Wow, what a great game to come back to the blog with. If you didn’t know, last night Jonathan Sanchez pitched the first no-hitter of 2009 and the first Giants no-hitter since John Montefusco did it to the Braves in 1976. You’ll often hear sports fans and announcers say: ‘This game had it all’ but it’s rarely true. Well, this game had it all. A booming Sandoval home run, a gut-wrenching error in the 8th by Juan Uribe that took away the chance at a perfect game, and some 9th inning drama that included Aaron Rowand making a great catch against the CF wall to haul in the 2nd out of the inning.
After being demoted the bullpen, it was a game that Sanchez wasn’t even scheduled to pitch in. But a Randy Johnson injury gave Sanchez the opportunity to crack the starting rotation once more and it’s an opportunity that he took full advantage of. That’s one of the reasons baseball is so enjoyable for me — one minute you’re the goat, an under-performing left-hander with good stuff and the next minute you’re the hero. Sanchez hurled 9 innings of no-hit baseball that was punctuated by a career high 11 strikeouts.
Let’s dive into a few PFX numbers.
Note: The following pitch-types are pulled directly from MLBAM’s pitch classifications which aren’t always right. They largely look OK for this start. Sanchez doesn’t throw a 2-seamer to my knowledge and a few of the curveballs could have been sliders but, overall, it’s a decent bit of information.
|FF (4-seam Fastball)||74||92.3||7.39||9.73|
|FT (2-seam Fastball)||1||91.7||8.51||7.33|
From the velocity plot and the data table you can get a feel of what Sanchez was throwing in the game. To get an idea of just how good Sanchez’s fastball can be, look at the velocity plot. Until his 40th pitch on the night (or around the 4th inning) it’s all he threw. Just think about that for a second. Sanchez’s fastball is so good that he can cruise through the batting order once or twice before needing to mix in other pitches. By the 40th pitch on the night Sanchez started to mix in his slider which proved to be his best pitch on the night. Sanchez also threw a few curveballs and changeups, but for the most part he was a two-pitch pitcher with the fastball and slider. Another note about the fastball is that out-of-the-gate, he was touching 95 mph. Lefties that can throw with that type of velocity don’t grow on trees. By around the 40th pitch of the game his fastball settled into the 90-92 mph range.
For a pitcher with control problems (his BB/9 is still over 5 for this year) what’s one of the reasons that Sanchez had so much success?
Answer: He pounded the strike zone all night long.
This is a plot of all the pitches that Sanchez threw during the game. His arm-slot will still give him problems sometimes — causing him to miss up in the zone — but he was in the zone all night. Sometimes his arm-slot would give him a little trouble and he’d miss up, but by the next pitch he’d correct himself and get back into the strike zone. It’s a pretty remarkable graph for Sanchez. With his swing-and-miss stuff, if he can stay in the strike zone more he could be a very good pitcher. But, of course, you could say that about every pitcher with good stuff and control problems.
Let’s check out Sanchez’s movement by speed during the no-no.
This plot is sort of a combination of the data table and velocity graph. The red dashed circle indicates Sanchez’s fastballs, which because of his left-handedness, will move away from right-handed batters. Most of his fastballs were between 90-95 mph with a few reaching 95+ mph. Below that is the orange dashed circle which indicates the few changeups that Sanchez threw. And in the bottom left-hand section of the graph is the blue dashed circle or the sliders and curves that Sanchez threw. Again, because of his handedness these pitches will break away from left-handed batters and in on right-handers. The majority of Sanchez’s breaking stuff ranged between 80-85 mph with a few that dipped under 80 mph.
The slider was quite good for Sanchez. Actually, better than quite good — it was devastating. More often than not he kept the pitch down in the zone and the Padres just couldn’t hit it. 10 out of the 11 strikeouts that Sanchez collected were via the slider. Watching Sanchez, I can’t remember a time before when he slider was so “on”.
Wrapping up, it’s not too hard to see why Sanchez had such a great night. His fastball is good enough that he can get through a lineup a couple of times on nothing but the heater. But, if he’s controlling the slider like he was there’s not much else he needs to succeed as a starting pitcher in the majors. His changeup has always been scouted as a plus-pitch and if he can still work towards making that pitch a weapon for him, he’s going to be good. Of course, his control is always going to drive you mad some nights but no other pitcher in the Giants system near the major league level has the level of “stuff” that Sanchez has.
Hopefully the no-hitter is a big step in the right direction for Sanchez, but even it wasn’t, it was a hell of a game to pitch and one we’ll all be remembering for some time to come. I think the kid earned himself a few more starts.