2016 Blue Jays Season Review: Aaron Sanchez
By: Jay Blue and @JaysGirlEmily
Blue Jays From Away
Now that the season is over, the crew at Blue Jays from Away will take a look at the Blue Jays one by one and review how each player’s season went, whether he met expectations (or not) and look at how he fits into (what we think of) the Blue Jays’ plans going forward.
One of the Blue Jays’ big questions in spring training was whether or not Aaron Sanchez would be a starter in 2016. If he was going to be a starter, when would he be sent to the bullpen to preserve his arm? While the front office dickered, Sanchez let his pitching do the talking, earning an All-Star berth and coming in seventh in the AL in Cy Young Award voting.
Sanchez earned a starter’s role right out of the gate with a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings in spring training in which he walked just three batters and struck out 19. Continuing to prove that his improved control wasn’t just a spring training miracle, he walked 10 batters in April, throwing 31 1/3 innings while striking out 29 and going 2-1. In May, he continued to pitch well, despite a bit of a blip in his ERA to 3.93 but he went 4-0 in June with a 2.72 ERA and 11 walks and 38 strikeouts in 39 2/3 innings.
While Sanchez’s strikeouts dropped in July (to just 22 Ks in 34 innings), he was at his most dominant, allowing just a .482 OPS against with a 1.59 ERA and a WHIP just about 0.80. Sanchez regressed a bit in August and September as the Blue Jays were managing his innings.
When all was said and done, Sanchez made 30 starts, going 15-2 (his .882 winning percentage led the AL) with a league-leading 3.00 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He kept the ball in the park like no one else (0.7 HR/9 innings) while lowering his walk rate to a very respectable 3.0 BB/9. Sanchez threw 192 innings in the regular season, striking out 20.4% of batters and walking 8.0% and getting an incredible 54.4% ground-ball rate and was worth 3.9 wins above replacement (according to Fangraphs).
Sanchez was better away from home than he was at the Rogers Centre (to the tune of a .588 OPS on the road vs. a .676 OPS at home) and he was, understandably, better against right-handed batters (.592 OPS) than left-handed (.657 OPS) although everyone struggled against him.
Sanchez made two starts in the post-season, getting rocked by the Texas Rangers in his first start, giving up six runs in 5 2/3 innings, including two home runs but was strong against Cleveland, picking up the win with six innings of one-run ball, allowing just two hits and two walks with five strikeouts.
Overall, this was Aaron Sanchez’s breakout as the pitcher the Blue Jays had always hoped he would be when they held on to him after trading Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard.
Sanchez finished the year short of enough service time to qualify as a “Super-Two” candidate for arbitration. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2018.
Heading into 2016, it was a question in the Blue Jays organization whether the fifth rotation spot would go to Gavin Floyd or Aaron Sanchez. Thirty starts later, Sanchez would have the lowest ERA among starters in the American League, a 3.00, and come in 7th in Cy Young award voting.
Sanchez threw seven innings of one-run ball in Tampa Bay in his first start on April 5th. He allowed five hits (one home run), struck out eight and walked nobody. He took a no-decision due to the bullpen allowing two runs in the 8th in a 3-2 Blue Jays loss.
His first win came two starts later in Boston, when he allowed one run on just two hits, again in seven innings. His April ERA in five starts was 2.59 over 31.1 innings. He tallied 29 strikeouts, compared to ten walks. His excellent April was marred by one outing in which he allowed six earned runs over 4.1 innings. He gave up one earned run or fewer in the other four.
In May, he had an ERA of 3.93 in 34.1 innings, going seven innings deep three times. He had one rough outing on the 15th when the Rangers tagged him for six runs on seven hits in 6.2 innings. In June, he had a 2.72 ERA in six outings.
His worst was one where the Orioles had four home runs and six runs total off him, and one of his best was an eight-inning, six-hit one-run affair in Colorado. June was his highest month for strikeouts, with 38.
Sanchez turned 24 at the beginning of July, which would be his best month. He had a 1.59 ERA, an opponent’s average of .176, and just one home run allowed in five starts. Three of his starts went to seven innings, one to eight, and one lasted just five. He allowed just three hits each in two of his starts, had one without a walk, and one seven-inning shutout.
It was announced in July that he was named to the all-star team for the first time in his career. He pitched one inning of the ASG in San Diego, allowing two hits and one run. Sanchez had an 11-1 record entering August. With the acquisition of Francisco Liriano, the Blue Jays began a system of a six-man rotation in order to reduce Sanchez’s workload without having to send him to the bullpen.
He had a 3.91 ERA in four August starts, and had his second loss of the season. In order to lessen his workload further, he was sent to the minor league team in Dunedin for ten days at the end of August. In September he started four games, had a 4.37 ERA over 22.2 innings. His worst start was a 6-run, 3.2-inning affair on the 11th. He also threw a pair of 1-run 6-inning starts. He didn’t allow more than five hits in any of his games.
His final regular-season start was October 2nd in Boston. He took a no-hitter into the 7th inning before a two-out Hanley Ramirez home run that was barely inside the foul line. Sanchez held the Red Sox to just two hits and two walks, and the Jays would go on to win the game. His season-long WHIP was 1.17, his K/BB ratio was 2.56 and he averaged 7.55 strikeouts per nine innings.
Sanchez started Game 3 of the ALDS, earning a no-decision after 5.2 innings with six earned runs on three hits (two home runs) and four walks allowed. He also threw ALCS Game 4, the lone game the Blue Jays won in the Championship series. He allowed one run in six innings, two hits, walked two and struck out five. His postseason ERA was 5.40 and his WHIP was 0.94.
Regular Season Grades