One of the rumors we saw this weekend was that the Cincinnati Reds were interested in signing Anibal Sanchez. His track record is a bit spotty, but he was very, very good last season. He made 24 starts and one relief appearance for Atlanta. He racked up 136.2 innings in that time and posted a 2.83 ERA with 42 walks and 135 strikeouts. All of those numbers are very good. Maybe you’d like to see a few more innings with those starts, but that’s a smaller complaint to his 2018 season.

But, goodness, was his 2018 season very different than his previous three seasons. In 2017 his ERA was 6.41. In 2016 it was 5.87. The previous year to that it was 4.99. He had been beaten around like some random Triple-A, or maybe even Double-A pitcher for the better part of the three years prior to 2018. He had a good walk rate in those three seasons. His strikeout rate was good, too. But his home run rate reflected that he was pitching in space, basically. Over that stretch he allowed 85 home runs in 415.2 innings. From 2006-2014 he threw 1177.0 innings in the Majors. He gave up 92 home runs in that time. Something had really changed from 2015-2017.

Just as fast as the home run problems seemed to show up for Anibal Sanchez, they disappeared. In 2018 he allowed just 15 home runs in 136.2 innings for Atlanta. That rate is nearly half of what it was the previous two seasons. His walk rate, and his strikeout rate during the 2018 season was right in line with where it had been in the past – good, quality rates.

When it comes to whether or not signing Anibal Sanchez the question comes down to whether or not you think the home run rate change was real or not. His Steamer Projection for 2019 doesn’t quite buy the home run rate improvement all the way – but with how projection systems work, they generally aren’t doing much other than looking at past performance. And given his home run rate numbers in the years prior to 2018, that’s expected.

But was there a reason that his home run numbers dropped off? It’s tough to say yes or no without going back and looking at the last four years worth of video from his starts. What seems far more time efficient, though, is to look at his pitch selection and see what, if anything changed. And when we do that, we can see a pretty big change in 2018 when compared to the previous three seasons.

You can see a very different approach in 2018 from Anibal Sanchez. He really cut back on throwing his fastball and slider. He then threw significantly more cutters – tripling the rate at which he threw them in the previous three seasons. There was also an increase in change ups thrown, too.

When we look at the pitch values of each of his pitches via Fangraphs we can see that his fastball was still a below-average pitch, as was his curveball. But his cutter and change up were both well above-average pitches. In fact, they were better than above-average.

Anibal Sanchez had the most valuable cutter among pitchers in all of Major League Baseball per 100 thrown. Fangraphs has a stat abbreviated as w(pitch type)/C, which is just the value of that pitch per 100 of that pitch thrown. Sanchez topped the list among the 140 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings last season for cutters at 2.41. Only two other pitchers were over 2.00 – James Paxton at 2.19, and Walker Buehler at 2.05. Wade LeBlanc was pretty far back at 1.81 and in 4th place.

Here’s the crazy part, the change up was even better. Anibal Sanchez had the second most valuable change up in Major League Baseball in 2018 per 100 thrown. His 2.79 mark in the category trailed only Mike Montgomery’s 2.83. Jacob deGrom was third at 2.48.

With this data in hand, it seems that there’s a pretty good argument to believe that Anibal Sanchez could not only be a lot more like his 2018 version than his 2015-2017 version, but that he could be an absolute bargain of a signing. His non-fastball stuff was among the absolute best in the league. And he took his worst pitch, the fastball, and cut back on throwing it significantly while leaning on his strengths with his change up, and finding a cutter that was among the best in all of baseball.

His age means you aren’t going to want to sign him to a four or five year contract. But if he could be had for two years? Let’s chat. And if the money won’t be much – and it doesn’t seem like it will be (MLB Trade Rumors predicted a 2-year, $22M deal. Jon Heyman and his expert predicted a 1-year deal at either $5M or $7M.) – then this could potentially be a real nice pickup.

54 Responses

  1. Simon Cowell

    If the money is low enough for him to be DFA’d out of spring them I’m all for it. He would have to show 2018 metrics during spring training. The Reds have so many “on the cusp”
    Romano, Stephenson, Reed, Castillo, Mahle. Just to name a handful. If we sign Sanchez it would be a sign that management has no faith in the above names ever making it.
    Currently the Reds have filled 1 starting pitcher position. 4 more openings. Castillo is guaranteed to start so that probably we have 3 more to consider. a few of the names mentioned above very well may not be with the organization come next year.

