Miami Marlins Season Preview: Anibal Sanchez

Feb 22, 2012; Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins pitcher Anibal Sanchez (19) during spring training at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Yesterday, we began our look at the Miami Marlins' starting pitching staff, and today we ought to continue with out investigation of the unit that may end up making or breaking the team's season. The rotation holds the key to whether the Marlins will be competing or left out in the cold by September's time, so let us examine how well our starters are expected to play in 2012.

Josh Johnson's performance is going to be critical in order for the Marlins to succeed, but the rest of the rotation needs to continue its expected strong play as well. For example, the Marlins are banking on a third consecutive strong campaign from Anibal Sanchez, and he too is banking on a good season as well given that it is his contract year and he may be looking for an extension or a free agent deal next year. Can the Fish get that out of the 28-year old starter?

Rotation

1. Josh Johnson
2. Anibal Sanchez

Anibal Sanchez had an excellent 2011 season following his bounce back 2010 campaign, but a lot of made 2010 good was missing in 2011. Don't get me wrong, however, as that is actually a good thing that speaks to future success for Sanchez. See, much of Sanchez's 2010 success was in suppressing home runs, as he allowed a long ball in only 4.5 percent of his fly balls. In 2011, he depended less on a deflated HR/FB rate but rather on strikeouts, as he struck out a career-high 24.3 percent of hitter faced. He also continued to tone down his walks, as he walked a career-low 7.8 percent of batters.

One look at his plate discipline numbers and you may have an idea of what happened last season.
Sanchez, Season Swing% O-Swing% Contact% O-Contact%
2011 48.0 32.3 76.9 61.7
2010 45.9 29.6 79.5 65.3
2007-2011 (Pitch F/X era) 46.0 30.2 78.2 62.3

Sanchez got a little bit less contact on both pitches in and out of the zone, and he got hitters swinging at pitches out of the zone more often than before. Yes, these numbers are generally more predictive of future performance, but the changes are not so great that I would expect him to stay at his 2011 strikeout and walk rates. Remember, Sanchez was 27 years old in 2011, and pitchers generally begin decline at age 26. What we saw in 2011 may have just been a career year in terms of strikeouts and walks, and we should lean towards him regressing towards the mean a little more this year.

But there is still good news to be heard. We saw in 2011 that Sanchez could succeed in a method outside of allowing a minuscule number of home runs, and that should play a big role in determining if he can continue to play up to this 2010-2011 level. His improvement in strikeouts and walks should also add some projectable value for 2012. What do the projections see in Sanchez?

Sanchez, Proj IP K% BB% ERA FIP
ZiPS 174 1/3 21.1 8.3 3.67 3.49
Steamer 180 20.9 8.3 3.83 3.75
PECOTA 174 19.3 9.2 4.17 3.80
Fans 200 21.9 7.9 3.62 3.56

These projections seem pretty similar. PECOTA's line is the least optimistic, while the Fans, ZiPS, and Steamer seem to generally have the same idea of the 2012 version of Sanchez If we take the average of the ERA and FIP projections along with the innings projections, we get a projected 182 innings pitched and a 3.74 ERA. That run mark is not all that dissimilar from his 2009-2011 mark of 3.66, so it is not an entirely unbelievable projection. I'd lean towards a more optimistic mark a little better than his three-year mark, but for the purposes of this exercise, let us use the 3.74 ERA projection.

Projection: 182 IP, 3.0 WAR

This marks Sanchez as a solid win better than the average starting pitcher. Earlier, the Fans had projected a 3.4 WAR campaign for Sanchez that we used to compare the Marlins' rotation to other NL East rotations. The projection FanGraphs used based on ZiPS was also at 3.0 WAR when rounding to the nearest half-win as well, so overall this projection is not at all far-fetched for 2012. This should leave Sanchez as solidly next to Mark Buehrle as co-holders of the second spot in the rotation, as both pitchers should be of similar quality in 2012.

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