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Detroit Tigers

The Analytics Behind Anibal Sanchez’s Surge

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Who was that pitcher and what did he do with Anibal Sanchez? That is the question surrounding the mind of every Detroit Tigers fan after the Tigers defeated the Cleveland Indians 7-4 on the first game of a doubleheader Saturday afternoon.

Sanchez pitched 6.1 innings, surrendering one earned run in the third inning following a Jason Kipnis sacrifice fly. He conceded two more in the seventh with a Lonnie Chisenhall RBI, who then came to score from a Carlos Santana home run given up by relief pitcher Daniel Stumpf.

Since recalled from AAA Toledo, Sanchez’s ERA is down to 3.16, an enormous step up his 9.82 ERA in April and 7.11 ERA in May out of the bullpen.

But what exactly happened to Sanchez? His numbers have steadily declined for years. Most Tigers fans thought they’d seen the last of him since he was sent down to the minors in May. Yet when the Tigers shipped SP Buck Farmer back to AAA in late June, it was Sanchez who once again received the opportunity at the next level.

Except this time, he wasn’t going to be coming out of the pen. He had to start. If he did not make some serious improvements, the Tigers might as well have penciled in every fifth game as a loss.

But somehow, Sanchez did make improvements. He’s nobody’s ace, but the last three games suggest that he may be able to hold down a spot in the Tigers’ rotation that neither Farmer nor Matt Boyd could secure.

Sanchez’s biggest downfall in recent memory is giving up the home run. In his glory years, Sanchez could venture an entire season allowing less than ten homers. But lately, his home run total has skyrocketed to about 30 per year. This is the biggest factor that lead to an ERA hike of 2.92 from 2013-2014 to 5.42 from 2015-2016.

So what has Sanchez done differently to cut down on the homers? According statistics from Brooks Baseball, one big factor is changing the way he uses his curveball.

Over the past couple seasons, Sanchez threw his curveball 9 percent of the time. But against righties, his curveball hung over the heart of the plate resulting in right-handed batters homering Sanchez’s curveball nearly three percent of the time he threw it. To put this in perspective, a good percentage would be under one.

Since returning, Sanchez has all but abandoned his curveball against right-handed batters. Against lefties, he’s managed to keep it low. He’s also slowed down his curveball, as he has with many of his breaking balls and off-speed pitches, causing a medley of early swings and misses.

The same is true for Sanchez’s fastball. In his prime, his fastball was typically in the low section of the strike zone. But over the years, it has soared higher and away, placing it right at the barrel of the bat. Since returning, he managed to keep his fastball down and inside, tying up batters while also showing the control to move around his heater, nailing every crevice of the strike zone.

Sanchez is also relying more heavily on his cut fastball. For his first two starts, he slowed it down by 4 mph. It also moved about five inches less vertically. With this, Sanchez better disguised his cutter and used the element of trickery to his advantage. He can also go upstairs with it for a brilliant strikeout pitch.

On Sanchez’s Saturday start, his cutter looked fairly typical to the way it did earlier this year, with higher speed and more vertical movement. But his control was much better. He crowded it inside batters and avoided throwing it right down the middle.

Most importantly, Sanchez has emphasized in all three starts his ability to bring the cutter into his regular pitch rotation.

Sanchez does not have the velocity to blow away hitters. But when he plays the way he has for the last three games, he can effectively deal six different pitches including the four seam fastball, sinker, changeup, slider, curveball and cutter.

This gives Sanchez the ability to keep hitters guessing. He uses disguise and deception to craft his trade.

This is the biggest key for Sanchez moving forward. Hitters will eventually learn his new trends and find ways to use it against him. This is why Sanchez must constantly update his strategy, as his entire game is surrounded by deceiving the hitter.

For Sanchez, pitching is a mind game. At 33, he cannot rely on sheer force and power to get the job done. But he does have experience, which he must continually use to keep himself one step ahead of the batter. His ability to do this will likely determine if he can remain in the Tigers’ rotation for the remainder of the season.