    • Shawn

      Disco is starting if healthy. I believe that’s a safe assumption. As of now, this is my opening day starters, in order.

      Castillo
      Disco
      Roark
      Mahle
      Reed

      I would love to think bob Steve finds the strike zone and stays out of predictable pitch counts, I just don’t want to get my hopes up. So here’s my question, who will Anibal unseat from the group. He was obviously better than, well everyone in the group. I guess I get attached to what our players could be. I guess my over problem becomes, our goal is becoming compete now. So Mahle can go to AAA and let’s give it a go.

      Sign for two years 16 mil

      • Muddycleats

        My ? Is: R Reds still rebuilding or not? If yes, the goal should b 2 add guys like Wood & Harvey or even better guys via trade who can help for next 3-5 yrs. Just don’t see spending a lot more $$$ now 4 Marginal ML SP so they can win 10-15 more games 4 a yr or two. Don’t see it moving the rebuild needle much?

  2. DocProc

    Really good analysis, Doug! I’m in if he’s cheap and 2-year max.

  3. Jim

    1 yr minor league contract with invite to ST. That probably won’t happen, but as a GM I wouldn’t offer him a 1 yr $2 mil contract.
    Oakland pulled off something we rarely see with all those retreads, but I’m sure that same staff wouldn’t duplicate it this season.
    Keuchel 3 yrs at 54-60 mil and not even a 4th year would I offer.
    The trade front seems to be high asking prices. Roark for a marginal prospect was a good trade, but awful when you add $10 mil.
    Love to see a Puig/Wood for Bailey, but who is the prospect the Reds have to add. Who would you suggest Doug?
    Senz, Greene, Tram and Tony S is off limits to me in any trade. Maybe add Siani and Stephson the catcher after this upcoming season to my no trade list.

    • Doug Gray

      You wouldn’t sign anyone this offseason because you aren’t offering nearly enough.

  4. RedFuture

    There is a reason for no rush to him by other teams. I just can’t flush away those 3 Homer Bailey like years just before last year at his age. In fact, I think Homer has just as good a chance to bounce back for a good year as Anibal to sustain a 2nd consecutive good year.

  5. Jasonp

    I saw a few articles last year on people throwing the fastball less and having more success. I think with the new 30% launch angle a lot of hitters are trying to do they end up killing the fastball but are struggling against other types of pitches.

    This makes me wonder if Stephenson could do much better if he pitches like that. His secondary stuff is very good. I don’t have any numbers on it but it almost seems like we were making him throw a fastball to try to get him better at it. Maybe if he is only throwing it in that 30-40% range he could do well.

    • Reaganspad

      Great point Jason. I think the same thing. Also, since he is over pitching at all levels, he may send Mahle back to AAA to learn a 3rd pitch. And maybe he works with Garrett on his 3rd pitch and rescues him from the bullpen. And with Reeds mechanics so that his delivery is consistent with all pitches. And maybe he restores some confidence for Finnegan. Maybe he tweaks something for Homer like he did for those guys in Milwaukee.

      He gets one or two of these and you all the sudden don’t need Sanchez, but this is pretty cheap insurance. Disco could miss half of another year

      • Tom

        I believe all but Stephenson have options in 2019. Some have 2 more options. No reason to rely on these young players until they perform better in their chances. I hope Stephenson earns the 5th spot in the rotation.

  6. DanD

    Doug great analysis.

    Where would he go into the rotation? Right now this would be my rotation.

    1. ?
    2. Castillo
    3. Roark
    {2 of these for the 4th and 5th spots}
    Disco if healthy, Lorenzen, Mahle, Reed and Sims.

    I see Roark and Sanchez in the 3rd and 4th spots then Disco in the 5th spot if healthy. If we are able to trade for Kluber this would be a nice rotation:

    1. Kluber
    2. Castillo
    3. Wood if traded for or Sanchez if signed
    4. Roark
    5. Disco if healthy or ? From the remaining options

  7. Norwood Nate

    You make a good argument Doug by breaking down the pitch differences between the the previous three poor seasons and last season’s resurgence. It explains a good amount as to how he turned his career trajectory around last season. The HR rates are still going to concern me with him pitching half his games in GABP. I wouldn’t be upset either way the Reds decide to go on this, provided the years/price is similar to where the projections are currently listed.

