According to Jon Morosi of Fox Sports the Giants are open to trading Jonathan Sanchez, in an attempt to upgrade their offense and free up some payroll space. Of course we all know the Royals (like nearly every team in baseball) is emphasizing the improvement of their rotation this off season. Is Sanchez a good target?
Sanchez boasts a career 38-46 record with a 4.26 era. He's a twenty-eight year old lefty that has a no hitter under his belt and features a three pitch mix that includes a high 80s to low 90s fastball, a slider, and a change up. Sanchez's stuff is without a doubt nasty most of the time. He averages over a K per inning for his career, however, where he is hurt is by his less than stellar command. He averages allowing nearly 5 walks per 9 innings.
In 2011, he posted the highest walk rate of his career and as a result saw his era rise from 3.07 to 4.26. However, his xFIP which previously had ranged from 3.94 to 4.14 jumped to 4.36.
The increase in walk rate isn't the only factor here. The other thing that stands out is Sanchez line drive percentage going from just 14.8% in 2010 (his best season as a professional) to 20.5% in 2011. Interestingly, despite such a jump in line drive percentage, the BABIP against Sanchez moved from .252 to .272. It would appear that even though Sanchez allowed much more line drives in 2011, he sustained pretty good luck in how those line drives were turned to hits.
This number scares me in terms of Sanchez, but here is something even more off putting. Since 2009, Sanchez's fastball velocity has dropped a Jurrjens' esque 1.8 mph. His fastball which fangraphs rated as his best weapon in 2010, as being 17 runs above average, actually was worth -0.5 runs in 2010. Sanchez's change up which he threw nearly 20% of the time in 2011, actually posted the first positive value of Sanchez's career.
You could probably take this information in a couple of different ways. First the optimistic look. Well Sanchez has now added a quality pitch to his arsenal and if he can get back that zip on his fastball that he has lost over the last two seasons, could be poised to really break through.
Then there is the pessimistic view of Sanchez. Here is a guy that is a power lefty, a strikeout pitcher, that is seeing his velocity gradually slip and his command crumble. My guess is that as a result of not being able to throw the fastball by people with as much regularity he is going to his offspeed stuff more often (evidenced by the highest change up percentage of his career), meaning he is throwing pitches that he can't command as well. As a result of this his walk rate is beginning to balloon.
There is much less to be concerned with in Sanchez than Jair Jurrjens, and I also believe that Sanchez would come at a much more bearable price. However, I'm not sure that Sanchez, would be the wisest acquisition. When I set out to write this piece I expected to find that Sanchez was an excellent candidate to be a high risk/ high reward pick up.
In most ways he still is that, however, the risk here comes from a steadily decreasing velocity and that is something that scares me. If Sanchez's numbers were shaky just because of the increased walk rate it would be one thing, but when a 5.78 walk rate is just part of the problem, it really starts to make me wonder.
Sanchez would undoubtedly improve the current rotation. But is he worth six years of Lorenzo Cain? I'm not so sure. I know you have to give to get, but at the same time just because a guy becomes available he doesn't automatically become a solution. The Royals shouldn't be desperate in their search for starting pitching. Continue to play out the offseason and if Sanchez can be had later for what you feel is a fair price reconsider the move.