeup is still fading the way it looked to be last season. Hitters are now punishing Sanchez when he misses his spots which they were not always doing in the past. There is not a large difference in Sanchez’s pitch selection, but the amount of fastballs and cutters are up from 32.0% and 5.3% in 2014 to 35.9% and 10.1% in 2015. If anything, Sanchez needs to throw more off-speed pitches to keep hitters off balance.
Sanchez has pitched into a bit of bad luck, but the home runs he has surrendered this year have been to Josh Harrison on the first pitch of the game, Pedro Alvarez, Corey Hart, Jose Abreu, and Adam LaRoche. The last four on that list all have seasons of 30 or more home runs over the since 2012.
The numbers may startling as of right now, but the peripherals for Sanchez look good, he has not suffered a sudden steep decrease in his velocity, and the sample size is small. Just like some of the other Tigers will regress to the mean over time, Sanchez will progress to the mean and improve his numbers over time. If Sanchez’s struggles extend to May or June and some of his peripherals fall as well, the Tigers will need to examine Sanchez’s pitch selection and location to see if there is a problem with him falling into a pattern or if something in his mechanics leading him to tip his pitches or miss in a certain area.
For now, Sanchez is passing the eye test and some of his good luck in the past is finally catching up with him. Do not panic for now; instead, enjoy the fact that the Tigers are 10-2 after 12 games to start the season.