Ace Analysis: Anibal Sanchez

As some of you may know, we were recently given the opportunity to post some of our columns on Fantrax (arguably the greatest custom fantasy site going).  I will expand the scope of these segments in order to try to make them relevant to more readers each week.  One feature will still analyze a commonly owned pitcher, but then I will take a more concise look at three or four possible waiver pick ups and weigh in on them.
All stats and ownership data are current as of 7/26.

Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers

Anibal Sanchez has a lot of value thanks to his 3.45 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, but his shrinking K rate has many owners wondering what they should do with him.  In our recent top 100 pitcher ranks, Sanchez checked in at 27th on the list. I had him 17th (too high), and Kevin had him ranked 59th (too low), but everyone else thought he belonged somewhere in the 20s. Y! writer Scott Pianowski just came out with his latest SP Shuffle Up and Deal. In it, Sanchez was listed as the 14th most valuable SP for the rest of the season.

Clearly Sanchez is a name brand pitcher than many fantasy enthusiasts would love to acquire for a late season run.  The question is, should you be a trade deadline buyer, or seller of Anibal?

2013

In 2013, Anibal Sanchez posted a 2.57 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 14 wins to go along with a K/9 of 9.99. He was one of the most productive fantasy aces in the game.  Although some owners were skeptical as to whether or not Sanchez would be able to repeat his fantastic success from a season ago, he was still a top 15 SP on many draft boards back in March. Some analysts, like Pianowski, are still high on Sanchez for the remainder if 2014.

Ks and BBs

For his career, Sanchez has had a K/9 of 7.90.  This year, he is only fanning 6.81 per 9 innings. 2013 certainly looks like the outlier here.  In 2013, Sanchez was able to generate a lot of whiffs on pitches in the strike zone.  A velocity spike along with increased use of his best strikeout pitch, the changeup, were the largest factors in that spike. His 2013 swinging strike rate of 12.4% was far and away a career best.

This season, the velocity has dropped back down close to where it was in 2012 and before.  Sanchez has also used his changeup less frequently than he has since 2010.  The result is a swinging strike rate of just 8.8%, which is Sanchez’s lowest since 2009.  Hitters are making contact in the strike zone, and they are making contact when they chase pitches outside the zone.  From a strikeout perspective, Sanchez simply is not the guy he was last season.

The good news is that Sanchez is only walking 6.2% of the batters he has faced, so despite the drastic reduction in Ks, he still has a K/BB rate of 3.00.  Sanchez does a great job getting ahead of batters and his pristine BB rate has become the norm for him.

Batted Ball Profile

Sanchez may not be getting the Ks, but he sure knows how to keep the ball in the yard.  Over the last two seasons, his HR/9 has been .45 and .34 respectively.  He has always done a pretty good job of limiting HRs, but his 2014 HR/FB rate of 3.6% is a little ridiculous. That number has to come up a little.

This season, Sanchez has also enjoyed a career best .270 BABIP, which is almost 30 points below his career average.  It could be that he is pitching to contact more and trading some swings and misses for weak contact, but his batted ball profile does not really support a .270 BABIP.  He has league average rates (19.9% LD, 44.8% GB, and 35.3 FB), so one would expect his BABIP to be near the league average of .300.  ERA regression close to his xFIP of 3.80 appears to be a reasonable projection for the rest of the season.

Recent Struggles

Over his last 6 starts, Anibal Sanchez has allowed 26 earned runs over a span of 37.1 innings.  His WHIP hasn’t been as terrible as you might expect (1.40) and he has managed 3 wins over that stretch, but with fewer Ks (22) than earned runs, some owners may be panicking a little.

Final Recommendations

Anibal Sanchez was so good last year, that many people still view him as a 2nd tier SP.  His recent numbers just don’t support that notion.  I think he is a good enough pitcher to deliver a neutral ERA and a positive WHIP, but the disappearance of the K severely limits his upside.  I am not predicting gloom and doom for Anibal, but at the current moment you will find some wildly divergent opinions on his value.  A savvy owner might be able to profit off of this uncertainty.

I think the correct rest of season SP ranking for Sanchez should fall somewhere between 25 and 30.  If I own Sanchez and can get another owner in my league to pay top 20 SP price, I am moving him, no questions asked. The ERA and WHIP are still sparkly enough that you might be able to get somebody to overpay a little.  On the flip side, if you don’t own him, try to find a subtle way to make sure that his owner is aware of Sanchez’s K situation and see if you can pry him away for a discount. Either way, there could be opportunity here.

Hot Waiver Wire Pickups

Odrisamer Despaigne, San Diego Padres

Despaigne is owned in 30% of Y! leagues, 27% of ESPN leagues and 54% of Fantrax leagues.

Perhaps no pitcher is hotter than the Cuban import Despaigne.  He has taken the NL by storm with a 1.66 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over his first 6 starts.  His bevy of offerings, with different arm angles and tons of movement have baffled hitters so far. Despaigne had been spectacular until his first rough outing on Saturday against the Braves.  He had a tough time locating his pitches in that one (5 BBs, 2 earned runs in 3.2 innings), but overall he has been a pleasant surprise.

Many owners are hesitant to add Despaigne because of his inability to generate Ks and the belief that once hitters figure him out, it won’t be pretty.  Despaigne’s K/BB ratio of 1.25 and his xFIP of 4.61 are not exactly a model for big league success. He throws more breaking balls than fastballs, and even his fastball is a cutter with lots of horizontal motion. All of his pitches have late movement, so that could explain why he has trouble finding the strike zone at times and also why hitters have a difficult time barreling him up.

