More Thoughts On Jonathan Sanchez


By now, you’ve heard the news that the Royals have traded Melky Cabrera to the Giants for lefty Jonathan Sanchez.

My initial reaction was excitement. I can’t tell you if that was due to a trade being made or for the content of the trade itself. It was just a reaction. On first glance, it looks like the Royals have traded an average hitter following a career year for a left-handed starter with hints of domination who might be an adjustment or two from being a breakout performer.

The Royals didn’t rip off the Giants, nor did the Giants rip off the Royals. With a glut of outfielders capable of playing at the big league level – I’m thinking of Lorenzo Cain (who stands to benefit most from the trade), David Lough, Mitch Maier and perhaps Jarrod Dyson – and in need of pitching, the move makes sense for the Royals. Melky isn’t the best defender, not the most patient hitter, but he performed admirably in 2011. Sanchez has always had his warts. He walks quite a lot of batters but also strikes out a lot.

Upon further thought, it’s an even deal I think for both teams.

But what about Sanchez? What kind of pitcher is he, and what can Royals fans expect from him?

Since 2006, only Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum have a higher K/9 than Sanchez.

Last year, Royals pitchers struck out 6.7 batters per nine innings, just below the American League average of 6.9.

Strikeouts aren’t a guarantee of success, but in 2011, every team that won 90 or more games (Boston, Tampa, Detroit, New York and Texas) struck out more than the league average per nine innings. The Angels were the only team that finished above .500 but below the league’s K/9 average. My thought is that a strikeout records an out without the ball going into play, and if the ball isn’t in play, it can’t be a hit. Simple idea, but again it’s no guarantee. In this case, I don’t think it will hurt. The Royals were lead by Felipe Paulino in 2011, who struck out 8.6 batters per nine in 20 starts for the Royals. Danny Duffy, with 7.4 K/9 was next and other than Kyle Davies at 7.3 K/9 (remember what I just said about K/9 being no guarantee for success?), no other Royals starter  had even 6 K/9.

In Sanchez’s case, he misses bats, resulting both in strikeouts and lower hit rates. The trade off is that he walks more than you’d want to see from a key starter. The Royals are gambling that they can get Sanchez back down closer to 4 BB/9 while maintaining his strikeout rate.

Sanchez likes to use his fastball and changeup to set up his slider as an out pitch. According to FanGraphs, he has thrown his fastball (which sits around 91 mph) 67% of the time, mixing in the change 20% of the time and the slider about 18% of the time (with a mish-mash of “who knows how PitchFX categorized that pitch” for the remainder). Sanchez rarely throws his slider unless he’s ahead or even in the count. Throughout his career, with 0-1 counts, the slider makes an appearance 17% of the time. That’s the highest percentage of any count that doesn’t involve two strikes. However, when the count gets to two strikes, he throws it regularly.

After that second strike, he breaks out the slider 39% of the time (0-2 counts), 42% of the time (1-2 counts), 29% of the time (2-2 counts) and 10% of the time (3-2 counts). It seems he trusts the pitch when he needs it but will rely on his other stuff to set it up.

It’s a gamble worth taking. Sanchez can be dominant for stretches, and has thrown a no-hitter in his career. Even with his high walk rates, his career K/BB ratio is 1.96; generally 2.00 and above is good enough for most starters. With his ability to miss bats, Sanchez somewhat alleviates the batters he puts on the walk (though the opposite is true, as his walkrate takes the shine off his H/9).

The Royals took a gamble on Gil Meche before the 2007 season and he was a very capable #2 starter for a couple of years until Trey Hillman turned his shoulder into pudding. Sanchez has a similar ceiling.

Considering the internet was abuzz with rumors of Wil Myers – to – Atlanta rumors all of last week, giving up Melky Cabrera for a starter with potential isn’t a bad deal at all. Cabrera’s career OPS+ is 93; Sanchez’s career ERA+ is 97. Both have had erratic values in those categories and the net takeaway is that they’re on the cusp of being better than average (when adjusted for the league and ballpark, as OPS+ and ERA+ do):

Additionally, the Royals received minor league left-hander Ryan Verdugo.

