Assertion #1: Jonathan Sanchez can be frustrating to watch pitch.
Assertion #2: Jonathan Sanchez has poor control.
Assertion #3: Jonathan Sanchez has an above-average pitching skill.
Assertion #4: Jonathan Sanchez can still be a useful starting pitcher.
Assertion #5: People probably freak out way too much over Jonathan Sanchez.
Discussing Jonathan Sanchez’s career sometimes feels like banging your head against the wall; he’s been a topic of debate with his, what I’ll term, inconsistent performances, and potential high-upside that always seems just-out-of-reach. Since 2009, Sanchez has had a somewhat promising year (2009); an above-average season (2010); and a complete disaster year (2011). There’s no doubt that Sanchez has a skill that tends to get your attention (striking out batters), but it’s often paired with a complete inability to throw strikes. Over his career (118 career games stared) the lefty has struck out at least 10 batters in seven different games, culminating with a career high 12 strikeout game in 2010. He’s also had 19 career games in which he’s walked five batters or more. That pretty much sums him up, I think.
The talent, as they say, is there waiting to be refined. And yet, what a frustrating talent it can be. I could very well be a strikeout fetishist, but Sanchez seems likely to enter 2012 as candidate for the Giants’ rotation.
Brief side note: 2012 will be the last year that the Giants control Sanchez through arbitration. He earned $4.8M this year and it’s likely that his salary will remain around $5-6M — possibly closer to $5M. I have a hard time thinking he’ll get much of a raise, but the idea that Sanchez is a useful trade piece is wishful thinking. Any team that chooses to trade for Sanchez does so with the understanding that, 1) They’ll only control him for one year, and 2) They are trading for him at a time when his value might be the lowest its ever been.
Why should the Giants consider Sanchez as a starting pitcher in the 2012 rotation? Primarily, two reasons:
1. The alternatives are uninspiring. Candidates for the last spot in the rotation include Barry Zito and Eric Surkamp. How Vogelsong pitches in 2012 is a wild card, too. For all the amazing pitching the team has in the Lincecum-Cain-Bumgarner trio, the Giants (like most teams) could use the pitching depth. I think Surkamp can be better than what we saw in the majors, but it’s clear that he could use a little time in AAA before moving back into the majors.
A graph on point number two:
The data table (weighted raw totals and percentages based on a simple 5/4/3 weighted average):
The idea of a weighted average means that we are going to place more weight (emphasis) on more recent performances. From the bar graph you can see that Sanchez’s ability to strikeout batters is nearly unmatched among starters on the Giants. Sanchez has struck out nearly a quarter of the batters he’s faced over the past three years. Only Tim Lincecum has struck out more batters. Of course the downside with Sanchez is also easily apparent — he has trouble throwing strikes. He’s the only other pitcher in our group (besides Zito) to post a double-digit walk-rate.
That walk-rate is what will keep Sanchez from developing into a top of the line pitcher, but I’d wager that in most years he could post a 1.5-2 WAR performance; for a 5th starter, essentially, that’s good depth to have hanging around. And as I talked about in point number one, his company is uninspiring. I think we’ve probably seen the last days of “League Average Zito” and Surkamp, as mentioned above, needs more time in the minors.
So, the choice might be Sanchez, but it’s not much of a choice right now. In the end, Sanchez might be more Oliver Perez than Randy Johnson, but for the Giants, they’ve got one more year to find out. I’ll always take the shot at upside.