    For me, it still comes down to the cost vs. the production when comparing other guys we have in house. Is paying Sanchez $11m better than paying Reed or Mahle half a million? Will Sanchez provide the Reds $10 in value over those guys? It’s certainly possible.

    I would still then wonder how the Reds go about addressing the top of the rotation. They’d probably have the money still to sign a Keuchel or trade for a Kluber, but at that point I’d expect the budget to be about tapped out for 2019 (unless they’re going to push it much more beyond the arbitrary $130m I’m playing around with in my head). Are they comfortable going with Senzel full time in CF? If not then they’ll need to figure out resources to fill that need as well.

    • Scott C

      I agree, it is a good solid argument, but the need is still for a TOR pitcher that can be controlled past 2020. Sanchez does not fit that. The HR rate is still concerning and the need for a true centerfielder is still out there. That said if they sign him for short term help at a relatively cheap price, I wouldn’t be bothered. Always DFA him like we have so many pitchers the last couple of years.

  8. Bernie

    The Reds should not even consider signing him for 2/22. They should explore other options; if he is still available near spring training and his price has dropped a lot then they could consider signing him; but still rather give Mahle, Reed, etc a chance.

  9. Tom

    FA
    Castillo
    Roark
    Disco
    Sanchez

    That is a great start to 2019.

    WHEN an injury occurs then The best option from the young arms will get a shot.

    Many opportunities were laid out in 2017 and 2018. Can’t feel sorry for those who missed them.

    That said, don’t give up on a single one of those talented young arms. 2019, 2020, 2021 will bring more open spots, etc.

    • pog

      Are we forgetting about the Dark Knight, Doug? Seems like we already know he fits in the clubhouse, gave us a decent part year in 2018 and and doesn’t seem to be terribly expensive.

      I really hate to give up on the young guys until the new management team gets a better look at them.

      • Muddycleats

        Dittos! MH pitched very well 4 out of 5 starts. That 5th start was pretty bad & made everything else look bad stat wise. Arm injury is concern, but young enough 2 b soild SP n NL 4 another 4-5 yrs & part of Reds playoff run

  10. Ryan

    Does an India, Santillan, Schebler, Amir Garrett package land Kluber? Cheap ML talent, 5th pick in last years draft, and a pitcher with success in AA.

    • Colorado Red

      I doubt it.
      My guess is either Nick, or Tyler to start with, vs India.
      Might be able to trade Hunter there also.

  11. AirborneJayJay

    Hard, hard, hard, hard pass on Anibal Sanchez. What is this, 2016 and 2017 all over again?
    What happened to “get the pitching”?
    Has it devolved into get the old pitching???
    Pull the trigger and trade for a top of rotation talent.
    No guts, no glory.
    With this incredibly inept Reds front office/lame ownership, last place in the NL Central here we come, again.
    All talk and no action. Jocketty must still wield considerable influence with the Reds scouring the bargain bins and dumpsters like it is 2015 again.
    This off season has been chock full of more Castellini lies. We should have known that “get the pitching” meant more shopping from the bargain bins and dumpsters.

    • Colorado Red

      The off season is not done yet.
      Dallas and Kluber are still options.
      The price has to drop till it is just a bit too high.
      I reserve my opinion until the off season is over.
      Then I will give them an F-.

      • Muddycleats

        BC Harvey has much more long term upside than Sanchez & if things don’t improve w/ team, MH could b moved 4 something. Arm has to hold up, but at 29, MH has some time on his side.

      • Doug Gray

        Are you signing Matt Harvey to a long term contract? Are you signing Anibal Sanchez to a long term contract? If the answer is no, and it really should be no, then long term upside does not matter. What matters is who is likely to be better for the next year or two, which all that either of these two guys are going to get signed for.

        I’ve stated here on these pages that I’m not against bringing Matt Harvey back at $8-9M on a 1 or 2 year deal. And I’m still not. But he would not be my choice at the same price/years over Anibal Sanchez. And I’d argue that his upside in that span isn’t higher. And his downside is just as down.