According to Hank Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants had asked about Melky at the trading deadline in July and now, with a deal coming together, the Royals specifically sought out Verdugo as a piece.

Verdugo is another lefty who misses bats. As a minor leaguer, he’s put up 11.1 K/9. His track record reminds me of what Tim Collins had done prior to joining the Royals organization in July 2010. High strikeouts with similarly high walks. Verdugo will be 25 shortly after the season starts and hasn’t pitched above Double A, so it will be interesting to see how he responds to Triple A competition (as he’s been assigned to Omaha after the trade). He may be an option out of the bullpen next year too.

Dayton Moore has seemed to go out of his way to get intriguing toss-ins when making trades. Will Smith, who may be another lefty vying for action this year in Kansas City, was a toss-in. So was Elisaul Pimentel who has been on many prospect ranking lists. Collins himself seemed a bit tacked onto the package of Jesse Chavez and Gregor Blanco when coming over from the Braves.

Dave Eiland, newly hired as pitching coach, will have his hands full, but if he can rein in Sanchez’s control, the Royals will have a strong starter in place with hopes that Felipe Paulino and Luke Hochevar step up, while prospects like Aaron Crow, Danny Duffy and Mike Montgomery look to compete for rotation spots.

And who knows – the Royals may not be done dealing yet.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Jonathan Sanchez Kansas City Royals KC KC Royals Melky Cabrera MLB Royals Ryan Verdugo

  • benjammin9287

    Nice article Michael. Nice chart, and good analysis on the “throw-in” players that moore always tries to get in every trade. That is definitely an Atl thing. Lumsden, Marks, and Volz come to mind as well. If you always ask for a “throw-in” and do your homework, a few will pan out rather well. A good policy to have.

  • benjammin9287

    I meant Cortes from the McDougle trade not Lumsden. I think the latter was the main part of his trade rather than a throw in. Hell I cant remember.

  • benjammin9287

    Nice article Michael. Nice chart, and good analysis on the “throw-in” players that moore always tries to get in every trade. That is definitely an Atl thing. Lumsden, Marks, and Volz come to mind as well. If you always ask for a “throw-in” and do your homework, a few will pan out rather well. A good policy to have.

  • benjammin9287

    I meant Cortes from the McDougle trade not Lumsden. I think the latter was the main part of his trade rather than a throw in. Hell I cant remember.

  • michael.allen.engel

    @benjammin9287

    Yep, Justin Marks is a name I forgot about, but he’s looking like a nice find, and you’re right – Lumsden was the “target” in that deal, and Cortes developed to be the better prospect.

    I think Dayton must be good at figuring out where the big parts of a trade are working for a club, then asking for that toss-in. My only real comparison is to fantasy football or baseball where I’m talking trade with someone and have a sleeper in mind and try to get a trade that includes him somehow. If nothing else, it adds another lottery ticket that we might get lucky with and adds depth. It’s happened often enough with Moore that it’s not a coincidence either. He’s got it as a part of his negotiating checklist.

  • michael.allen.engel

    @benjammin9287

    Yep, Justin Marks is a name I forgot about, but he’s looking like a nice find, and you’re right – Lumsden was the “target” in that deal, and Cortes developed to be the better prospect.

    I think Dayton must be good at figuring out where the big parts of a trade are working for a club, then asking for that toss-in. My only real comparison is to fantasy football or baseball where I’m talking trade with someone and have a sleeper in mind and try to get a trade that includes him somehow. If nothing else, it adds another lottery ticket that we might get lucky with and adds depth. It’s happened often enough with Moore that it’s not a coincidence either. He’s got it as a part of his negotiating checklist.

