There’s been a good bit of talk regarding Jonathan Sanchez floating around lately on the Internet and other various Giants fansites. The common thread seems to be split into two parts. First, is it time that the Giants gave up on Jonathan Sanchez as a starting pitcher. Second, why not move him back into the bullpen? I’ll tackle both of those questions today.
Sanchez Going Forward
After his 2008, Jonathan Sanchez had a lot of people excited for the possibilities of 2009. In his first full season as a starter, the left-hander showed promise with occasional dominance. Overall, Sanchez posted a 3.85 FIP in ’08 with some strong K-rates (8.94 K/9). His underlying performance suggested a pitcher with hard-to-hit stuff, but also with some control problems.
This season Sanchez has retained his ability to strike hitters out, posting an almost identical K/9 rate of 8.56 punch-outs per 9 innings. But, his control which was below-average in ’08 has worsened. Calling Sanchez’s control merely bad this season is an understatement. Of all starting pitchers in the MLB that have thrown at least 40 innings, Sanchez has the highest BB/9 of any other starter. His BB/9 of 6.60 clearly demonstrates that he’s had a hard time finding the zone consistently.
The question remains: What should the Giants do?
I’ll offer a simple response of “nothing”. Sanchez has been the kind of starter that will drive fans crazy, but pulling the plug on his career as a SP because of 47.1 clunky innings would be criminally short-sighted. Sanchez might never be able to hack it in a starter’s role, but you’ve got to give him every opportunity to pitch himself out of that role. As I noted above, the stuff is still there, the control hasn’t been. Sanchez won’t be able to survive by walking 6+ hitters every 9 innings, but he’s never been a control-oriented pitcher and his walk rates have never been this bad. Barring an injury, his true talent level for walks probably lies between 4-5 per 9 innings.
In the modern era, starting pitcher’s who have walked 4.5+ hitters per 9 innings while striking out 8+ per 9 innings have had some success. As a pitcher-type, it’s not out of the ordinary. Pitchers like: Mark Langston, Randy Johnson, Al Leiter, Nolan Ryan, Bartolo Colon, and Tom Gordon have all had seasons that fit this criteria. Some of these pitchers eventually took a step forward with their control — some didn’t — but if you’ve got above-average stuff, chances are you’ll be given the chance to stick around. Pulling the plug after 47.1 innings of inconsistency would be foolish. This brings me to my next point and our second question.
It’s easier to find a +2 win starter than it is to find a +2 win reliever. For example, in 2008 62 starting pitchers added +2 wins or more to their respective teams vs. just 10 relievers that added +2 wins or better. In order for a relief pitcher to produce as much as a starting pitcher a couple of things are going to have to happen. The relief pitcher is going to have to pitch in really high leverage situations and they are going to have to be lights out. A +2 win starter is Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, or Greg Maddux. A +2 win reliever is Joe Nathan, Kerry Wood, or Jonathan Broxton.
If the Giants pull Sanchez out of the rotation and move him into a non-closer’s relief role, they are punting 1-2 wins. Even in a somewhat poor start to the season, Sanchez has already added +0.5 wins. Brian Wilson has been worth +0.4 wins. Furthermore, the Giants lack the depth to pull Sanchez out of the rotation at the moment. Madison Bumgarner and Tim Alderson are moving through the minors quickly, but they are still a bit away from a full-time starting role. At AAA, Kevin Pucetas is quasi-interesting, but he doesn’t have the upside that Sanchez has and it’s doubtful that he would be an improvement.
When you consider Sanchez from a wins added perspective and a trade value perspective, leaving him in the rotation benefits the Giants on both ends. In order for Sanchez to be a viable trade chip, he’s going to have to make it as a starter or his value is diminished. If the Giants exhaust all efforts to let Sanchez prove himself in a SP capacity and he flunks, then by all means move him into a bullpen role or trade him, but until that’s happened, just let him pitch.
Give Sanchez another 100 innings, evaluate him again, and then go forward. At this point it’s way too early to pull him.
Comment Starter: What would you do with Sanchez?