Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief, Part 2

anibal sanchez bench

In the history of Major League Baseball, there’s only been one player with the first name Anibal. Anibal Alejandro Sanchez broke into the majors in 2006 with the Florida Marlins. He, along with Omar Infante, came to Detroit in the middle of the 2012 season in a trade. In 2013, his first full season as a Tiger, Sanchez produced by far the best season of his career (6.1 bWAR, 6.0 fWAR, 5.1 WARP). It’s been all downhill since then, though, and his move to the bullpen in 2016 seemed inevitable if only because he remained signed to a starter-magnitude contract that made totally cutting bait a pill too difficult to swallow. Sanchez didn’t make the transition especially well, however, and things have not improved in 2017. It’s come time for the Tigers to release this former fish.

After an especially bad weekend in Oakland capped a rough start to this season for incumbent closer Francisco Rodriguez, I (along with everyone else in the world) wrote on Monday that manager Brad Ausmus needed to demote K-Rod immediately. Ausmus agreed and did so, promoting Justin Wilson to the closer role, although the first run with the new top-line bullpen arrangement showed Ausmus still has room for improvement there. Dynamic, leverage-oriented bullpen management is pretty difficult to accomplish, though, and Sanchez has become a much clearer and more present danger to the team’s success than any further usage optimization of the capable portion of the relief corps.

Sanchez, as a converted starter who used to be good, would seem to be the optimal long relief guy, but he has foundered in that role, and if it seems like he gives up a home run every time he comes into a game, well, you’re not far off.

Last night in Arizona, Sanchez made his first appearance in over a week and immediately surrendered back-to-back home runs to the first two batters he faced. Although the Tigers’ offense had evaporated in the desert heat that night, those two homers Sanchez allowed felt like the real mortal blow that destroyed any hope for a comeback.

This is who Sanchez is at this point. Among qualified relievers in 2017, only one pitcher is allowing home runs at a higher rate than him (none have allowed more, total, than him), and Sanchez has been used more than everybody in the “top” twenty on that list. This now is an untenable situation, and it probably has been for some time. In my recent post about Rodriguez, I tried to pinpoint some problem areas and look for signs of hope because Rodriguez’s downturn was relatively sudden. At thirty-five, he might be cooked, but we don’t yet know enough to determine that with sufficient conclusivity. With Sanchez, however, the track record’s pretty clear. He can’t keep the ball in the park. Add to that his inability to hold runners on base (Sanchez ranked sixth among all pitchers in 2016 in the rate at which runners tried to steal on him), likely due to his slow, predictable windup movement to the plate, and you have yourself an incompetent reliever.

The Detroit bullpen obviously is thin, but Sanchez simply cannot be called into action at the major-league level anymore, and if Ausmus does so, it should constitute baseball malpractice per se. Anyone else would be a better option. Joe Jimenez and even Bruce Rondon might not turn out to be any better, but at least there’s potential there (maybe less so in Rondon’s case). I’d even take a look at what the organization’s new converted pitcher, Anthony Gose, has to offer.

Like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, Sanchez is a native Venezuelan, and he has seemed like a good fit with this team since he joined it five years ago. He’s contributed substantially over that stretch, but, for more than a year now, he has been an unequivocal net negative. General manager Al Avila needs to view Sanchez’s contract (in its final year, with a $16 million team option/$5 million buyout for 2018) as a sunk cost. The team must move on immediately.

______________________________________________

Previously
Saving Detroit: Reliever Relief – 5/8

Related
2017 Detroit Tigers Season Preview
Is the next Mike Trout already in Detroit?
Feel like they never tell you the story of the Gose?

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