Aaron Sanchez Should Probably Face Some More Legit Left-Handed Hitters Before We Anoint Him A Starter

Aaron Sanchez
Photo Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Sanchez produced another pretty little spring training line today against the Mets, as he continues to make the Blue Jays’ decision on what to do with him a difficult one. He’s done everything they’ve asked of him, and the results so far have been spectacular.

But here’s the thing about Aaron Sanchez that Jays fans and Jays management alike need to keep in mind before working themselves into a lather about what they’ve seen this spring: we know he can get right-handers out (in 2015 he held them to a ridiculous .162/.242/.194 line as a group over 47.1 innings/178 batters), and we know he can get minor leaguers out.

What really remains to be seen is whether he can get big league left-handers out — a question that revolves around his ability to harness his secondary stuff, and remains central to his future role.

What truly stands out about Sanchez’s 2015 season was just how ghastly his numbers against left-handers looked. Lefties hit .279/.390/.488 against him in 2015, which… is not good.

Mike Wilner noted at one point during the audio broadcast of today’s game that Sanchez was struggling to throw his changeup for strikes — a problem he acknowledged he’d been having in his previous start.

That said, Sanchez’s results against lefties so far this spring have been very strong indeed. After going through his game logs, I’ve found 38 total batters faced, with Sanchez having given up just five hits and two walks while he’s struck out eight (21%).

All of that seems pretty good for a small sample. It’s encouraging! And I’m certainly not going to tell Jays fans not to be encouraged by what they’ve seen from him so far.

What’s not so encouraging, however, is the quality of left-handed hitters he’s faced. That’s obviously not in his control, and full credit to him for mowing down just about everybody who has stepped into the batter’s box to face him, regardless of which side of the plate they were on. But here’s a list of the left-handers (or switch hitters batting left) that Sanchez has faced so far this spring and the results he’s had against them.

Michael Conforto 0-2 (K)
Patrick Biondi 0-1
Marc Krauss 1-3 (3B)
Danny Muno 0-3
Marwin Gonzalez 1-2 (2B)
Luis Valbuena 0-3
Jason Castro 0-3 (K)
Jonathan Singleton 0-2 (BB, K)
Andrew Aplin 0-1 (BB)
James Loney 0-2
Nick Franklin 0-1 (K)
Kyle Roller 0-1
Michael Bourn 1-2
Erick Aybar 0-2
Kelly Johnson 0-2 (K)
Jace Peterson 0-1 (K)
Reid Brignac 1-1
Cesar Hernandez 0-1
Roman Quinn 1-1
JP Crawford 0-1 (K)
David Lough 0-1
Darnell Sweeney 0-1 (K)

Oh, there are certainly some big leaguers in that group, but Chris Davis and David Ortiz they are not. Let’s be honest: save for Conforto today, they’re probably not even Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Travis Shaw.

Which, again, isn’t to say that we shouldn’t be encouraged by the results Sanchez has produced. It’s to say that we can’t just extrapolate from what he’s done this spring and insist that he’s ready. Nor should the Blue Jays.

Nor should we let ourselves get filled with rage about it if they don’t.

The question of whether he can get big league lefties out on a regular basis simply can’t be answered by facing a bunch of flotsam.

Which isn’t to say that he can’t still be very effective despite a harsh platoon split (though one that should surely improve from last year’s disasterpiece). His wOBA against by lefties in 2015 is right in line with James Shields (though he had a bad year, don’t forget) and Andrew Cashner, for example. It’s just, to use three other examples, that he’s also in line with the non-Padre dumpster fires that used to be Ryan Vogelsong, Bud Norris, and Charlie Morton. And worse.

Cool your jets on this, is what I’m saying, kids. Don’t not get excited, but maybe just cool your jets a little here.

  • Petey14 (but not Pete Rose)

    So, Andrew, how do you propose that he face the Chris Davis’s and David Ortiz’s of the world if he is starting in AAA? And he certainly won’t be facing tough lefties if he is coming out of the bullpen.
    He has earned the opportunity to start in the big leagues. He said it himself, that he learned a lot last year, and he knows what it takes to be a MLB starter. Let’s see what the kid has against good lefties…and there is only one way to find out.

