As fellow Giants blogger Grant of McCovey Chronicles reminds us, there’s a good reason why the Giants held onto Jonathan Sanchez and never sold low on his upside. His start last night against the Dodgers — 7 innings, 2 earned runs (1 earned), 12 strikeouts, 0 walks — was simply brilliant. Sanchez has pitched a career high 176.2 innings this year and has shown no signs of slowing down. His walk-rate per 9 innings (4.33) is entirely respectable for a pitcher that sometimes struggles to find the strike zone.
The main reason the Giants never sold low on Sanchez? His strikeout rate. He’s always missed bats but for the first couple of years in his career the Giants yo-yo’d him back and forth between starter and reliever, delaying his progress as a starter. He was fantastic in the minor leagues for Augusta in 2005. In that year he started 25 games and averaged 11.9 strikeouts per 9 innings. The fantastic K-rate hinted at a much greater potential than just a bullpen reliever. However, the Giants used Sanchez primarily as a reliever between 2006-2007. In 2008, Sanchez was moved back into the starter’s role with pretty good success. Ignoring his 5.01 ERA — because ERA is something we should ignore — his underlying numbers (3.85 FIP, 8.94 K/9) showed something very promising.
I’ll give the Giants credit that they stuck with Sanchez. He has the reputation as an inconsistent pitcher, but his ability to strikeout batters from the left-side is undeniable and rare.
If we look back through the franchise at lefty starters (min. 150 innings pitched per season, 60% of innings must be from SP, 1901-2010) we get the following leaderboard for best strikeout rates for a southpaw in a single season.
* A quick note: If we were being uber-nerds, we would also look at the league average K/9 for each of these seasons, but since most of the players are modern, it’s not a big deal. However, notice #5 Rube Marquard. His K/9 of 7.68 in 1911 is absolutely bonkers. The league average K/9 for pitchers in 1911 working in the National League was 3.9 strikeouts per 9. Rube — great name — was punching out hitters in 1911 like an above-average starter in modern baseball. That’s just amazing.
Jonathan Sanchez lays claim to the top 3 spots on our list for best K/9 rates for LHP starters on the Giants. So, yeah, this kind of stuff from a left-hander doesn’t come around often. Even with the inconsistency, Sanchez is still a 2-3 win pitcher in the course of most “normal” seasons and for that, he’s highly valuable. I think he’s a great example of sometimes you just have to give a player with “good stuff” a lot of chances. Thankfully for the Giants, Sanchez has taken full advantage of his chances.