Originally posted on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 5/30/13
In baseball, there are dozens of different statistics that fans use to decide who the best player is. One of the most common stats used is WAR. (For those of you that don’t know, WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement, or how much more valuable a player is opposed to a replacement player). So far in 2013, no pitcher has a higher WAR than Anibal Sanchez, who is currently pacing baseball with a 3.1 mark.Despite a mediocre 5-5 record, Sanchez sports an impressive 2.79 ERA and 1.13 WHIP through 11 starts this year. While those are great numbers, the biggest surprise this year has been the strikeouts. So far in 2013, Sanchez has whiffed 89 batters in 71 innings, good for a ridiculous 11.28 K/9. While that strikeout total is amazing for any pitcher, it’s been especially shocking to see that kind of dominance come from Sanchez. Only once in his career had Sanchez topped 9.0 K/9, and prior to 2013, he was only averaging 7.6 K/9.Take a look at Sanchez’s PitchFX data (courtesy of brooksbaseball.net):At a glance it doesn’t seem like a lot has changed. His average fastball velocity is up slightly (93.0 up from 92.4 last year), and each of his other pitches has averaged a small uptick in velocity as well. However, Sanchez has actually been throwing faster as the season has progressed. In six starts in May this year his fastball has averaged 93.4 MPH, and in his start against the Pirates last night he averaged 94.9 MPH while topping out at 96.5!!Another noticeable change Sanchez has made this year is the movement on his fastball. Over his career, Sanchez has averaged about a 9.6 inch vertical movement on his fastball. This year it’s up to a crazy 11.2 inches! While adding an extra 1.6 inch of vertical movement doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, it can actually make a huge difference. Major-league bats can be no more than 2.75 inches on the thickest part of the bat, and that extra vertical movement can be the difference between a solid line drive and a weak dribbler.It’s also likely that the extra vertical movement is contributing to the fact that Sanchez has not allowed very many home runs this year. After allowing 40 long balls in his last two seasons (392 IP), Sanchez has only given up 3 home runs in 71 innings this year. His 5.5% HR/FB is exactly half of the league average and he probably won’t be able to keep it that low all season, but Sanchez should continue to keep the ball out of the bleachers at a pretty good rate. It’s also worth noting that all three home runs Sanchez has allowed this year have been solo shots, and he obviously won’t get that lucky all season.When you pair the increase in strikeouts and the decrease in home runs with Sanchez’s already great control (2.5 BB/9 over the past two years), you get a recipe for a monster season. The stat FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) takes into account what a pitcher’s ERA would be if you used only the stats that are 100% in the pitcher’s control (strikeouts, walks, and home runs). Not surprisingly, Sanchez leads all of baseball with a miniscule 1.86 FIP.This season has seen Anibal Sanchez transform from a solid middle-of-the-rotation pitcher to a bonafide ace, and those of you who drafted him this year should give yourself a pat on the back. The guy is pitching better than Justin Verlander! I can definitely see Sanchez continue to be a top-10 pitcher for the rest of the season, but if I would try to trade him and see what you can get. You could probably get a top 10 hitter for Sanchez right now, and trading your 12th round pick for a 1st round pick is pretty good deal in my book! If you can’t sell high on him, no problem! Just stick him in your lineup with confidence and enjoy the results!
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