    • jacob weiner

      Thats not what Andrew is saying. He is trying to temper the expectations of Blue Jays fans for Sanchez. We have seen many pitchers have success in spring training and then as soon as the season start, they struggle. Im not saying he doesnt deserve a chance, I just think it is foolish to think he is going to be Roy Halladay, based on these 5 spring training starts. Ultimately I believe Sanchez could be a decent starter this year in the majors, but as Andrew points out, his numbers against lefties are very troubling. The main reason for that is his failure to develop his changeup over the course of his career. That is a pitch that would fade away from a lefty, and gives them a different look compared to his other pitches (curveball, fastball) which come into a lefty. Here`s too hoping he has a good year as a starter in the majors, just dont be shocked if hes not Roy Halladay just yet.

    • LOL. He said it himself, so that means it’s true?

      Here’s the problem with starting him in the rotation: one, he might not be able to do it and you might have to shift him back to the bullpen or demote him anyway. That’s fine, except two: you might lose a very nice-looking piece in Floyd, or at least have him miscast as a second long man and lose some other bullpen piece you’d like to keep.

      On the other hand, if you send him to Buffalo, while he won’t get to face the Ortizs and Davises of the world, he’ll get to actually work on his secondary stuff without the same kind of pressure. Plus you keep Floyd. Plus you keep whoever Floyd would have pushed out of the bullpen (assuming that’s what would have happened).

      Pretty obvious to me which is more beneficial all around.

      • OakvilleJays

        Doesn’t Sanchez have much more upside than Gavin Floyd? Floyd may get hurt after a few starts. He is only on the team as a favour to Shapiro’s dad. On the podcasts you were upset that he was offered a major league contract. I think it would be wrong to waste Sanchez’s innings in Buffalo while allowing Floyd to start against the AL East in April. Sanchez deserves the chance to start. He will be needed in the rotation in 2017.

          • OakvilleJays

            It’s not dumb. Even Stoeten was shocked that he got $1m major league contract. Floyd would normally get a minor league deal

            Floyd has not proven to be a durable pitcher over the past 3 seasons. Why give him starts in April against the AL East?

            It’s pretty obvious that Mark wants to showcase his dad’s clients. If Floyd does well, Mark’s dad benefits.

            Nepotism & Cronyism isn’t a way to run a MLB team.

          • OakvilleJays

            It’s suspicious that he was signed to a lucrative $1m guaranteed contract given his injury history.

            I think Bautista & EE should hire Mark Shapiro’s dad to be their agents:)).

            Mark Shapiro will give them contracts otherwise his dad will disown him!

          • Matty

            I’m guessing Shapiro would have pretty good information on what other offers were out there for Floyd. Apparently 1M (lucrative 1M??) guaranteed was what got it done.

            What’s the problem here? 1M for a pitcher… Chump change

          • OakvilleJays

            Stoeten & Wilner were surprised that he got a major league contract. It’s the not the most outrageous deal but I doubt that he gets that much guaranteed & perhaps a starting rotation spot on any other team. I think we will have to wait till opening day but I would be very disappointed if Sanchez is not in the rotation.

  • lil eddie

    in a way, if sanch starts in the pen it really would speak to management’s commitment to win this year over building long term asset value. if sanchez put up a couple of 3 win years as a starter he’d be worth shelby miller type haul should the team want to go that way in 2 years.

  • Farty McGee

    Why are all the articles being written these days about the Jays rotation all focused on pissing on Sanchez? Can someone write one that pisses on Floyd? Why is it rose coloured glasses for Floyd? Doesn’t he have as much to prove as Sanchez with his robo-metal arm? His last three years IP: 13.1, 54.1, 24.1 = maybe not ready for 130+ with metal bits grinding around?

    Let’s cool our jets on Gavin Floyd is all I’m saying. It’s all boners around here for that guy. I don’t think anyone has their jets not-cooled already on Sanchez… we’ve heard all about it from everyone. I agree there is an argument to be made: “let’s see what we have in Floyd”, but why not “let’s see what we have in Sanchez” and keep Floyd stretched out in AAA should Sanchez fail?

    • Steve-O

      You really think this is “pissing on Sanchez”?

      You want someone to piss on Floyd, here you go:

      “Golly, I’m really not sure Floyd’s surgically repaired elbow will be able to hold up for the entire season. His numbers this spring look great, to be sure, but he hasn’t really pitched many innings over the last few years. Better cool our jets in terms of expectations. Good thing the Jays added so much depth. Having Sanchez in AAA ready to step in would be a pretty savvy move. Or maybe the smart move is to have Floyd in the bullpen so his innings can be limited.”

      There. Now somebody go get that piss-soaked Gavin fella a towel.

      Also: I’m guessing you missed Lott’s article on why the Jays should put Sanchez in the rotation.

