By: Will Burchfield
Anibal Sanchez is headed for a long relief role in the Tigers’ bullpen. But Harold Reynolds has much bigger plans for the 33-year-old pitcher.
“Don’t be surprised if you see him at the end of a game. He’s got enough stuff where he could close games for you,” Reynolds said on the MLB Network on Thursday.
As things stand today, of course, Francisco Rodriguez is the Tigers’ closer. The team has great faith in the pitcher who saved 44 games for them last season. Reynolds seems to have more faith in Sanchez.
“If K-Rod doesn’t do what they hope he does, (Sanchez) is a great option. If you let him air it out, like we’ve seen now with guys that you send to the bullpen, and he’s not sitting there trying to be economic with his pitches, he’s going to be a high-90’s guy.”
A high-90’s guy? Anibal Sanchez?
In what world?
First of all, Sanchez has never thrown in the high 90s. Even when he led the American League in ERA in 2013, his fastball averaged 94.2 mph. And he’s only lost velocity since. Last season, he averaged 91.8 mph with his heater, his lowest mark since his third season in the majors (2009).
By all accounts this spring, nothing has changed.
Is there something to be said for deception? Sure. By tweaking his arm slot in spring training, Sanchez gave his fastball the appearance of some extra juice.
“He’s got a little bit of finish on it in the zone now — 91-92 (mph) probably looks like 93-94,” Brad Ausmus told reporters.
But the skipper acknowledged Sanchez’s arm isn’t what it used to be.
“We haven’t really seen 94-95 from him in a couple years,” he said.
But stick Sanchez in the bullpen, Reynolds seems to believe, and he’ll start throwing 97-98 mph BBs. Even allowing for the fact that some pitchers throw harder in short bursts, the idea that Sanchez could gain nearly ten miles per hour on his fastball in a relief role is
pretty much certifiably crazy.
In his nine appearances out of the pen last year, many of which lasted no more than an inning, Sanchez didn’t show any appreciable increase in his velocity.
Studio host Greg Amsinger nevertheless tried to back Reynolds up.
‘The splits favored Sanchez as a reliever. And when you invest $80 million in a guy like they did a few years back in Sanchez, at some point you have to go, ‘Okay, it didn’t work out. He’s better as a two-pitch guy coming out of the bullpen.’ I think that’s where they’re going with him from now on,” Amsinger said.
Did the splits favor Sanchez as a reliever, though? It depends where you look. His ERA as a reliever (4.30) bested his ERA as a starter (6.04) in 2016. So did his WHIP — 1.30 as a starter, 1.48 as a reliever. But he was generally more hittable out of the pen (.304 batting average against) than he was as a starter (.283) and he had a much better strikeout rate (8.05 K/9) as a starter than as a reliever (6.75 K/9).
The takeaway? He wasn’t very good in either role in 2016. And he certainly didn’t post numbers befitting a closer.
Then again, this whole discussion seemed to be rooted in a different universe.
“I really like Matt Boyd, he’s got good stuff,” Reynolds said. (That’s true, by the way.) “I don’t know if he’s going to be better as a starter or out of the pen, where they were able to use him in spring training. We saw him a lot.
Boyd his pitched out of the pen exactly once during spring training. His six other appearances have all been starts.
“No Anibal Sanchez, if that tells you anything,” Reynolds said, referring to the rotation. “It tells me two things. Either he’s not as good as we thought he was, or they have major depth.”
Let’s go with the former.
The MLB Network crew was right about one thing.
“The rotation, based on the baseball cards these guys have put together, looks like it could be dominant if everything lines up,” Amsinger said.
One of the best in the league, in fact.