      • pog

        I read the debate around Harvey with interest and it made me go back and look a little deeper into his history with the Mets. I probably should have done that before speaking out. Looking back at his long (and difficult) tenure with the Wilpons made me think twice about my feeling that he had redeemed himself with his short stint with the Reds. I think he behaved well but was that just so he could get one final big contract or was it that he really had changed his spots? What’s the risk? If he was going to be a difference maker in 2019, I’d stick with my position, but I think his possible effect on the younger player if his 1 season redemption was a Boras marketing ploy is enough to get me off his bandwagon.

      • Muddycleats

        My concern is why so many seemed 2 b only concerned w/ just the next 2 yrs? BC it’s the Reds marketing plan this off season. Completely short sighted IMHO! R we really banking on all the Reds top prospects coming of age n 2021? When’s the last time Reds farm system has produced those type results? I don’t know MH arm strength or affect on the younger Reds P, but the fact is MH has always been a better P than Sanchez.

      • Doug Gray

        It’s not that everyone is concerned with them so much so as that’s where there’s a lot of value to be had right now.

        And Matt Harvey hasn’t always been better than Anibal Sanchez. We can look at last year for easy proof of that. Matt Harvey was really good for the 65 starts he made from 2012-2015. He threw 427.0 innings with a 2.53 ERA – good for a 146 ERA+ and a bWAR of 11.8, fWAR of 12.2. Anibal Sanchez from 2010-2014 threw 895.0 innings with a 3.43 ERA, a 118 ERA+ and 18.2 bWAR, 20.0 fWAR. Depending on the version of WAR you prefer, you’ll get one guy having the best season in that stretch. bWAR says it was Sanchez in 2013, while fWAR says it was Harvey in 2013.

        I’m just having a tough time arguing that Matt Harvey was ever truly better than Anibal Sanchez (even when he was at his best). But Sanchez was also better for longer.

      • Muddycleats

        Doug thanks 4 looking all that up. I still work full time so don’t have the time. Still like MH better, but also like AS longevity as an effective ML pitcher & his much improved change up. If he can bring quality veteran leadership & help teach the young guys for a reasonable price, I could see him helping. However still feel Reds need 2 think long term w/ their limited $$$. If the arm health & attitude R right & they can lock a younger MH into a below market 2 yr deal & maybe an option for 3-4th yr…I think it would b a better move….always a lot of ifs

  12. Choo Choo Coleman

    Still think Reds get the LA Dodgers trade done & get Wood in that mix. Maybe can get Kluber or one other top end guy… Top 3 starters should be new guys, with Castillo and/or DeScaf/Lorenzen/Harvey… I’d take Kluber, Wood, Roark at top… so much better than past 4 years

  13. MK

    Interesting looking at 40-man on Reds.com Connor Joe is listed as a catcher. I know it has very little meaning in the long run, and he has done some minimal catching in the past, but someone thought enough of the idea to tell the tech to put him there.

  14. Colorado Red

    Doug,
    What do you think about Mike Minor as a trade candidate?
    He has 2 years at 9.5 per year.
    He is not a TOR, but better then Sanchez.

    • Doug Gray

      Is he better than Sanchez? He certainly wasn’t last season.

      Minor, at least last season, was a big fly ball pitcher. Had a pretty high home run rate with Texas. For what he brings, and what he might take to acquire, I’m not sure it makes a ton of sense. You could probably get something similar to him on the market for what you’d pay him in salary – but not have to also give up talent to acquire him.

  15. Sean Lahman

    The Reds have four spots in their rotation filled and I don’t want the fifth to go to a guy like Sanchez or Wade Miley.

    Signing a guy like this either means Mahle gets stuck in the bullpen or that the Reds have given up on signing a #1 /#2 starter

    • Doug Gray

      I count two spots unless I’m missing something. Luis Castillo’s got a spot locked up. Tanner Roark has a spot locked up. Who else?

      I think DeSclafani should have the inside track, but a 4.93 ERA shouldn’t make you a lock at age 29. Mahle? 4.98 ERA last year and had big home run issues along with some, strangely enough, walk issues. Romano? Lorenzen? Maybe the Reds are looking at it differently than I am, but there should still be three spots up for grabs right now.

      • Nep O'Tism

        On the topic of Mahle, did anyone from the Reds ever say what the heck happened to him?