Andy is an outgoing and energetic reporter going into the field of sports journalism. He currently attends Michigan State University where he is a beat reporter for MSU football and does play-by-play for women's basketball. And has been a baseball contributor to Sports Rants since March of 2017

Detroit Tigers

Tigers To Part Ways With Manager Brad Ausmus

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Per the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit Tigers will not renew the contract of manager Brad Ausmus, which expires after this season.

“We didn’t win,” Tigers’ GM Al Avila said explaining his decision. “The organization, the club, got to a point where we needed change on the field. We needed to change the roster, and we started trading players, so the conclusion is… Let’s just take a whole brand new road and opening up to new things.”

The move did not surprise Ausmus one bit. In fact, he accepted it as inevitability. For the past week he dropped hints that the end was near.

“Quite frankly, I told him I fully understood,” said Ausmus. “And I told him, if he had walked in and offered me a contract, I probably wouldn’t have come back because I think this team, this organization, is starting over. They need a new voice.”

Ausmus took over as Detroit’s manager in 2014, replacing the retired Jim Leyland. Ausmus played for Detroit in 1996, then again in 1999-2000. He did not have any prior managing experience in the MLB, although he did manage in Israel.

“I would say the manager doesn’t have to have managerial experience at the major league level,” Avila said. “But he certainly has to have managerial experience, in my opinion, in the minor leagues or coaching experience at the major leagues, so that person that comes in is well prepared in that sense.”

Ausmus’ record as Detroit’s manager is 312-326. But he overall regressed in his four seasons, starting from an AL Central leading 90-72 in 2014 to a catastrophic 62-92 in 2017.

Certainly this drop off is not completely Ausmus’ fault. In fact, it’s probably not even mostly his fault. Detroit’s front office displayed a flash of reconstruction in 2015 by trading Yoenis Cespedes, David Price and Joakim Soria. Then-GM Dave Dombrowski was fired shortly after trading these three players.

Avila took over and addressed the holes left by Dombrowski through signing Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann over the 2015-16 offseason.

But Avila’s push didn’t last long. After a failed 2017 campaign, Avila went into total rebuilding mode by trading numerous Tigers’ veterans including Upton, Justin Verlander, JD Martinez, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila. This doomed any short term Tigers’ success and Ausmus’ career with it.

“I’ve known for a couple days that it was definitely happening and that I was going to have to speak to you sooner than later,” said Ausmus. “But in my mind, since the Aug. 31 trade deadline, I kind of felt like this was the direction it should go for the Tigers.”

When asked if he had any regrets, Ausmus kept it blunt. He never won a ring.

“I wish, if nothing else, that we could have won a World Series,” Ausmus said. “Quite frankly, I wish we could have done it before Mr. I (Illitch) passed away. But sports aren’t perfect.”

Ausmus had his chance, too. He won the Al Central in 2014. This team had the makings for a deep playoff run, especially with a starting pitching rotation of Justin Verlander Max Scherzer, David Price and the then-great Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. But it ended with a 3-0 sweep by the Baltimore Orioles in the first round of the playoffs.

The Tigers could not grasp that elusive World Series they’ve been chasing for a decade. Now, it’s time to start from square one. With this, Ausmus had no role in Detroit—and he knows that there’s no better route than this one.

“I wish Al the best,” Ausmus said. “I think he’s got the organization pointed in the right direction. He’s beefed up the analytics and scouting and he made some touch calls in trading guys like Ver (Justin Verlander) for prospects and rebuilding the minor league system and it’s going to be a little bit of a haul here for the next couple of years but they’re moving in the right direction and I wish the Tigers and Al nothing but the best.”

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Detroit Tigers

Houston Proves No-Nonsense With Verlander Blockbuster

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The biggest trade of the 2017 MLB season did not come until a month after the non-waiver deadline. Yesterday, the Detroit Tigers said goodbye to longtime ace Justin Verlander, sending him to the Houston Astros in exchange for three top prospects.