      • Farty McGee

        I don’t think this article alone is “pissing on Sanchez’, but there have been numerous pieces (with the Lott one the exception) that are critical of Sanchez’s performance last year vs. Lefties and are (probably correctly) downplaying his spring success.

        I’m asking where is this in depth analysis and critique of Gavin Floyd? Seriously, put a few hyperlinks in to help a guy out. Your paragraph of “pissing” on Floyd isn’t doing it for me. Why is Sanchez drawing all the reaction and Floyd getting a free pass? There is basically 3 articles in a row on this site about Sanchez, nothing on Floyd.

        My guess is because he hasn’t pitched for any significant duration in the last 3 years and there isn’t much to talk about, except his arm might blow up at any point (or it might not).

        So, no, I did not miss Lott’s article, and your point about me wanting someone to piss on Floyd isn’t helpful. Hyperlinking some in depth Floyd analysis would be, but I haven’t found any.

        -Farts.

        • Steve-O

          Oh, I was just having some fun and being silly. It’s my default setting.

          But to be serious, I think the reason the focus has been on Sanchez so much is that Floyd 1) is on a MLB contract and to demote him means very likely losing him for nothing and 2) it’s been reported that he was guaranteed a spot on the 40-man roster anyway. So he’s going to be on the big league roster no matter what happens – unless he were to completely poop the bed, which he obviously hasn’t done. So I’m not really sure what in-depth analysis is required, beyond “he was pretty good 3 years ago when he was healthy, he’s healthy and looks good now, and his arm hasn’t literally flown off his body (yet)”.

          Conversely, Sanchez has options so the debate (rightly) has been focused on what is best for both the Jays in 2016 and beyond, and what is best for Sanchez, development-wise. Now, you correctly point out that his spring numbers, while very impressive, are fool’s gold to a certain extent. But what happens to him will obviously have much more of an effect on what else the Jays do than anyone else on the staff. He’s the fulcrum.

          I don’t need to rehash all the points for and against Sanchez as a starter, it’s been done to death. But that’s why the focus is on Sanchez and much less so on Floyd.

          Hope that makes sense.

    • OakvilleJays

      Gavin Floyd’s agent is Mark Shapiro’s dad. Given his past injury history, it was shocking that any team offered him a major league contract. It just so happened that Mark gave him a $1m contract. In my opinion, it’s a conflict of interest.

      I think it’s ridiculous to mess around with Sanchez’s development by demoting him to Buffalo or leaving him in the bullpen to take a chance on Gavin.

      Sanchez hasn’t done anything wrong to lose his spot in the rotation.

      Gavin can stay in the bullpen & get spot starts if there are injuries. The Jays don’t owe anything to Floyd other than $1m.

  • Canard

    I think Sanchez has earned the right to try. Sure he might fail, and if does you demote him, but you can’t really ask him to do any more than he’s already done so far this spring. It would be pretty poor to tell him “you did great this spring, but you sucked last year, so we’re demoting you anyways,” especially to someone as young as Sanchez.

    Would it have been better to see Sanchez pitch against quality left handers? Absolutely. But the Blue Jays can’t tell other teams to use their best hitters against Sanchez.

    I think another concern that may pop up about Sanchez is whether he has the endurance to stay at the top of his game for seven innings. We’ve only seen Sanchez go longer than five once this spring–though granted this is Spring Training here–but it will be something to watch for.

  • whoispaul?

    I can’t believe Floyd’s agent is Shapiro’s dad. And of course they give him an MLB deal, asinine.

    That should tell you everything you need to know about why no one in the Rogers media consortium is speaking negatively of Floyd.

      • AJ, Breakfast Army Fan

        Sanchez is pitching really well for someone being paid that little too. I think the point is both guys have their potential warts, but people are only talking about Sanchez.

      • whoispaul?

        I guess negative wasn’t the correct term to use. But based on Floyd’s recent MLB performance and injury history, I don’t understand why everyone doubts Sanchez’s ability to start so much more than Floyd.

  • AJ, Breakfast Army Fan

    I agree that Sanchez in Buffalo >>>> Sanchez in the pen (and likely never starting), but I’d wager part of him not getting Ortiz and Davis out is because Ortiz and Davis are pretty freakin’ good. They also only have 7 ABs a piece against him. If his control is as better as it’s looking, that could help the numbers against lefties too. The offspeed pitches just have to be good enough.

    But seriously, if Sanchez gets screwed because they had to go sign Gavin Floyd to a major league deal, that BS is on Shatkins. To deprive Sanchez of the chance to be a starter would be ridiculous, and that’s what I’m worried will happen.

  • Nego

    Hypothetical question.

