Starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez found himself in the heat of trade rumors this past week. The former top prospect went from being a member of a top rotation with the Toronto Blue Jays to sporting new colors on July 31st.
The 27-year-old was a Cy Young Award top-seven vote getter in 2016, but fast forward to 2019, Sanchez was a potential designated-for-assignment candidate. Now with the Houston Astros, Aaron Sanchez is looking to turn his career around with the best analytics department in Major League Baseball, like they did with Collin McHugh in 2014.
You could look at his stats from 2014 to 2016 and see season earned run averages that range from 1.09 to 3.22. Entering tonight, Sanchez owns a 6.07 ERA, while allowing 15 home runs and 4.7 walks-per-nine-innings.
When the former first rounder earned the call up to the big leagues in 2014, he was used as a reliever. Same deal in 2015 before he became a full-time starter later in the season. But, if he impressed in his sole all-star season of 2016, then why would he be struggling from 2017 to today?
It's due to his over usage of his four-seam fastball that is the issue - the pitch that Sanchez is throwing 29% of the time. Batters are getting on-base 41% of the time in 2019 when his fastball is thrown. The spin rate of Sanchez fastball is 2,297 rpm and falls in the 54th percentile among qualified major league pitchers this season, This suggests that his fastball is quite mediocre and is pretty hittable.
During his two-year stint as a reliever, Sanchez rarely used his fastball. Instead, he often relied on his sinker to bail him out of trouble, and it worked. Batters hit .146 against it in 2014, when he used 77% of the time. As his career progressed, Sanchez began throwing the sinker much less, which would suggest that this is the reason why Sanchez has become less effective. His sinker is considered to be above average and when used, batters tend to launch the ball at a five-degree angle or less, which means that hitters typically ground out when hit.
Sanchez's sinker happen to be the one of the most impressive around baseball when he was reliever - possibly better than New York Mets' pitcher Noah Syndergaard. He was throwing it by hitters at 98 mph, rather than 93 mph in 2019.
However, to be successful in 2019, a reliever needs to develop two great pitches. Sanchez has an excellent curveball, and when I say excellent, I mean it. It's one of the nastiest pitches in Major League Baseball. Sanchez's curveball spin rate ranks in the 94th percentile at 2,875 rpm. When thrown, the curveball drops 60 inches - that is five inches more than the league average. Sanchez tends to strike batters out when he throws the curveball below the strike zone closer to the right batter's box to all hitters.
Aaron Sanchez will continue to struggle in the majors if he does not eliminate his fastball, especially at Minute Maid park, which ranks in the top-ten most home run friendly ballparks. Seven of the 15 home runs allowed in 2019 by Sanchez were by fastballs and he pitched at the Rogers' Centre - one of the most pitcher friendly ballparks in baseball!
Overall, the Astros NEED to make Aaron Sanchez a two-pitch pitcher - sinkers and curveballs only. This strategy, if implemented, would not be the first time Houston has conducted this methodology with one of their starters-turned-relievers. Lance McCullers Jr. predominately used his curveball in the 2017 postseason and look where that took him that season and his team.
The Astros may have viewed Sanchez as a fifth starter entering August, but I can promise you that Sanchez will dominant in the postseason, if and when he comes out of the bullpen.