The move is quite impressive given the implications on both sides. The Tigers, whom have ignored the obvious call for a rebuild over the past few seasons, seem to finally be on board with that plan. Fellow stars Justin Upton, JD Martinez and Justin Wilson were also sent on their way this season. GM Al Avila had the difficult task of parting ways with Detroit’s most popular player and franchise cornerstone. Verlander was 2006’s AL Rookie of the Year with Detroit as well as 2011’s Cy Young winner and MVP.

However, the Tigers should benefit greatly with the acquisition of RHP Franklin Perez (MLB Astros no.3 prospect), OF Daz Cameron (Astros no.9) and C Jake Rogers (Astros no.11).

For the Astros, the move is even more monumental. Though they have struggled to find prolonged consistency since the All-Star break because of numerous injuries, AJ Hinch’s squad still has the best chance of winning the World Series of any Junior Circuit team, and their chances just got a heck of a lot better.

Adding Justin Verlander to a rotation that already includes Dallas Keuchel, Brad Peacock and eventually Lance McCullers, Jr. makes the ‘stros that much more terrifying. Still with a .602 W% (the best in the AL), Houston has an 11.5 game lead over the upstart LA Angels and could run away with the division even more considerably now.

Reasonably one has to acknowledge that Verlander has not been his best this year after he somehow in Heaven almost won the Cy Young Award again last season, but it’s not exactly a total reflection of him. The 34-year-old pitched to a 10-8 record and 3.82 ERA with the Tigers this season, which isn’t half bad when you consider that Detroit struggled to perform behind him.

The latter will obviously not be an issue with Houston, who possess the AL’s most electric offense with the likes of Jose Altuve and George Springer. Verlander’s best days of his career are clearly behind him, but there is no reason to believe that he doesn’t have a lot more left in the tank.

If the Astros weren’t the favorite for the American League Pennant already, chances are they probably is now. The Houston metropolitan area has been ravaged by Hurricane Harvey, and though sports can’t at all measure up to the importance of helping the people there, citizens can at the very least have some escapism in knowing that their beloved team appears to be bound for glory in 2017.

 

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Detroit Tigers

Outlook on Justin Verlander to the Astros

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My, oh my. The trades just don’t end, and this one is going to hurt. Tigers’ franchise pitcher Justin Verlander is off to the Houston Astros for Houston No. 3 prospect righty Franklin Perez, No. 9 prospect outfielder Daz Cameron, No. 11 prospect catcher Jake Rogers and a player to be named or cash.

Houston will look to use Verlander to provide depth in their starting rotation to chase a World Series. For Detroit, this is apart of a long rebuilding process from GM Al Avila, as Verlander is the fifth Tiger to be traded this season.

But this time it was only a minute before deadline. And when we say the deadline, we actually mean deadline, unlike that silly little July 31 teaser.

Here are the pros and cons of Verlander to the Astros.

Pros

The Astros want a World Series run, and here’s how it’s going to happen. Verlander may fit in Houston’s rotation as a top three pitcher along with Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers. He also has significant playoff experience.

Verlander had a shaky start to the year but has improved each month of 2017, leading up to his 2.36 ERA in the month of August. He re-found his game and continues to grind at 34 years old. He has a 10-8 record and is pitching 3.82 on the season with a 1.28 WHIP and 176 strikeouts.

With this trade, Houston continues to assert themselves as perhaps the best team in the American League. This is their chance to finally win a World Series and Verlander may be the final piece to the puzzle to solidify a truly dominant starting rotation. With McCullers currently rehabbing in the minors, Verlander’s emergence is all the more important.

Verlander is also hungry for a World Series. He was reluctant to leave Detroit, who drafted him way back in 2004. According to the 10-and-5 rights, Verlander could have denied this trade if he wanted to stay in Detroit.