    Where do you think their careers would be at if Aaron Sanchez was dealt to the Mets instead of Noah Syndergaard?

    These two were really similarly regarded at one point. The only relief appearance(s) Syndergaard has made, to my knowledge, we’re in the playoffs last year (which he also started).

    I’m still torn on the whole Sanchez / Floyd debate. Definitely the biggest decision of the spring. What I really want to see is Aaron Sanchez reach his potential. If that means we lose Gavin Floyd I’m okay with that. If that means Sanchez starts in Buffalo I’m okay with that too.

    I have literally zero experience with player development. Whatever the staff and management feel is best for Sanchez in the long term is what the decision should be based on. The roster will sort itself out. We have pitching depth. Floyd is a nice story, if/when he gets the ball, I’m cheering for him. They may have found something, and I see the value in having him around. It might just be time to give Sanchez the ball and find out what he can be. Sink or swim time. Glad I’m not the one making this decision. It could impact the organization for a long time.

    • 0noggin

      100% with you, except I don’t think putting Sanchez in the rotation means Gavin is DFAd or anything. He is a veteran and he can pitch well out of the bullpen – essentially be this year’s Estrada. A ‘pen of Storen, Osuna, Cecil, Choate, Floyd, Chavez, Tepera/Loup is fine by me.

  • 0noggin

    So, here’s the thing people need to remember when looking at Sanchez’ performance vs. lefties last year: it isn’t an indication of his performance this year. Here’s why: last year, out of the bullpen, he was throwing one pitch around three quarters of the time: his fastball. And what got hit was mainly his sinker, a pitch that stays on the hitting plane of left-handed batters. That also accounts for the alarming slugging%, as lefties with power like the low sinker in the zone.

    This year, in the rotation Sanchez will have a more diverse repertoire. His two offspeed pitches should help throw off the timing and generate weaker contact, as his curveball has insane motion (and he’s locating it well and can throw it in any count) and his changeup is now around 8mph slower than his fastball. He’s also developing his cutter nicely, which is exactly the weapon that Roy Halladay used against lefty sluggers to great effect by moving it in on their hands and generating weak contact.

    In fact, as I was watching Sanchez pitch this spring, I was really struck by the similarity between Sanchez and a young Halladay: tall, lanky pitcher, overhand delivery, main pitch is a sinker with unbelievable motion, but can also throw a great looping curveball. We probably all remember the Halladay of his prime: a dominant pitcher who cut and sank his fastball to both sides of the plate and used his curveball and changeup to keep guys guessing. Well, the scary thing about Sanchez is that he has more velocity, and he seems to be already figuring out his cutter, whereas Hallady didn’t do that until about 4 years into his MLB career. Yes, Sanchez needs to work on his command, and his secondary stuff needs more polish. But let’s give him at least a year to figure that out. I’m predicting that if he gets a shot in the rotation, he’ll be up there with Stroman by next year, and the ace of the staff by 2018. Maybe even a Cy Young by 2020. He’s not there yet, but IF he’s allowed to start, I think he’ll be that good. If he’s put in the bullpen for a third year, that potential goes down considerably, and however strong the temptation to be short-sighted, Sanchez’ future isn’t worth compromising for Floyd, a guy whose arm could literally fall off any day.

    • Hentgen

      Don’t buy your explanation for Sanchez. It’s not like he didn’t know he was pitching to lefties. The only reason that he would throw pitches he knew would get hit would be because his secondary stuff was so bad he couldn’t use them at all. Now suddenly he’s Roy Halladay?

      I’m not saying you couldn’t be right, but your optimism is based on little more than wishful thinking.

  • Nice Guy Eddie

    I hope no one is fooled by spring training starts. Yesterday, the Mets brought Flores, Comforto (their 7/8 hitters) and Colon, their 5th starter, as their three major leagues. It was nowhere near a major league lineup, no Granderson, Wright, Cespedes,Duda, Walker, D’arnaud etc.

    I’m pulling for Aaron. Which is better? If he is put in the rotation now, fails because of his problems with left-handers and is put back in the pen? Or if he spends his age 23 season as a reliever where he can continue to improve. I would love to see him be put in the rotation and succeed, but i think we will see lineups stacked with left-handers like it’s Joe Madden in TB and Ricky Romero on the mound.

    • AJ, Breakfast Army Fan

      The first one is better, because to give up on the chance of him becoming a good starting pitcher after he put so much work in and is doing everything right that is in his power would be dumb. If I was Aaron I would be pretty disappointed if I wasn’t given the chance (and no, they shouldn’t just wait until next year to do it). On the other hand, if I was given the chance and failed, at least I tried and I can still make a big contribution to the team in another capacity.

