The 2012 Miami Marlins Season Review series continues from one disappointment in John Buck and his year to another major disappointment in 2012 Opening Day starter Gaby Sanchez. The Marlins began the year confident that Sanchez could maintain his production, and it is hard to blame them for believing that. Remember this point from our 2012 season preview at first base?
Sanchez, Season PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ 2011 661 .266 .352 .427 .342 113 2010 643 .273 .341 .448 .346 111
It was perfectly understandable to believe that Sanchez would be able to provide the same value he did in 2010 and 2011, and that sort of production was at least worth a league average first baseman. Sanchez's career line of .269/.346/.440 (.345 wOBA) was almost identical to his first two full seasons in the majors. His peripherals in 2011 were better than those in 2012 in terms of plate discipline. He hit for less power in his last season, but the doubles and home run totals were almost identical in 20 more opportunities in 2011. In many ways, Sanchez's first two full seasons were mirror images of each other, and naturally that reflected the projection of "consistency" and relatively certain results in 2012.
All of that is the reason why his collapse at the start of 2012 was so surprising.
Sanchez's season is yet another truly historically poor campaign in a year full of terrible seasons at the plate for the Marlins. Since the team's inception in 1993, there have been 224 player-seasons that had at least 196 PA for the Marlins. In terms of OPS+, Sanchez's is the fifth-worst year of all time for the Fish, ahead of only Alex Gonzalez's miserable 2000 campaign and three other part-timers, including another horrific 2012 season.
As bad as John Buck was this year, even batting below the Mendoza Line and all, Sanchez's year was much worse and cost the Marlins a lot more in such a short time. Sanchez's awful campaign cost the Marlins 11 runs compared to a league average hitter in just 196 PA; compare that to the work that Buck and Hayes did in costing the Fish 10 runs versus the average each. Sanchez, in a little less than half of Buck's opportunities, Sanchez actually beat his negative production.
This is even worse when compared to what was expected of Sanchez. Remember, he was a "good old reliable" asset in the Marlins' lineup given his past two seasons and their consistent nature. Instead of being easily predictable, Sanchez collapsed so badly in 2012 that he was among the biggest culprits in the team's failed expectations; in that article, I calculated that Sanchez cost the Marlins 16 runs compared to what they expected of him. On offense alone, in just 196 PA, he cost the Fish more than a win and a half in terms of their expectations. No wonder this team won 69 games.
When you look at Sanchez's season with the Fish more carefully, you cannot even spot one area which was the most troublesome. When it comes to his 2012 season, everything seemingly went wrong. His strikeouts were up and his walks were down compared to career norms. He was popping up more pitches than ever before. As a result, both his power and his BABIP were way down in the short sample he put up this past season. There was no one culprit to his terrible 2012 start, but rather a slew of problems that, at least to the Marlins, indicated an issue more concerning than a mere extended slump.
Of course, the Marlins at some point gave up on Sanchez, eventually demoting him to Triple-A for good and trading for Carlos Lee to man first base for the rest of the year. The Fish figured Lee would be a significant upgrade over Sanchez, which shows just how far his stock had fallen in less than a third of a season. Given his status as close to Super Two arbitration eligible, it was also understandable that the Fish eventually traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Gorkys Hernandez and a competitive balance draft pick. The Marlins figured they would get anything they could get from Sanchez in return for avoiding to deal with his potential odd arbitration status.
Naturally, what does Sanchez do when he leaves?
That wOBA is terrible for a first baseman (it is around the league average), but it was significantly better than what he had done with the Fish. Up until the last few games of the year, he had actually been matching his projections prior to the trade as well, meaning that the Pirates may get some value back for that compensation pick.
Even if they do not (and there is a good chance that Sanchez also is never the same player, as his numbers never fully recovered either), the Marlins do not have to worry about that. For the Fish, Sanchez is just another cog in the disappointing wheel of 2012, but he was one of the major contributors to the downfall of this team's offense. Unfortunately for the Fish, his replacement did not fare much better.