Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers Real Ace, to Start Game 3
The Detroit Tigers will send Anibal Sanchez to the mound in Game 3 of the ALDS against Oakland Athletics hurler Jarrod Parker. Game 1 starter Max Scherzer held the A’s to two runs in seven innings while striking out eleven, and Game 2 starter Justin Verlander went a step further, throwing seven shutout innings with ten strikeouts. So how can Sanchez be the Tigers’ ace when they have these two stars on their staff?
The 29 year-old Tigers pitcher had the best year of his career in 2013. His 2.57 ERA was the best in the AL. Even after adjusting for park factors, nobody could top this mark. The right-hander allowed only 9 home runs, the fewest in the AL among qualified starters. Sure, his HR/FB ratio of 5.8% is bound to regress, but it’s remarkable nonetheless.
Even with the very low HR/FB ratio, Sanchez’ ERA was no fluke. A look at his underlying numbers supports my assertion that he was the Tigers’ best pitcher. Sanchez’ FIP– (a park adjusted ERA estimator based on strikeouts, walks, and homeruns where 100 is average and lower is better) was a measly 59, easily the best mark in the AL. The next best mark on the Tigers was Scherzer at 68 and Verlander with 81. His xFIP– (a regressed version of FIP- that assumes a league average HR/FB ratio) was just 74, also the best on the Tigers, and only a shade behind Yu Darvish for the best mark in the AL. Use ERA or a more advanced pitching metric, and Sanchez was not only the best pitcher on the Tigers, but also one of the best two pitchers in the AL.
So how about pure stuff? First of all, Sanchez had a strikeout rate of 27.1%, slightly behind Max Scherzer. His fastball averaged 93 mph, on par with Scherzer and Verlander. Instead of tailing off at the end of the year, his fastball velocity picked up in September. Throw in a devastating slider and changeup, and you get a 12.4% swinging strike rate, that only Darvish could barely best. Furthermore, by at least one basic measure, Sanchez was the hardest Tigers’ pitcher to hit. Only Darvish allowed contact at a lower rate than Sanchez.
Scherzer won 20 games and is all but certain to take home the CY Young award, and Verlander has been the best pitcher in the AL over the last six years, but Anibal Sanchez has been the Tigers’ real ace in 2013. Not only has Sanchez been the Tigers’ ace this year, but he has been the best pitcher in the AL.
It’s a tough road to the ALCS for Oakland. They’ve scored just two runs off of Tigers starters, and they’ve yet to face Sanchez, the real ace of the staff. Sonny Gray answered the bell Saturday night, going toe to toe with Verlander. I doubt that Jarrod Parker and his pedestrian 16.4% strikeout rate can match that performance, but baseball rarely lets itself be so easily predicted.