Player Background

As a prospect, Sanchez was not traded for R.A. Dickey. After a 33-inning cup of coffee in 2014, a stint that included 24 dominant relief appearances (and zero starts), the hard-throwing righty with a bat-missing hook entered 2015 as 25th on Baseball Prospectus’s prospect rankings. His ability to dominate major league hitting as a reliever was confirmed, but his tantalizing upside was going to be dependent on improving his changeup and finding better overall command and control. The changeup never came along in 2015; consequently, Sanchez struggled mightily in his 11 starts (posting a 15% strikeout rate and a 13.2% walk rate, with opponents triple slashing .240/.346/.392 against him), but he was still solid in 30 relief appearances (posting a 19.2 K% and a 7.1 BB% with opponents triple slashing .176/.202/.165 against him). Sanchez was absolutely killed by lefties in 2015, they triple slashed .279/.390/.488; in fact, lefties walked more frequently against Sanchez (14.4 BB) than they struck out (10.9% K).

As we can see, heading into 2016, most arrows were pointing to Sanchez becoming a reliever, albeit, a dominant one. 2016, however, had some surprises in store for us, and Sanchez’s growth as a starting pitcher was one the good surprises.

What Went Right in 2016?

Remember the trouble with lefties from three or so sentences ago? Well, Sanchez made huge improvements against lefties in 2016. While his pitch mix was relatively unchanged against righties, dropped his sinker usage and increased his usage of his four-seam, curve, and change. If you do not believe me, a table with his pitch usage by pitch against lefties is below courtesy of Brooks Baseball:






















The results were staggering; Sanchez posted respective strikeout and walk rates of 21.1% and 10.7%, respectively, against lefties, while limiting them to a .216/.306/.352 triple slash. Already solid as a starter versus righties, this improvement meant Sanchez could be a viable starter, which he became and then some. His curveball saw significant improvement in 2016 with the pitch’s whiff rate jumping from 10.88% in 2015 to 15.72% in 2016. And while his changeup’s whiff rate actually decreased year over year in 2016, the pitch became a viable weapon for producing mediocre-to-bad contact with opponents only slugging .224 against the pitch (versus .667 a year ago). All in all, Sanchez wound up throwing 192 innings of 3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP baseball, which included 15 wins and 161 strikeouts.

What Went Wrong in 2016?

After absolutely dominating righties in 2015, Sanchez was less prolific against them in 2016. His primarily two-pitch mix against righties (sinkers and curveballs) seemed to be less effective as a starter than in short relief stints, but we expected as much.

What to Expect in 2017


















As we have seen with many pitchers before, PECOTA doesn’t ever trust one full season of breakout production, particularly from a pitcher. If Sanchez were to perform to his PECOTA projection, then those investing in Sanchez for fantasy baseball for the 2017 season will be disappointed given Sanchez’s current average NFBC ADP of 103.87 (good for the 24th starting pitcher going off the board). The questions then become, will Sanchez regress? And if so, how much?

I’m here, a fantasy baseball writer, to say that we do not know the answers to these questions. That said, we should still take our best guesses. As with most young pitchers (beyond health), the important part for Sanchez is whether he will continue to improve and/or adjust to the league or if the league will adjust to him. I believe that with his increased control, crisper curveball, improved changeup, and more effective pitch-mix against lefties, that Sanchez’s 2017 will be closer to his 2016 than it will to his 2017 PECOTA projection; his arm is electric, the stuff is really, really good, and he is still only entering his age 24 season. I am not as high on him as those taking him at or above his current average NFBC ADP, but I am not that far off. While I think righties have a shot to continue to improve against him, I think there is a chance he can more effectively mix in his four-seam up in the zone or his changeup to counteract their adjustments.

The Great Beyond

I want to say, “lol, he’s a pitcher, you tell me.” That said, Sanchez has a lot of the qualities I like if I am going to bet on a pitcher long-term. He is young, he generates velocity with ease, and he has not had any significant arm injuries. Being a pitcher, he will always carry the risk that comes with that, but these traits do alter the inherent risk in the right direction.

The larger mark on his long-term forecast, though, is that it still has only been one season of beneficial production for Sanchez in the majors, so there is still responsible to build some risk into the forecast. So while I think Sanchez sticks as a productive starting pitcher (as discussed in the previous segment), I would be happy to unload him to a team that “knows” or is more confident that he will be as dominant going forward as he was last year. That said, I’d be more than thrilled to have him penciled in to my future projections for the next few years.

Thank you for reading

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Aside from any framing metrics, I think another positive for young SPs who are approximately Sanchez' age is working with a vet C like Russell Martin. That ticks Sanchez' value/floor up a couple notches for me.