108: The Curious Case of Aaron Sanchez

Aaron Sanchez wants to start, but is that what's best for the Blue Jays? Section 108 discusses. (photo: Peter llewellyn)

Aaron Sanchez wants to start, but is that what's best for the Blue Jays? Section 108 discusses. (photo: Peter llewellyn)

Feb. 17, 2016

By Tyler King
The Canadian Baseball Network

The other day a “friend” asked me if I thought Aaron Sanchez was actually a big league pitcher.

Uhh dude ... Use your eyeballs.

The Blue Jays hard-throwing right hander was built for the mound.  At 6’4”, 200 lbs and only 23-years-old, he is, at least on paper, every scout’s dream. Plus he’s apparently packed on some real showtime muscle this offseason a la his good buddy Marcus Stroman. 

“But he can’t throw strikes,” my sort-of-friend said.

Alright I’ll admit, Sanchez’s command (or lack thereof) of the strike-zone at the start of last season made all Jays fans a little nervous. Nobody wanted to see an arm like that go to waste. But with a fastball in the upper-90s and an archaic baseball scouting system where you could throw the ball 98MPH but 80 feet wide and still get drafted in the first round, Sanchez wasn’t going anywhere. 

He’s remains one of the top prospects and young talents in the game thanks to - if we are being honest - an oblique injury. Forced to come out of the rotation and rehab, Sanchez later rejoined the club as a reliever. And it was in that role that Sanchez really began to stand out. 

Actually, that’s where he’s always stood out.

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Sanchez has been candid this off-season when asked about his role, his training and his goal is to be starter. Blue Jays fans are also making it clear ...  they want him as a starter too.

Sure, that may seem rather obvious: Oh, stud young pitcher? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING WASTING HIM IN THE BULLPEN?

My dear friends, have we learnt nothing from Kansas City?

Look let’s be clear, if the guy can start then that’s great. I’m all for it. But taking an even slightly-lower quality Aaron Sanchez in the rotation is not something I’m willing to sacrifice. And, although I abhor the phrase, the numbers do speak for themselves:

In 2014, the year he was called up, Sanchez posted an ERA of 3.95 in 100 minor-league innings (split between AA New Hampshire and AAA Buffalo) almost all of which came as a starter. 

In the 33 innings he would log for the Blue Jays later that same year, he posted an ERA of 1.09 - all out of the bullpen.

Yes, that’s correct. He essentially lowered his ERA by three runs as a reliever, despite now facing MLB hitters.

In 2015 Sanchez was one of the key stories of Spring Training. The feeling was the same then as it is now, fans really want him to take that fifth spot. 

Last season Sanchez proceeded to make 11 starts (spanning 66 innings), going 5-4 with a 3.55 ERA and a WHIP of 1.44 - inflated largely by the boatload of free passes he gave up. In those 11 starts he walked 37 batters while striking out 42 (1.14 strikeouts for every walk).

After his injury and reassignment to the ‘pen, just like the previous season Sanchez’s numbers drastically improved.

He pitched in 30 more regular season games in 2015, now as a reliever (spanning 26.1 innings). His ERA out of the bullpen dropped to 2.39 - more than a full run lower than it was as a starter. He also posted a ridiculously good WHIP of 0.87.

He seemed to find the strike-zone more consistently in the second half as well, walking only 7 batters while striking-out 19 (2.71 strikeouts per walk).

Opponents batting average dropped from .242 as a starter to .178 as a reliever. Opponent SLG and OPS saw even more drastic dips. Furthermore, he allowed eight home runs as a starter, and only one as a reliever (he actually only allowed two extra-base hits).

And don’t even get me started about those absolute DARTS he was throwing in the playoffs.

But I am human too. I would love to see him go out there every fifth day and throw complete game shutouts, which he came close to doing once last year

So in conclusion this article has solved nothing. (He should probably start. Ah but maybe not!)

In any case, it does make for interesting Spring storyline, no?

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Follow Tyler and #Section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108