Aaron Sanchez’ Improving Pitch Mix
In the second half of last year, the Toronto Blue Jays called upon prized pitching prospect, Aaron Sanchez, to pitch out of their bullpen and boy did he ever impress. In 33 MLB innings, he only surrendered 14 hits and 4 earned runs along with 9 walks and 27 strikeouts. He relied on a sinker, fastball, curveball and occasional changeup mix, but last September, he essentially became a two pitch pitcher throwing his sinker and fastball nearly 96 percent of them time.
Really, who could blame him? Hitters in the month of September only slashed .108/.250/.135 against him – an improvement over the .139 batting average hitters mustered in the two months prior.
This year though, Sanchez has been thrown into the rotation and early on had been toying with an additional cutter and slider. As of this month though, he’s totally abandoned them instead showcasing his curve and changeup much more and judging by results, he’s benefited from it too. For instance, if one inning is taken away from his start against Baltimore on May 13th where he allowed 5 earned runs, he’s pitched 19 innings over the past three games where he’s only given up 3 runs on 11 hits with 9 strikeouts and 10 walks.
Let’s have a look at the 2015 zone profile of his slider to see why it has been abandoned:
Of the 10 sliders he threw in April, 8 were out of the zone and as you can see Sanchez tended to leave them up where they could either be taken as a ball, or if hung, whacked around the yard.
The cutter (above) as well seemed to lack command as 9 of 14 were thrown as balls.
Now obviously these are small samples for the aforementioned pitches and with more work and refinement, they could develop into quality pitches so I don’t think Sanchez should stop thinking about them yet. But for right now, he simply couldn’t throw them for strikes.
As you can see below however, the sinker is thrown exactly where he wants it as hitters will jam it into the ground upon contact. Ditto with the curveball and changeup which Aaron is now throwing a combined 29 percent of the time – definitely a better mix of pitches which can only help him be a successful starter. He’s also greatly aided by the fact that he’s generating groundballs at a 59.9 percent clip, which is fifth in MLB amongst qualified starters!
Now for his fourseamer:
That fastball though, he’s got to get down and harness it with better control and then he can think about getting hitters to chase those elevated pitches. Hitters are currently hitting .300 off it with a .550 SLG! He’s also thrown his fourseamer for a ball 42 percent of the time which is grossly unacceptable.
I like what Kyle Matte did over at Capital Jays who found some nifty comparisons of Sanchez’ offerings and likened them to that of “Gerrit Cole’s sinker, Joe Kelly’s curveball, and Stephen Strasburg’s changeup in one tall, eyebrowed package.” Truly, if that’s the kind of exceptional stuff that Sanchez can throw at hitters, and if he can continue to harness his offerings and reduce his 6.4 BB/9, then the Jays will have a gem that will be in Toronto for a long time coming.