Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sanchez, and the Bullpen, of Late

So Brett Cecil just kinda went ahead and made this all about himself last night, saving the game and Aaron Sanchez in the 8th inning.  Aaron Sanchez went ahead and allowed the only two runners he faced to reach base, before Gibby moved to Cecil to face Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez and Brian McCann, all of whom he struck, relying mainly on the curveball.

The Jays twittersphere was pretty quick to shit on Sanchez, myself included, until Cecil just went ahead and stole the show, making us all forget about Sanchez' recent issues, at least for the time being.  Something's kinda sticking out to me here though.

Was Gibbons right to go to Cecil?  Yeah, absolutely.  Was he wrong not to go to Cecil sooner?  Yes, 100%.  If Cecil was unavailable, or they were trying to save him for the rest of the series, then sure, I see the point.  Aaron Loup might not be the right guy to go to to start the 8th if you're trying to avoid using Cecil, ditto Jeff Francis.  Is Hendriks, or Hawkins the guy to go to (Mark Lowe wasn't available) over Sanchez?

I don't really know the answer to that, but regardless, Cecil is really the only good lefty out of the pen at the moment, and he had pitched in consecutive games leading in to last night, and Sanchez is the "8th inning" guy, after all, so it was his turn, AND if Sanchez gets the first two outs, I doubt anybody second guesses the choice in the first place, nor would we have seen the Cecil light-show that totally takes the cake as best moment of the season so far.

The problem is that Sanchez has some pretty distinct struggles against left-handed hitting.  Even if this is just an eye-test thing (which it isn't!  I promise!), Sanchez is either nibbling or just straight up missing his spots against lefties.  He's probably doing it against righties too, but the heavy movement is down-and-in to righties, and moves towards the barrels of lefty bats.  I guess my main fear is that Sanchez just doesn't really have a great secondary pitch that he can throw to lefties and get them out.

That can be backed up with numbers!  Which is good, because that's how we do things around here.  Some important things to note:  Sanchez has excellent, fantastic, wonderful overall numbers as a reliever this season, to the tune of a .241 opponents' wOBA.  It's a small sample, and I don't know of a way to separate that further into handedness, which is really what we're looking for here, but I think we're still going to get the point across.

Just looking at basic splits, we see a bit of an ugly trend:

Between teams loading their lineups to gain a platoon advantage (in his starts) and pinch-hitting with lefties (relief), it's pretty normal to have a guy face more opposite-handed hitters than same-handed, so it's not like he's just getting thrown in there to get lefties out and failing at it, despite that being exactly what happened last night.  It's not any less alarming, though, that last night's game was still within reach, and it was Sanchez of all people that was chosen to come in, simply because it was the 8th inning and that's when he pitches.  Too many hits, too many walks, and not enough strikeouts against lefties to really merit being thrown in to the situation that he was thrown in to.

Do I have an alternative?  Especially if we assume that Cecil was only to be used in urgent spots for last night's game?  He needs to get a day off somewhere, and I'd be shocked if he was available for tonight's game.  Do you dare go to Aaron Loup or Francis?  Or Osuna in the 8th?  I probably don't.  Mark Lowe wasn't available, but he or Hawkins is probably my go-to to start the 8th, given the lineup and the location within.  I don't think any of the options are ideal, but Lowe has been rather excellent overall, and has a .299 opponent's wOBA vs. lefties this year, and Hawkins has practically no platoon split for his career (.294 vs. .290 wOBA).

So the issue isn't really about Sanchez being right or wrong for the 8th inning role, it's more about the role itself, and there not being a second viable lefty option out of the bullpen.  Lowe has been excellent, but that trade kind of surprised me.  Moving Sanchez to the bullpen certainly stabilized it, and the emergence of Hendriks as a pretty good reliever did the same.  Aaron Loup has had a pretty bad season, so all of a sudden, the only thing the Jays really needed on deadline day was another solid lefty option.

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Lowe is here.  But I'd have much rather found some random lefty sidearm shitballer, though I'm sure there wasn't one out there or AA'd have gone and found one.  The result is the reliance on Brett Cecil to get out of every situation that arises where a lefty bat comes up in a high-leverage spot.  He's more than capable of doing that, and that's not the problem.  The problem is that more than one of those spots comes up in a game sometimes, and Aaron Sanchez probably isn't the next best option.