  • jim fetterolf

    @michael.allen.engel@benjammin9287 Moore’s throw-ins are part of his method for taking what had been the weakest system in the game and turning it into one of the strongest. While we fans tend to only see the top prospects as inhabitants of the minors, there are more than 100 other guys there that contribute and some of them work their way up to compete with the #1 picks or even become productive major leaguers. Mendoza and Teaford come to mind, long-shots who reached the bigs before Monty and won some games and will now be competing with Monty for a rotation slot.

  • michael.allen.engel

    @jim fetterolf@benjammin9287 I have this weird hunch about Teaford next year. I don’t know why. Thinking he’s gonna surprise some people.

  • jim fetterolf

    @michael.allen.engel@benjammin9287 Moore’s throw-ins are part of his method for taking what had been the weakest system in the game and turning it into one of the strongest. While we fans tend to only see the top prospects as inhabitants of the minors, there are more than 100 other guys there that contribute and some of them work their way up to compete with the #1 picks or even become productive major leaguers. Mendoza and Teaford come to mind, long-shots who reached the bigs before Monty and won some games and will now be competing with Monty for a rotation slot.

  • michael.allen.engel

    @jim fetterolf@benjammin9287 I have this weird hunch about Teaford next year. I don’t know why. Thinking he’s gonna surprise some people.

  • benjammin9287

    @michael.allen.engel@jim fetterolf totally agreed. Teabag is my sleeper. I hope he gets a serious look. If Moore goes with a cheap 1 yr vet like a zambrano, or even Chen, he probably doesnt. That would be unfortunate. On the other hand, we will definitely need more than 5 starters. I just hope they (we) dont pay for something we already have.

  • michael.allen.engel

    @benjammin9287@jim fetterolf Yeah, we’re likely to need more starters at some point…there’s always SOS/Mazzaro/Adcock if need be…along with Monty if he’s ready.

    I’m not opposed to getting Zambrano IF the Cubs eat most of his contract AND we give up no more than say, Derrick Robinson or something. Anyone who would end up in a top 30, prospect-wise, nah. Especially if the Cubs won’t chip in on the joke of a contract they have him on (if they ate 15 million he’d be cheap, haha) – but he’s been a frontline starter in the past and I think might be one of those guys that if there’s a change in scenery and good attitudes and energy around him, he could do well.

  • benjammin9287

    @michael.allen.engel@jim fetterolf totally agreed. Teabag is my sleeper. I hope he gets a serious look. If Moore goes with a cheap 1 yr vet like a zambrano, or even Chen, he probably doesnt. That would be unfortunate. On the other hand, we will definitely need more than 5 starters. I just hope they (we) dont pay for something we already have.

  • michael.allen.engel

    @benjammin9287@jim fetterolf Yeah, we’re likely to need more starters at some point…there’s always SOS/Mazzaro/Adcock if need be…along with Monty if he’s ready.

    I’m not opposed to getting Zambrano IF the Cubs eat most of his contract AND we give up no more than say, Derrick Robinson or something. Anyone who would end up in a top 30, prospect-wise, nah. Especially if the Cubs won’t chip in on the joke of a contract they have him on (if they ate 15 million he’d be cheap, haha) – but he’s been a frontline starter in the past and I think might be one of those guys that if there’s a change in scenery and good attitudes and energy around him, he could do well.

  • jim fetterolf

    @michael.allen.engel@benjammin9287 D Rob would work for Zambrano, or even an excess reliever, then use Big Z to eat some innings, give him a chance to resurrect his career while Monty, JaKKKe, and Dwyer develop, then flip him at the deadline for some prospects, kind of what we hoped for with Francis. The Z Man and Sanchez would both be good placeholders that could net a decent return in July when a couple of the kids are ready to follow the Duffy track to KC.

  • jim fetterolf

    @michael.allen.engel@benjammin9287 D Rob would work for Zambrano, or even an excess reliever, then use Big Z to eat some innings, give him a chance to resurrect his career while Monty, JaKKKe, and Dwyer develop, then flip him at the deadline for some prospects, kind of what we hoped for with Francis. The Z Man and Sanchez would both be good placeholders that could net a decent return in July when a couple of the kids are ready to follow the Duffy track to KC.

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