While the control issues are understandable, his inability to get swings and misses is somewhat disconcerting.  Despaigne posted K rates of 37.5% and 24% in his two brief minor league stints and he has whiffed 15 batters in his last 18.2 major league innings.  The potential is there for Despaigne, but he will not continue to be successful unless he can improve that K/BB ratio. He can’t rely on a BABIP near .200 forever.

The final question is whether or not Despaigne will be able to stick in the rotation for the rest of the season.  There are a lot of variables in play here.  Cashner will return from injury shortly and he and Ross are locks to stay in the rotation.  Kennedy will be there as long as he is in a Padre uniform, but there is a chance he gets dealt away at the deadline.  Stults is the lone lefty currently in the rotation, but Robbie Erlin is due back in the next couple weeks to further muddy up the waters. In a best case scenario, Kennedy gets traded and either Erlin or Stults gets left out of the rotation.  The most likely case, however, leaves the Padres choosing between Despaigne and Hahn for their final rotation spot or even optioning both to AAA.

I like Despaigne as a short-term matchup play, but I certainly would not drop anybody of value to get him. There is a lot that can go wrong here.

Brandon McCarthy, New York Yankees

McCarthy is owned in 19% of Y! leagues, 14% of ESPN leagues and 47% of Fantrax leagues.

As Rob Adams has mentioned numerous times, Brandon McCarthy has been victimized by some pretty horrendous luck this season.  He has an ERA of 4.35 and a WHIP of 1.35 despite the fact that his xFIP sits at 3.77 and his SIERA is just 3.03.  McCarthy has always been a solid pitcher, but this season he is striking out a career high 20.3% of batter faced. It used to be that his lack of Ks was the reason that many owners chose to overlook McCarthy.  Not anymore.  How often can you find a starter with a 4.78 K/BB ratio sitting on the free agent list at this point in the season?

The primary culprits in those bloated ERA and WHIP numbers are an insanely high BABIP of .343 and an even more ridiculous HR/FB of 17.8%.  While it is not unreasonable for a pitcher who gives up line drives at a 23% clip and also sports a 54.6% ground ball rate to have an above average BABIP, this is just too much. For McCarthy’s career, his BABIP is under .300.

As for the HR rate, McCarthy is too good at keeping the ball on the ground to continue to allow so many HRs. 11 of the 16 he has allowed so far have occurred either in Arizona or Colorado, so at least he can avoid those hitter havens for the rest of the season.  McCarthy does struggle vs. lefties and Yankee stadium does have the short porch in right field so you may want to avoid some matchups, but overall one has to think that moving from Arizona to New York is a positive.  The early returns certainly look good, as McCarthy is 2-0 with only 3 earned runs allowed in 18.2 innings since the trade.

McCarthy looks like a must add to me.  I know the AL East can be scary, but he is pitching much better than his numbers indicate. His next start is lined up for Tuesday at Texas.  If you aren’t bold enough to stick him in your lineup for that one, at least let him watch from the comforts of your bench.

Deep League Special

Brad Hand, Miami Marlins

Hand is owned in 1% of Y! leagues, less than 1% of ESPN leagues and 8% of Fantrax leagues.

Brad Hand is never going to be confused with a fantasy ace, but he could prove useful in those ultra deep leagues.  In his last two starts (both wins), he has allowed just 2 earned runs in 14.1 innings with a WHIP of .85. Over his last 5 starts since being reinserted into the rotation, he has been solid, allowing just 8 earned runs with a 1.28 WHIP over 29.2 innings.

Hand is going to hurt owners in the WHIP category and he is not going to get a ton of Ks, but he is capable of helping owners get some cheap innings.  He currently sports a K/9 pf 6.04, a 1.50 K/BB ratio, a 4.19 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. In other words, there is a reason why he is so widely available.  The upside though, is that Hand has been able to outpitch his ERA indicators at pretty much every step of the way in both the minors and the majors.  While he certainly allows his share of baserunners, Hand does not give up too many HRs and his batted ball profile is very close to league average in terms of ground ball and fly ball rates.

Hand is not going to win anybody their league, but a pitcher of his ability level could be an asset in NL only and super deep leagues.  He is less harmful than many pitchers who are more widely owned. If you are in need, take a look at the Hand.

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel

2 thoughts on “Ace Analysis: Anibal Sanchez”

  1. The drop in strikeouts is one thing re Sanchez, but his tendency to start falling apart toward the end of his starts recently is also a bit disconcerting. Last night, Joakim Soria sure didn’t do his line any favors, but either way, his ERA is starting to climb, and I wonder if it’s not because batters are developing a better game plan the more times through the lineup.

    As regards the others, I agree on Despaigne: probably a short-term play, and don’t drop anyone of value. Also on Hand, yeah, I’m likely not touching except in deeper leagues. Brandon McCarthy, I think, is the real interesting pitcher here, especially given those numbers you’ve provided. We’ll just have to see about the home runs in Yankee Stadium, whether they continue to come or not. Good stuff, as usual.

  2. Thanks Joe!

    I am thinking that the trouble late in starts could be related to the K issue. Last season, when Sanchez got two strikes on a hitter, they were heading back to the dugout shortly there after. The inability to put those hitters away can affect a pitcher’s pitch count and will certainly wear on him mentally as well.

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