At first glance, Matt Shoemaker and Aaron Sanchez couldn’t be any more different. Shoemaker looks like he’s ready to raise a barn with that beard of his. Meanwhile, Sanchez can’t wait for his shift to end so he can do nothing but drive around with his friends until curfew.
It doesn’t seem right that Shoemaker and Sanchez would be in the same echelon. Sanchez won an American League ERA title in 2016, was elected to the All-Star team and finished seventh in Cy Young voting that year. Sanchez is 26 years old.
On the other hand, Shoemaker is 32 years old. Prior to being picked up by the Blue Jays, he was non-tendered by the Los Angeles Angels in December. His greatest career accolade is he finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting to Jose Abreu in 2014.
All that aside, numbers-wise, Shoemaker and Sanchez have quite a bit in common. Believe it or not, their statistics are quite similar over the last three seasons.
Sanchez edges out Shoemaker in most of the traditional counting stats, but it’s interesting to note that Shoemaker’s strikeout and walk rates are better by comparison. Shoemaker doesn’t keep the ball in the yard as well as Sanchez, but Shoemaker misses more bats and gives up far fewer free passes.
The similarities between the right-handers go even further as you dive deeper into the advanced statistics.
If a front office glanced at the numbers alone and had to choose one pitcher, I’m betting most would likely lean towards the former LA Angel as opposed to the Barstow, California native. Sanchez has the better peripheral stats, but at the end of that three-year span, I’d feel more comfortable giving the ball to Shoemaker.
Shoemaker’s walk rate is almost 50% better than Sanchez’, Shoemaker induces slightly less hard contact than his counterpart, he’s thrown fewer innings the last two years and was worth the same amount of wins as Sanchez in 10 fewer starts.
After his lights-out 2016 season, it felt like Sanchez was on the cusp of becoming a perennial Cy Young candidate. Since then, his career has been nothing but a series of unfortunate events. From nagging blisters and the residual effects from the surgery, to the unfortunate “luggage incident” last year.
Shoemaker knows all too well about freak injuries. He took a comebacker off the head in September of 2016, which fractured his skull and he underwent emergency brain surgery. He missed the second half of the 2017 season with a forearm strain, which cropped up again in 2018.
The past two seasons, Shoemaker and Sanchez started 41 games combined. Jhoulys Chacin of the Milwaukee Brewers made 35 starts alone last year. Health has been Shoemaker and Sanchez’ biggest downfall since September of the 2016 season.
Due to injuries, both starters suffered lost seasons in 2017 and 2018. And yet, six years of age difference and two completely different paths to a spot in the Blue Jays starting rotation in 2019. Both Shoemaker and Sanchez have something to prove this season, but the stakes for Sanchez are much greater.
For Sanchez, it’s the question of whether he was on the precipice of something spectacular in 2016, or if it was merely an outlier season for the 26-year-old. With only two years of team control remaining, Sanchez doesn’t seem to fit the timeline for the Blue Jays’ next window of contention. But a solid 2019 showing could convince the Blue Jays to arm-wrestle Scott Boras into a contract extension beyond the 2020 season.
In the case of Shoemaker, he’s technically under team control for two seasons as well, which oddly enough means both starting pitchers could hit free agency at the same time, another weird parallel between the two. Shoemaker is kind of playing the J.A. Happ role here in Toronto. Just like Happ, Shoemaker’s hoping to rediscover some of that magic from earlier in his career.
These two players aren’t necessarily the same calibre, but it was surprising how similar Sanchez’ and Shoemaker’s production looked through the lens of a three-year sample size. Albeit, the last two years were injury-shortened for both players, but in the case of starting pitchers, projecting results is an extremely unpredictable exercise.
Sanchez has yet to prove that he’s a Top 10 pitcher in the American League, but at 26-years-old and very little mileage on his arm, the upside is still there for him to emerge as an elite starter. Shoemaker is several few tiers down from “borderline ace” status, but given his low salary and the modest expectations for the 32-year-old, it won’t take much for Shoemaker to outpace his contract.