Sunday, October 31, 2010

Should the Giants Shut Down Sanchez?

After last night's Game 3 start, there's a lot of chatter questioning whether the Giants should shut down left-handed pitcher Jonathan Sanchez for the remainder of the season.  Sanchez was excellent all season, showing flashes of dominance.  In his first postseason start, he was lights out.  He held the Braves to two hits over 7-1/3 innings while striking out eleven and walking one.  His last three postseason starts (Games 2 and 5 in the NLCS and Game 3 of the World Series), could be best described as inconsistent, although some might call them forgettable.

While I haven't seen the pitch f/x data for his four postseason starts, the anecdotal evidence indicates Sanchez is suffering from fatigue.  His average fastball velocity appears to have fallen off, which would explain why his K/9 rate has steadily dropped off since his first postseason start.  His location hasn't been as crisp, which has led to an increase in line drives.  Finally, his control is all over the place.*        

*In his first start, Sanchez threw 65.7% of his pitches for strikes.  In his second start, he threw 64% of his pitches for strikes.  In his third (and most forgettable start), he threw 48% of his pitches for strikes.  In last night's start, he threw 59.7% of his pitches for strikes.  As a frame of reference, Sanchez threw 61.5% of his total pitches for strikes this season. 

Normally, I would chalk his poor performance over last few starts up to small sample size variation.  Unfortunately, I don't think we can say that here.  Sanchez threw 193.1 innings during the regular season, plus an additional 20 during the postseason.  This number exceeds his 2009 total (and previous high) by 50 innings.  When you consider the anecdotal factors listed above, his total workload, and the additional stress and pressure that comes from pitching in the postseason, it shouldn't come as any surprise that Sanchez is suffering from a dead arm.  Sanchez claims his arm feels fine, but do you really expect him to say anything else?  If the schedule holds, Sanchez is on pace to pitch Game 7, which is something every pitcher dreams of doing.  He's not going to risk that.

This brings us back to the question:  Should the Giants shut Sanchez down?  No.  They should not shut him down completely.  That said, it might be a smart idea to start Madison Bumgarner in Game 7, while making Sanchez available to pitch out of the bullpen.  Bumgarner has been outstanding over the past two months (44/5 K/BB ratio and an ERA under 2.00), and he seems to have plenty left in the tank.  Pitching Sanchez out of the bullpen should minimize Sanchez's feelings of fatigue, while giving the Giants the power lefty out of the bullpen they need.  Making this difficult decision probably puts the Giants in the best position to win their first World Series since 1954 if the series goes to seven games.

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