But his decision to depart was probably based on winning a ring Detroit could never give him. Nobody in the MLB wants to win a World Series more than Verlander which makes him a great fit for any World Series contending club.

For the Tigers, what more can you ask for? Three huge prospects from arguably a top-five farm system are coming their way. Franklin Perez, 19, is a right-handed relief pitcher. He played in AA Corpus Christi and A+ Buies Creek where he racked up a 6-3 record with a 3.02 ERA and three saves. He is a top 50 world prospect and is easily the Tigers’ best pitching prospect.

Daz Cameron, 20, found mild success all over the place in A Quad Cities. He’s hitting .271 with a slugging percentage of .467, 73 RBI’s, 29 doubles and 32 stolen bases. He’s a better than average centerfielder as well. Cameron is having a great second half to 2017 after a sluggish start and is projected to be at least a solid backup outfielder.

Jake Rogers, 22, has played both catcher and designated hitter in A Quad Cities and A+ Buies Creek with a .265 average and .476 slugging percentage. He also has 70 RBI’s, 25 doubles, 18 homers, 14 stolen bases and 52 base on balls. He’s also a better than average defender and could end up being an everyday starter in the majors.

The Tigers got three very good young prospects who improve on speed, defense and relief pitching all while disposing of a huge Verlander contract in one fell swoop. Take a bow, Al Avila.

Cons

As you could probably imagine, Verlander isn’t exactly cheap. He’s owed $28 million in 2018 and 2019 and $22 million in 2020 if he is a top five Cy Young candidate the previous year.

Further, anytime you trade three top 11 prospects for a 34-year-old pitcher, there will always be a few question marks. Verlander has playoff experience, but that doesn’t mean he’s unbeatable in the postseason. In fact, he’s 0-3 with a 7.20 ERA in the World Series.

As for the Tigers, the biggest blow from this trade just might be the emotional pain that comes from giving up arguably the face of Detroit sports. Even more bittersweet, he wanted to go. Again, Verlander could veto any trade he was proposed in. But he didn’t.

Of course, one can’t blame Verlander for chasing that coveted World Series, and emotion should never get in the way of doing what is truly the right move for a program. That said, the Detroit will have to pay off a portion of JV’s contract, at least $10 million, so the Tigers still have financial concerns.

Further, you just never know on prospects. Each of these three men are well-ranked, but who can say for sure how they’ll turn out. Perez will enter a Tigers coaching staff that never seems to do well with relievers. Cameron looks to be good, but not necessarily fantastic. The same argument could be made for Rogers.

Outlook

The Astros just need to win a World Series already. So does Verlander. The two sides are desperate for a championship. It’s always risky betting on the future, After all, if the Astros still cannot win a World Series, then this is all for nothing. But if they are serious about winning it all, then they need to be risk-takers.

The Astros look like the best team in the AL, but August has not been kind to them. To get back on track and build an ideal trio of starters for the postseason, a deal needed to happen.

For the Tigers, the goal is simple: trade the house. Detroit already dealt JD Martinez, Justin Wilson and Alex Avila before the July 31 deadline. But the word “deadline” in that sentence is meaningless, as two more massive trades came today, one with Justin Upton and the other with Verlander.

Even though the Tigers will end up paying at least $10 million in Verlander’s contract, this is very little in the grand scheme of things. They substantially addressed their huge payroll and stocked up on prospects.

All three prospects are solid pickups, but Perez is the real gem of this deal. The Tigers are in dire need of long-term bullpen stability and Perez can do just that.

The outlook for Houston is that this trade will unquestionably favor them if they get that ring, but in no other case. If not, it’s a loss for both Houston and JV.

For Detroit, it’s a painful victory. Nobody wants to see Verlander leave. It truly is the end of an era. But this is exactly how a rebuilding team is supposed to look. It’s how the Astros became an American League powerhouse in the first place.

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