In the midst of a 11-1 season, Aaron Sanchez not only finds himself in the driver seat for the AL Cy Young Race but also carrying a one way ticket to the bullpen according to the Blue Jays brass.
The transition from starter back to the bullpen for Sanchez is not a surprise move but a move the Blue Jays brass has had tentatively planned since Spring Training. The narrative has not changed. In order to protect Sanchez’s injury risk, the young pitcher’s innings count will be monitored, except that a inning limit mark was never set and that Sanchez is in the midst of a season not seen since the days of Roy Halladay.
11-1, 139.1 IP, 2.71 ERA, 3.2 WAR
Sanchez’s impressive season which has him leading the AL in ERA and being the first Blue Jays pitcher since Roy Halladay to rack up 10 straight wins makes it incredibly difficult to justify moving him to the bullpen for a number of reasons.
One reason is it cannot be justified to sacrifice perhaps the best AL starter in the midst of a playoff run and the inappropriate message it sends to the Blue Jays club house. By sending Sanchez to the bullpen, the Blue Jays are telling the club house that one ball player is more important than winning. A potentially offending message to veteran players such as Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion who endured years of losing seasons for a chance to compete.
The move also makes one wonder why there is no such inning limit on Marcus Stroman. Sanchez’s rotation partner in their ‘416’ duo has pitched 142.1 innings this season, approaching his career high of 166.1 in 2014. If there is a concern for Sanchez’s arm, where is the same concern for Stroman’s arm as he is on pace for a 200+ IP season while only pitching 201 IP in the last two seasons combined. Surely Stroman would also be at major risk for a potential arm injury as well?
Perhaps though, the move could settle in easier had the Blue Jays decided to replace Sanchez with a top quality starter but hoping for Francesco Liriano and his 5.46 ERA to have a miraculous make up with Russell Martin is not believable, no matter how much ownership would like us to believe it is.
The biggest issue with moving Sanchez to the bullpen is that there is still no science or law that says anywhere that increasing a workload by so many innings results in injury. Throwing a baseball at high velocity can result in numerous injuries but this does not mean that all flame throwing pitchers eventually blow out their arms.
Take for example Aaron Sanchez’s predecessor- Roy Halladay , Halladay from the ages of 23-25 went from 67.2 IP in 2000 to 105.1 IP in 2001 to an astonishing 239.1 IP at in 2002. ABSURD. Yet, as inning limit advocates would like to ignore, Halladay turned out fine and went on to become one of the most dominant pitchers of his era.
A look at the two most infamous inning limit decisions of the last five years shows the same narrative, injuries are going to happen regardless of innings and are not worth sacrificing the season for.
In September 2012, the Washington Nationals made the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg after 159.1 innings pitched. Strasburg was 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA with Washington in first place in their division.
A look at Strasburg’s velocity through the 2012 season shows that Strasburg showed little signs of slowing down and could of have been more than capable of finishing the season. Unfortunately, we will never know what could have happened had the 98-64 Nationals not shut down as Strasburg as they were eliminated in the NLDS.
Talk of the National League last season surrounded if the Mets would shut down Matt Harvey the same way the Nationals shut down Srasburg following his return from Tommy John surgery. The Mets opted against shutting down Harvey and were rewarded with a World Series appearance. While Harvey’s velocity did falter slightly down the stretch, this could easily be attributed to general fatigue of a long season.
The difference between Sanchez and Harvey/ Strasburg is that the National League counter parts were shut down after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Sanchez has had no such injury concerns that warrant consideration of that magnitude. Simply put, the Blue Jays brass decision making reeks of a hypochondriac worrying of an illness that they panic before any symptoms have developed.
Sanchez is not showing any signs of fatigue as his average fastball velocity has gone from 95.3 mph in April to 95.2 mph in July. Not enough to warrant any discussion of fatigue or a move to the bullpen.
Regardless, it is still yet to be seen when or if this transition to the bullpen will happen, as the Blue Jays brass has offered little information on a timetable for the move. Many have expressed displeasure with the potential decision, which could be a reason for the loose timeline as comments from the likes of manager John Gibbons, catcher Russell Martin and Gregg Zaun seem to point in favour of keeping Sanchez in the rotation.
If the move does occur, the Blue Jays run the risk of repeating the same mistake the 2012 Washington Nationals committed : sacrificing a special team for a special player. Since that 2012 decision, the Nationals have only made the playoffs once and have failed to advance past the NLDS. Perhaps a similar future could await the Blue Jays if Sanchez is moved to pen with the departure of many of their key players following the 2016 season.