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Definable Qualities - Finding Aaron Sanchez's Comparables

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Trying to find the closest possible comparable pitcher's to the young Blue Jays starter.

Aaron Sanchez has been one of the few bright spots for the Blue Jays this season
Aaron Sanchez has been one of the few bright spots for the Blue Jays this season
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

One of the few joys Toronto Blue Jays fans have been able to take from the opening two months of the season has been the strong play of pitcher Aaron Sanchez.

In 2015 his ability to be an effective starting pitcher was often the topic of debate in the BBB forums and beyond. As a starter in 2015 he sported a respectable 3.55 ERA. He had all the physical tools and "stuff" to be a very effective starter, and was among the teams most exciting arms. Though, others (reasonably) pointed to his 1:1 K/BB ratio, his high BB/9 (5.05), and his 5.21 FIP/4.64 xFIP.

Then there was the whole LHH thing. Sanchez put up a very bad 6.76 FIP/5.27 xFIP vs LHH last season as both a starter and reliever. He walked 5.80 per 9 while only striking out 4.40.

So far this season, he's been an entirely different pitcher.

He's managed to improve his ERA to 3.20 while also cleaning up his peripherals. His FIP is a respectable 3.30, with an also respectable 3.32 xFIP. His strikeouts have risen to 7.93 from 5.73 K/9 (again, as a starter) while he's walking less (3.20 BB/9).

And, against LHH he has a 3.86 FIP/3.77 xFIP, he's striking out 8.04 per 9 while also walking less (from 5.80 in 2015 to 3.73 in 2016).

It was while I looked through these numbers that I began wondering, who are Sanchez's comparables?

Now, sure. You aren't going to find too many pitcher's who have a 97mph fastball with the movement of a LHP's slider. And yes, there is a Small Sample Size Alert involved here. There is no direct comparison of Sanchez's 59 innings to other pitchers' hundreds of innings.

And yet, I couldn't help myself but to wonder. Who, from a purely statistical standpoint, does Aaron Sanchez (circa 2016) compare to? Who, if any, shared a similar statistical pitching profile?

The first step in answering that question was to start by answering a much simpler question. What is Aaron Sanchez?

By the numbers, when compared to the other qualified SP's this season (of which there are 103), he is an extreme Ground Ball pitcher (58.1% - 6th) who walks too many hitters (3.20 BB/9 - 69th), and is a fine but not elite Strikeout pitcher (7.93 K/9 - 39th). He gets a ton of weak contact (23.1% Soft - 15th). His HR/FB is fairly average (11.8% - 52nd), but his Hard Contact% is above average (29% - T-36th).

Oh, and he throws his fastball more than almost anyone in the game (73.6% - 3rd). But, that's more an interesting fact than actually relevant to this article.

To summarize what the numbers tell us.

1st - He's a Groundball Machine
2nd - Has a High BB/9 - Above Average K/9
3rd - He Induces a Ton of Weak Contact

Those are, to me, the core of Aaron Sanchez's pitching profile.

The process to find the comparables goes like this:

I sort the pitcher's by one of the three categories listed above and match, within a margin of error, a group of pitcher's with similar numbers in that category (ex. 58.1 GB%). Then, of those pitcher's, I will match as many of the other peripherals (BB/9, K/9, and Soft%) as possible as closely as possible. The stronger the match, the stronger the comparable.

Then, I'll do the same for the other two categories. Giving us as comprehensive a list as I am capable of generating.

I limited the data from just 2005 to 2016. There are 325 pitchers on the list. All of whom have pitched at least 300 innings. The lowest cumulative innings pitched to qualify during this time period was 303 by Yusmeiro Petit.

Let's get started.

THE GROUND BALL MACHINES
I'll start by mentioning there are shockingly few SP's who have a GB% anywhere near Aaron Sanchez's 58.1% (seven pitcher's at or above). For this comparison, I took anyone over 57%.

PITCHER

GROUND BALL %

BRANDON WEBB

64.3

DEREK LOWE

61.3

DALLAS KEUCHEL

59.3

CHIEN-MING WANG

59.3

JAKE WESTBROOK

58.4

BRETT ANDERSON

58.3

TIM HUDSON

58.2

MARK MULDER

57.5

AARON COOK

57.4


I can eliminate Brandon Webb and Derek Lowe as the high end of the GB% spectrum. Everyone else, however, fall within the margin of error (about 1% in either direction).

