A New Jonathan Sanchez Strategy (From The Past)

Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Jonathan Sanchez (57) delivers a pitch against the Cleveland Indians during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

One of the most overused lines in amateur player evaluation: "If (pitcher) figures out how to throw strikes, he can be a Cy Young contender." You can use the same logic for anything.

"If Freddy Galvis had 30-homer power, he'd be a heckuva prospect."
"If Willie McGee looked like Denzel Washington, he probably would have won another MVP and/or Oscar."

It's a seductive way to think about young pitchers, though. The stuff's there. The strikeouts are there. The only thing keeping the young pitcher from being Pedro Martinez in his prime is that pesky, pesky control. It's like looking at a list of winning lotto numbers after the drawing. Dang, you mean, all I had to do was write those six numbers on a slip of paper?

Pesky, pesky control. And no pitcher embodies the if-he-only-had-control pitcher better than Jonathan Sanchez. Because when he's good, he's exceptional:

In the middle of that montage, you'll notice that Kevin Kouzmanoff swung at a pitch that hit him.

That's the kind of thing you're dreaming of when you have Jonathan Sanchez. When he's right, the slider bites and the fastball snaps. The strikeouts are always there. Before the 2010 season started, ZiPS figured that his list of age-related comparables went something like this:

Randy Johnson
Mark Langston
Sandy Koufax

No big whoop. Just two of the best starting pitchers in history and a four-time All-Star. The projections didn't know what to do with a lefty with Sanchez's combination of stuff and wildness. Johnson figured it out at some point:

Year Age BB/9 SO/9
1992 28 6.2 10.3
1993 29 3.5 10.9

And Koufax figured it out.

Year Age BB/9 SO/9
1959 23 5.4 10.2
1960 24 5.1 10.1
1961 25 3.4 9.5
1962 26 2.8 10.5

So if Sanchez could ….

2012 29 6.75 17.1 17 13


The Royals were desperate for some starting pitching with short-term upside to complement their young hitting talent. Sanchez made sense for them, especially as a way to trade Melky Cabrera and make room for Lorenzo Cain. In four starts, Sanchez has been abysmal. His command is becoming Ankielian.

And now the Royals are slowly sinking out of contention. They're still just 5.5 back, and it's a long season, but ... the Royals are the Royals are the Royals. Those offseason dreams of making a surprise run are looking far-fetched.

Which leaves Sanchez on something of an island. He doesn't fit in as a part of the future; he's not pitching like someone any team would want as a part of the present. He can't be flipped for prospects at this point, and if the Royals stuck with him and he turned it around, he'd likely leave as a free agent. If he keeps pitching like this, he'll have to be taken out of the rotation.

That might be the best thing for the Royals, and it might be the best thing for Sanchez's career. Forget Koufax, Langston, and Johnson. Here's the optimistic scenario for Sanchez:

Year Age GS BB/9 SO/9
1991 21 8 5.8 5.8
1992 22 15 3.6 7.3
1993 23 17 5.1 5.1
1994 24 10 5.1 8.0
1995 25 9 5.7 9.2
1996 26 2 3.9 10.5
1997 27 0 2.5 9.6

That's Arthur Rhodes, who started throwing strikes when he was moved into relief. Using 1997 as a cutoff is somewhat disingenuous -- he had a wild hiccup in 1998 and 1999 that he fixed in subsequent seasons -- but he still works as a comp. He's still pitching over a decade later.

This isn't to suggest that Sanchez will thrive in relief because Arthur Rhodes did. Just that maybe it's time to put Sanchez in a specialist's role because nothing else is working. It worked for Rhodes. It worked for Darren Oliver. Maybe it could work for Sanchez. Maybe it could work so well that Sanchez will attract free-agent interest after the season is over.

If Sanchez has another wild start on Wednesday, the Royals will start thinking. If he follows that up with another wild start, they might start acting. But if they pull him from the rotation, it might work out for everyone. Everyone might end up a winner* if Sanchez is demoted.

* Offer of winning does not apply to Royals. Cash value of small victories like this is 1/100th of a cent. Please check your local wins dealership for details.


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