        After his first 18 starts of the season, he was sitting on a very respectable 3.66 ERA. His BABIP was .305 so it wasn’t luck. 17% Strikes Looking, 11% Swinging Strikes, 97 Ks in 98.1 innings. All very good.

        Then those last 5 starts happened and he gave up 22 runs in 13.2 innings. .451 BABIP, 14% Strikes Looking, 7% Swinging Strikes. It all just completely fell apart.

        I find it hard to believe a guy goes from 3.66 ERA through 18 starts and follows it up with 5 starts of 14.49 ERA without an injury or some serious mechanical collapse. I just never heard anything about it.

    • Muddycleats

      Agree, Reds R still rebuilding & need 1-2 spots 4 young guys 2 prove themselves. Just can’t learn it all n AAA or out of BP

  16. Bill

    First of all, really nice article! Sanchez could be a great candidate for an incentive-heavy contract with a vesting option. Perhaps 1 year at $6M plus a $6M team option ($1M buyout). Team option vests at 150 innings. Add $1M each for crossing 140, 150, 160, and 170 innings; add $2M for crossing 180 innings. He maxes out at $12M/year, but the Reds would be on the hook for $7M.

    I don’t mind the younger pitchers with options pitching at AAA or in the bullpen. The rotation will eventually need to be reinforced. Show your ready and earn the call. I don’t mind the Reds keeping a slot open for Mahle, Reed, Lorenzen, Romano, Sims, etc. But the spot needs to be earned in ST as none have seized a guarantee.

  17. Stock

    I don’t think his dramatic improvement had as much to do with pitch choice but the ability to spot the ball much better. His command improved dramatically in 2018. Look at the cutter. From 2015 – 2017 he threw it in prime hitting spots (prime hitting spots being waist high or better and across the plate or waist high and just off the plate on the outside) 38.5% of the time. In 2018 he did so 33.5% of the time. from 2015-2017 he threw it at the knees 20% of the time and below the knees 20.5% of the time. In 2018 both these % increased to 25%. I noticed similar improvements in the location of his sinker. Overall he hit the outside bottom corner or just missed 24% of the time from 2015 – 2017 and improved that to 36% in 2018. His much improved command of the cutter allowed him to throw it more and his improved command on all his pitches led to better results.

    The $20 million question is will Sanchez exhibit the command of 2015-2017 or the command of 2018?

    I think Sanchez is every bit as good as Roark. However, I would like to think the Reds sent a message that they plan to compete in 2019 with the Roark trade. Roark, Sanchez and DeSclafani are all #4 starters. The Reds need an ace. The Reds need a #3. Wood fills the whole at #3. Wood fills the hole at #3. Bauer, Kluber or Syndergaard could be had.

    That said if you could save $10 – $15 million in salary with a Homer/Gennett/Barnhart/Puig/Wood trade and get Realmuto from the Marlins then add to the bullpen Miller and Ottavino then you could make it with average SP because the offense would be very good and the bullpen would be great.

  18. MK

    Two-years for $16 million with a third year with an innings vesting option.

  19. Northern Kentucky Reds

    Well, you know the reds are gonna sign a player if Doug is making a case for him. That’s why I said all along that this statement from the reds of spending mor money and getting top players is a joke and was a joke. Over the last 4 or 5 years, this guy has been absolutely horrible. Yeah decent year last year, but it makes the club look desperate. I agree with a few comments of using Romano and mahle instead. Resign Harvey. But the reds are looking dumber by the day. I would rather trade scooter for a good arm than to sign this clown. The reds have good trade chips, use them. I’d do that trade with the dodgers and throw in a prospect or 2 with Bailey for wood, Kemp , and a prospect. You have to give up something to get something.

    Sad thing is most of the commentors don’t know baseball at all and agree with Doug on everything. Sanchez is a typical jocketty signing. He’s still running things here. No team goes from Bauer and Kluber to Sanchez.

    • Greenfield Red

      You are aware the Reds have been trying to trade Gennett since last winter? As good as he’s been in Cincinnati, nobody seems to want him. You can’t trade Scooter for a good arm.

