With much of the pitching focus this spring for the Detroit Tigers on the closer situation and whether Justin Verlander scores his big contract extension, perhaps the biggest story, when things are said and done, will be the performance of Anibal Sanchez.
That is unbelievable money for a pitcher who has never won more than 13 games. What the Tigers are paying for with Sanchez, however, is the potential he brings to the rotation.
In his rookie season of 2006 with the Florida Marlins, Sanchez showed the baseball world what he is capable of by no-hitting the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sept. 6. Since then, Sanchez has tried hard to live up to that potential.
Injuries cost Sanchez a full-time slot in the rotation the next three seasons in Miami.
When finally turned loose in the 2010 season, Sanchez posted a career-best record of 13-12 with an ERA of 3.55. The 2011 season saw that ERA jump to 3.67 and the record go to 8-9.
In those years, the Marlins were not an overly competitive team, and the win-loss record is not a good indicator of where Sanchez was at as a pitcher.
Does that mean he had ace stuff? No.
But, he was not a shrinking violet on the mound.
When he was traded at the deadline last year from Miami to Detroit, he had a 5-7 record and an ERA of 3.94. Not great, but not bad. His ERA+ of 101 tells us that he was an average National League pitcher.
The decision to trade for Sanchez was a right one for the Tigers.
He lowered that ERA to 3.74 in 12 starts. He also did a better job in getting hitters to hit the ball. While his hits per nine climbed to a career-high 9.8, his strikeouts per nine went to a career-low 6.9. The silver lining is that his walks per nine dropped to a career-low of 1.8.
In a short time with Detroit, Sanchez learned to trust the defense behind him to do their job. Do not let that 4-6 record fool you. Sanchez delivered the goods in the postseason.
In 20.1 innings, Sanchez recorded an ERA of 1.77, giving up four runs in three starts. The Tigers offense, however, could not back up those numbers, and Sanchez lost two of his three playoff starts.
After all these years of what might have been, Sanchez now has the opportunity to ply his trade for a championship-caliber team. Even with a career record of 48–51, there are very few teams that would consider Sanchez a fourth starter.
He is not an ace, but he has a capability of being a strong No. 3 or, for a lesser caliber team, a decent No. 2.
The strength of the Tigers rotation shows why he will be the fourth starter. He also may be the best No. 4 in all of baseball.
If he can give them 200 innings and 15 wins the next couple seasons, then there is a good chance that they will be playing baseball deep into October.
Along with the return of Victor Martinez on offense, what Sanchez does this year will be a very good barometer of just how far the Tigers will go.
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