2015 Player Previews: RHP Anibal Sanchez

When the Tigers acquired and eventually signed Anibal Sanchez, the concern was always his ability to stay healthy, given an extensive injury history. From 2010 through 2013, he did that, averaging more than 30 starts per year. But the injury bug came back with a vengeance in 2014, sidelining Sanchez with a myriad of injuries. Will that continue into 2015?

2014 In Review – Anibal Sanchez

2014 Stats
Detroit 126.0 22 8-5 3.4 3.56 2.71 3.43 .277 7.3 2.1 46% 3.1%

It was a challenging season for the 31-year old right-hander, as he made just 21 starts in 2014, with multiple stints on the disabled list hindering him on the mound. The first came in late April, when a blister on the middle finger of his throwing hand sidelined him for a few weeks. The second was more serious and hindered the Tigers run down the stretch, as he didn’t make another start after early August when he strained a pectoral muscle. Sanchez did return to action at the very end of the year and the playoffs, but was only used in relief. Those injuries were in addition to a sore shoulder that he experienced in spring training last year that sidelined him for a number of days.

When Sanchez was healthy however, he was a very effective starter for the Tigers, though not quite up to his 2013 performance when he led the league in ERA. Despite making it through only 126 innings, he was still more than a three win pitcher, and his FIP was noticeably lower than his ERA.

Beyond the injuries there were some signs of decline as well as some possible luck in his performance, which helps explain why his xFIP was higher than even his ERA. For starters, his average on balls in play was quite low, coming in at .277 – more than 20 points below both his career average and the league average. In addition, while he’s always been a pitcher that excelled at getting ground balls, his home run per fly ball rate was abnormally low, at just 3.1%. Both are due for a correction.

So, when Sanchez was on the mound in 2014, he was still quite good. But the Tigers only got about two-thirds of a season out of him, limiting his contributions to the club’s bottom line win total.

2015 Player Projections

2014 Advanced Projections
Service G IP WAR ERA FIP BAbip K/9 BB/9
ZiPS 26 152.0 3.5 3.43 3.43 .295 8.2 2.4
Steamer 28 166.0 2.8 3.55 3.31 .298 7.9 2.3

After missing some time in 2014, but making an average of more than 30 starts from 2010 through 2013, the Tigers are obviously hopeful that Sanchez will once again return to that level and give them a full season of work. Unfortunately, neither projection service is as confident on that, with each expecting him to miss a handful of games started and only get to the 150-160 inning mark. Given his injury history, and missing extensive time in seasons prior to 2010, it’s not an unreasonable projection.

Beyond that, both services expect Sanchez continue to be a very effective pitcher, albeit one that has slightly declined from his peak of a couple years ago. Both expect his strikeout numbers to normalize with an ERA and FIP in the mid-3 range, right around where he was in 2014.

The TigsTown Take

The question here doesn’t come down to questions about Sanchez’s repertoire or his effectiveness. When he’s healthy, he should be a very good starting pitcher for the Tigers, arguably the best #3 starter in the American League. An ERA in the low-to-mid-3’s and nearly a strikeout per inning seems very realistic. But, will he be able to stay healthy?

If there was one single injury that we could focus on, it’d likely be easier to try and assess the risk. But beyond having had Tommy John surgery in his past, Sanchez has experienced a myriad of injuries in his career, and had three different things pop up last year, all impacting a different part of his body – hand, shoulder, pectoral. Those are a lot of components to try and focus on.

As much as I’d like to say Sanchez will rebound from 2014 and given the Tigers 30+ starts, the mounting evidence indicates otherwise. I’m on board with the projection services that see Sanchez coming up well short of the 200 inning mark, meaning the Tigers are going to need to dip into the minor league well for 5-10 starts to cover for Sanchez.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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