Aaron Sanchez and the unavoidable Kyle Drabek comparison



By Nick Ashbourne

Canadian Baseball Network

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

In that sentence "probably" is the most important and most commonly forgotten word. As a result, in the world of sports, writers, analysts and scouts remain addicted to comparisons that equate player A to player B. 

A short second baseman with surprising pop like Devon Travis is the next Dustin Pedroia. A Cuban outfielder with loud tools is the next Yasiel Puig. A pitcher is often said to possess a "Kershaw curveball" or a "King Felix changeup".

Putting things in these terms is understandable. There is value in making a point more relatable or easier to visualize for an audience. However, an ill-conceived comparison can also be lazy or misleading. It is often a seductive shortcut to a description that sacrifices accuracy for ease of understanding.

For this reason straight 1-to-1 comparisons are generally best left alone. However, there is a parallel hovering around the Blue Jays right now that seems unavoidable: the fact that Aaron Sanchez has looked an awful lot like Kyle Drabek in his time a starter.

Consider some of the surface similarities. Both pitchers were prized prospects. Drabek was ranked in Baseball America's top 100 twice (25th in 2009 and 29th in 2010) while Sanchez made the list three times (65th in 2012, 32nd in 2013 and 27th in 2014). Each right-hander also features a fastball with extraordinary movement as hard for hitters to square up as it is to keep in the strike zone. 

In their own ways each was hand-picked by the Jays in a major deal. Drabek was selected to be the centrepiece of the Roy Halladay trade while Sanchez was chosen by the team as the one member of the "Lansing Three" they wanted to keep out of the Marlins blockbuster.

Watching Sanchez can also bring back Drabek flashbacks because of the way he tantalizes with raw stuff, but often beats himself with poor command. Although he has looked better in recent starts, he is still liable to miss the strike zone by a mile with a heater or leave Russell Martin chasing a curveball in the dirt at any time.

Equally compelling to the anecdotes are the numbers. Sanchez's 10 starts in 2015 look an awful lot like Drabek's first 10 starts of 2012 on paper.

Player IP Wins Losses K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Groundball % ERA FIP
Kyle Drabek (2012) 55.1 4 5 6.83 6.01 1.47 56.4% 4.55 5.70
Aaron Sanchez (2015) 58 4 4 6.05 5.74 1.09 57.8% 3.88 5.34

Drabek did have a bigger problem with the long ball, but other than that he performed pretty similarly to Sanchez. It's easy to point to the latter's superior ERA, but he has been very lucky on that front.

This season Sanchez has left the game with 15 runners on base. Only two have come around to score. If his bullpen had not been picking him up at a remarkable rate his ERA would likely be very similar to Drabek's 2012 number.

None of this is to say that Sanchez is doomed to share Drabek's fate and find himself toiling in the minor leagues any time soon. Regardless of their similarities they also have their fair share of differences.

Sanchez has already proven he can be a force out of the bullpen even if he doesn't work as a starter, which puts a pretty high floor on his value. Drabek never looked dominant above the Double-A level.

The Jays rookie has also been younger at every level than his counterpart. Sanchez is currently 22 and at that age Drabek played the vast majority of his season in New Hampshire. There is plenty of time for Sanchez to improve his command-even if it might never be a strength for him.

On a more basic level Sanchez throws harder than Drabek ever did. The now 27-year-old lived in the early-to-mid 90s, but he was never a world-class fireballer like Sanchez. Fastball velocity is not everything, but it does give a pitcher a larger margin for error, something the 22-year-old will need if control continues to be a problem for him.

The Sanchez-Drabek comparison has some validity, but not enough to assume one will follow the other's path. One component of that will be whether he's lucky enough to avoid the injury trouble that befell Drabek and played a major role in his inability to thrive at the big league level.

It is fair to say they are not altogether dissimilar talents, but Sanchez's youth, elite fastball, and intimidating presence out of the bullpen could make the thought of putting the two in the same sentence seem blasphemous in the years to come.

Unfortunately for Blue Jays fans, it's not quite unthinkable just yet.