      • Northern Ky Reds

        I think the reds are just awful at trading. After the chapman and cueto trades, they’ve been proven as inept. It comes down as who and what the reds are asking for. I just don’t trust them. Sometimes however, you have to overpay. Almost every world series winner has overpaid for some type of upgrade on the way to winning a title. Just the facts.

    • Bill

      Actually, many of the commenters have suggested trading prospects for an “ace” type pitcher. The Reds have been mentioned in the press as interested in Kluber, Bauer, Syndergaard, Greinke, Paxton, and Keuchel. You are far from alone in seeing this as the optimal course of action.

      As it takes two sides to make a deal, what should the Reds do if none of the above are actually available? The Indians have shed some payroll and the Mets just signed their top target, a proven catcher. Paxton has signed and reportedly the D-backs want to hold onto Greinke until the trade deadline. Most metrics show Keuchel as a borderline #1 pitcher at best, and as of today he’s at a pretty high price point in terms of years and AAV. Syndergaard will almost certainly cost Senzel plus.

      While I agree a TOR pitcher is the top priority, I don’t think the Reds should overpay to get one. If a TOR pitcher is not available, then I’d love to see them do other moves to improve the team in 2019 while protecting their best prospects. I’d be okay with a Bailey to Dodgers bad contract swap, but let’s be honest; the metrics show all of the potential returnees except Puig to be replacement level players (i.e. Wood, Kemp, Hill). Puig moves the needle, the others are players we’d be hoping had big years in their contract year, just like we’d be doing with Sanchez.

      What’s the logic behind your preference for Harvey over Sanchez? Harvey’s 5 years younger, but neither will likely sign for more than 2 years, so that may not be important. Sanchez outperformed Harvey in terms of ERA, ERA+, FIP, WHIP, K/9, HR/9–pretty much across the board; Sanchez had double the WAR in 2018 than Harvey had in his time with the Reds–exactly 24 starts each. Prior to 2018, Harvey’s last good year was 2015 and Sanchez’s was 2014; absolutely there is risk that 2018 was an outlier positive year, but that risk applies to both players.

    • Jake Y.

      I always find it hilarious when someone accuses people of “not knowing baseball” in the same post where they display their own ignorance.

      Resign Harvey? Sanchez was better. By a lot.

      Trade Scooter for a good arm? He has one season left at $10MM+ in a crowded 2B market. You could probably expect a return similar to what we gave for Roark.

      The Dodger will not be sendinh any prospects back in a deal where they take on Bailey’s contract as a way to buy prospects. How does that make any sense?

      Jocketty still running things? You have not been paying any attention. Almost every front office and coaching position has turned over in the past two years.

      Kluber and Bauer are very likely no longer available because the Indians were able to shed salary in the Encarnacion and Alonso deals.

      But by all means, almighty baseball knower, tell us more.

  20. DJ Day

    Every one of the young Red’s pitchers got every opportunity in the world to land a rotation spot last season and not one of them did it. Now everyone is worried that bringing in established starters is going to take away their opportunities in 2019 like they magically learned to pitch over the winter. I was so tired of watching starters only last 2 or 3 innings night after night last season.

    • Redsvol

      Amen DJ Day, Amen. Opportunities are limited in the MLB. You either take advantage of them or get out of the way for someone who can.

    • The Duke

      I have to agree. Mahle should have another shot as he was very good before falling apart at the end of the year which tanked his stats. Disco deserves a shot if he is healthy as he has actually put together a successfully MLB season in GABP. Outside of those 2, if a guy doesn’t earn a spot, be it in the rotation or bullpen, in spring training, then it’s time to move on and hope the next wave of arms has a little more moxie than the one that is seemingly failing us now.

  21. AirborneJayJay

    If Anibal Sanchez is on the Reds 25 man roster come March 29, 2019, then stamp a big ole “DNR” on this rebuild. DNR = Do Not Resuscitate. And the 2019 season will be DOA. Dead On Arrival. Over before it begins, again.
    This off-season has been one steaming load of crap so far, player-wise. The new coaching staff is good but not great. But what they’ve done player-wise leaves a lot, a lot to be desired. Time is ticking. Options are dwindling.
    No confidence in the Reds front office to pull the trigger on a major deal / signing to improve the Reds. It is going to be more and more of the same ole, same ole. Shopping for players in the dumpsters and bargain bins of MLB. Just a little more upscale dumpsters and bargain bins this year.