PITCHER

BB/9

SOFT CONTACT

K/9

DALLAS KEUCHEL

2.60

20.8%

7.08

C-M WANG

2.69

16.8%

4.13

JAKE WESTBROOK

2.90

15%

5.06

BRETT ANDERSON

2.36

20.8%

6.61

TIM HUDSON

2.56

18%

5.64

MARK MULDER

3.31

14.2%

4.80

AARON COOK

2.51

15.7%

3.75


THOSE WITH BB/9 TROUBLES and K's TO SPARE
Like the GB%, I've sorted pitchers by BB/9. Then, to narrow the list down, I took only the pitchers with BB/9 from 3.15-3.35 who also had K/9 of 7.00 or higher.

PITCHER

BB/9

TRAVIS WOOD

3.15

TOMMY HANSON

3.16

CLAY BUCHHOLZ

3.20

JIMMY NELSON

3.20

GARRETT RICHARDS

3.21

JUAN NICASIO

3.27

RUBBY DE LA ROSA

3.32

YAVANI GALLARDO

3.32

LANCE LYNN

3.33


Like the previous stage, once I'd found the players who had a similar set of BB/9 and K/9, I compared their other two peripherals to that of Sanchez to try and find further comparison.

PITCHER

GB%

K/9

SOFT CONTACT

TRAVIS WOOD

33.1

7.09

18.3

TOMMY HANSON

39.6

8.25

17.5

CLAY BUCHHOLZ

48.2

7.00

16.2

JIMMY NELSON

49.8

7.40

20.2

GARRETT RICHARDS

52.7

7.51

19.9

JUAN NICASIO

44.4

7.14

18.9

RUBBY DE LA ROSA

48.4

7.32

17.2

YOVANI GALLARDO

46.6

8.18

16.1

LANCE LYNN

44.1

8.62

18.7


SOFT CONTACT KINGDOM
Soft Contact Percentage, of which Aaron Sanchez has been very nearly elite pitcher at inducing, is the final category. At 23.1 in his first nine starts, Aaron is surpassed only by Daniel Hudson. But, for this comparison, I've decided to use Aaron's career number (19.8) over his season number (23.1).

The margin of error I used was 19.0 to 21.0. But, there were 45 pitcher's who have that number. So, as a caveat, I narrowed the list to those with the highest GB% to make the strongest possible match.

PITCHER

SOFT CONTACT %

GB%

JEFF LOCKE

19.2

50.7

TYSON ROSS

19.5

56.2

JAIME GARCIA

19.5

56.6

GARRETT RICHARDS

19.9

52.7

ROY HALLADAY

20.0

52.5

CHARLIE MORTON

20.7

55.4

DALLAS KUECHEL

20.8

59.3

BRETT ANDERSON

20.8

58.3

JARRED COSART

20.9

54.9

KYLE HENDRICKS

21.3

51.3

Like the previous two stages, now that I have matched them up to Aaron in two of his core peripherals, I look to find matches within the remaining two.

PITCHER

K/9

BB/9

JEFF LOCKE

6.65

3.68

TYSON ROSS

8.65

3.49

JAIME GARCIA

7.28

2.55

ROY HALLADAY

7.18

1.58

CHARLIE MORTON

6.35

3.37

JARRED COSART

5.61

4.29

KYLE HENDRICKS

4.95

2.50


After completing all three stages I've found that there are four pitchers who fit as Sanchez's comparables.

Dallas Kuechel sports a similar Ground Ball, Soft Contact heavy profile with above average (though less so) K/9. Garrett Richards has a similar K/9, BB/9, and Soft% while also having a GB leaning profile. Tyson Ross is the same as Richards, only with more K/9 and GB%. And finally Charlie Morton, a GB heavy, high BB/9, soft contact pitcher. Though less of a strikeout pitcher, I elected to add him.

PITCHER

GB%

K/9

BB/9

SOFT%

SANCHEZ

58.1

7.92

3.20

19.8

KUECHEL

59.3

7.08

2.60

20.8

RICHARDS

52.7

7.51

3.21

19.9

ROSS

56.2

8.65

3.49

19.5

MORTON

55.4

6.35

3.37

20.7

PITCHER

ERA

FIP

xFIP

AARON SANCHEZ

3.20

3.31

3.33

DALLAS KUECHEL

3.69

3.63

3.38

GARRETT RICHARDS

3.47

3.58

3.72

TYSON ROSS

3.53

3.47

3.50

CHARLIE MORTON

4.55

4.09

4.04

THE CONCLUSION
If this, the Sanchez we've seen through 9 games and nearly 60 innings, is who Aaron Sanchez is going to be, he is in truly good company as far as comparables go. No surprise. Good Sanchez is good.

But, even I was surprised that, with all the data used, I could only find four pitcher's that I felt were even remotely comparable to the Blue Jays righty. He is, at least so far this season, a rare beast to behold.

And while none of this projects future success, it is encouraging. And, with the Blue Jays sitting at 23-25 and 4th in the AL East, encouraging news is really more than we have gotten recently.