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2011 Marlins Season Review: Anibal Sanchez, the Workhorse

We slowed down on season reviews recently on account of my finals coming up, but now Fish Stripes should be revving back up with reviewing the 2011 season. The next candidate up for review is Anibal Sanchez, who in two seasons has transformed himself from an unreliable, oft-injured starter to the Marlins' most dependable option at starting pitcher. Sanchez took a step forward this season, upping his peripherals and depending less on his previously magical ability to suppress home runs; it appears now he may be finally in full form after six long seasons of waiting for full development.

Anibal Sanchez 32 196 1/3 24.3 7.7 3.67 3.35 3.8 3.4

The Good

Sanchez improved in all areas of the game in 2011. In 2010, Marlins fans were happy just to see him healthy and in action for a full year -- something he had never previously done. In 2011, Sanchez took some steps forward that made him an even better pitcher than any of us expected. Take a look at the numbers.

Sanchez, Year IP K% BB% GB% HR/FB%
2011 196 1/3 24.3 7.7 44.3 10.4
2010 195 18.7 8.3 45.1 4.5

Sanchez upped his strikeout rate by a significant amount and continued a decline in walk rates that should bode well for him in the future. While it may appear as though his home run allowance got worse in 2011, it may also have something to do with simple regression. For his career, he has allowed home runs on 7.9 percent of fly balls, so his total was bound to go up in 2011 from a career-low 4.5 percent. What makes his performance more impressive was that he was able to maintain an almost identical FIP going from 2010 (3.32) to 2011 (3.35), primarily on the back of improving in strikeouts and walks.

Sanchez Swing% Contact% Zone Swing% Outside Swing% Zone Contact% Outside Contact%
2011 49 77 62 34 85 62
2010 47 80 60 30 86 65

In each category in terms of plate discipline, Sanchez improved from 2010 to 2011, and these improvements have helped to lead him to more strikeouts in the season. Not only did he get batters to swing at more pitches, but he also got them to increase their rate of out-of-zone swings by a larger amount than the increase in in-zone swings. Furthermore, batters made less contact on Sanchez's pitches, with the out-of-zone swings leading to more whiffs proportionally. Sanchez's increase in swinging strike rate seemingly came primarily from new out-of-zone swings, which should bode a little better for the future as well.

All of those numbers are excellent, but the Marlins had to be encouraged by the "196 2/3" number that represented Sanchez's number of innings pitched as well. The 2010 season was Sanchez's first full season as a starter, as he was previously undergoing a long recovery for his shoulder injury suffered in 2007. Sanchez lost essentially two seasons to his shoulder injury, as he was only able to contribute in parts of 2008 and 2009 as a result. With the Marlins losing his cheapest team-control years to injury, his health was a risky proposition for the club. Fortunately, he has paid off, as he threw almost 200 innings in two straight seasons. There is no guarantee he will be able to continue this performance, but it seems the days of his shoulder problems might very well be in the past.

The Bad

There was not much bad to discuss in Sanchez's 2011 season, which is rare given how poorly the Marlins' overall year went. While the rest of the Marlins' rotation floundered due to injury and ineffectiveness, Sanchez never suffered much of either. He made all of his scheduled starts for the last two seasons, not missing any game time due to injury. His performance ranked him as the best pitcher on the Marlins' staff in any Wins Above Replacement measure, and while consistency is not necessarily something you need from your pitchers (it turns out consistency has little correlation to regular season success), Sanchez did not oscillate much in his performance; after April, his ERA never climbed past 4.15 and never dipped below 2.60.

In short, in a season where nothing seemed to go right for the Fish, Anibal Sanchez was one of the few things that did turn out well. The questions now are whether Sanchez has performed well enough to warrant a contract extension from the Marlins, and what kind of extension would he earn were to he sign for the long haul with the Fish or any other organization. Those questions will be answered later today.