  • TGreg

    I’m a big fan of Sanchez – his upside is obvious. But we have a good thing with Floyd … I was a fan when he was with the White Sox, and after watching his performance on the weekend I really think he can be a very effective 5th starter while Sanchez refines his stuff in Buffalo. Odds are that by June something will happen to open up an opportunity in the rotation. It’s a good problem to have.

  • Travis Snider's Lunchbox

    For me… find a way to have both Floyd and Sanchez in there – having them both with their skill sets and healthy is only good for the team. At least until Floyd’s arm blows up again.

    Side note… my condolences, Stoeten. Arguably the greatest soccer (football) playmaker just passed away this morning. RIP, Johan Cruyff.

  • Nego

    @0noggin

    Like your post as well. Little reach with the Halladay comp, but the upside is tantalizing. He could be better than Stroman if he figures it all out.

    Honestly my biggest fear is that they want to preserve depth (which I get) and move Sanchez to the bullpen, putting us in the exact same situation next year with a 24 year old Sanchez. Last year our pen was an issue, but I don’t think it is as much this year. No reason to continue to hurt Sanchez’s development.

    In a weird way I almost wouldn’t mind Estrada hitting the DL for 15 just to give both a start when if counts. I do see a lot of ‘look at the weak lineup Sanchez has faced’ type posts, yet Floyd is facing the same spring lineups.

    It goes back to one of Stoets first posts on the subject; it’s important to communicate with Sanch on what he needs to work on, and that he’s the next in line (what do you tell Hutch eh? Your 8th in line?) for a call up. I’m sure he understands baseball is a long season and patience is important. He will get his time.

  • Steve-O

    Isn’t it nice to be debating a young guy with lots of upside like Sanchez vs a wily veteran rebound candidate like Floyd for the #5 spot, considering where this team was even just last year?

    However it all shakes out, I tip my cap to this new front office for doing a very good job adding pitching depth.

    And FWIW I change my mind daily on what the Jays should do, but if I had to put money on what they will do (based on comments I’ve read from Gibby to Shapiro) Sanchez is in the bullpen and Floyd is the #5.

    • OakvilleJays

      Can Shapiro overrule Gibby & Pete Walker?

      Shapiro may have made additional promises to Floyd, such as a guaranteed rotation spot as an incentive to sign with the Jays.

      It will be sad for Jays fans if Gavin Floyd is the home opener starter on April 8th.

      I hope Gibby lets Stroman pitch the home opener.

    • Nego

      My favourite quote/blurb from the piece:

      “He’s stretched out now. Anyone can transition to fewer innings if they struggle. And if that happens, Chavez has proven he can be ready to start on a moment’s notice. Hutchison will be around. Floyd doesn’t have to be a factor in this.”

  • Nice Guy Eddie

    Oakville Jays thinks it’s significant that Gavin Floyd has a major league contract because Stoeten told him it was. That’s it.

    The obvious reason Floyd has a major league contract is that he wouldn’t be here otherwise. He’s not gong to sign a minor league contract with no 40 man roster place to be here. If he’s going to be asked by Toronto to take a minor league contract, he’s going to go somewhere else.

    I’m sure Oakville Jays has much good insight to contribute about something else, but this silliness about Floyd getting a million dollars, and the conspiracy theory that his agent being Shapiro’s dad is why he got a million (if you want a conspiracy theory, a better one is the opposite – that Floyd’s agent steered him to a team-friendly deal with his son’s team), is lowering the level of discussion.

    • OakvilleJays

      LOL!.

      Are you a scout?

      It is unusual for someone like Floyd with his injury history to get a major league contract.
      It’s not a matter of Stoeten & Wilner. It was a surprise on MLB trade rumors as well.

      There are other teams that need pitching more than the Jays.

      All contracts between related parties ( Shapiro & his dad) should be closely monitored.

      The Jays were willing to go to arbitration with Josh Donaldson over a 400K difference,

      Giving Floyd a $1M is a bigger deal.

      The team can’t have it both ways.

      I hope Floyd becomes a good bullpen piece & spot starter.

      It would be a shame if he gets a rotation spot ahead of Sanchez. Sanchez has much more value to the team going forward than Floyd.

      Shapiro is supposed to be an proponent of keeping & developing young talent.

      If he’s true to his word, he will focus on developing Sanchez in the rotation in 2016.

      We have yet to see evidence that Floyd has pitched better than Sanchez this spring.