With John fucking Farrell on his way to the World Series, last week wasn’t exactly the time that I was itching to address the struggles and the not-so-glowing reports on the Jays’ top prospect, Aaron Sanchez, who is pitching in Arizona Fall League this month, making up for time lost during the middle of the season with blister troubles, and with the club being extra cautious about arm problems. But I certainly wouldn’t want to be accused (by morons) of trying to sweep away a troublesome report by not addressing it– and I certainly wouldn’t want to not get this stuff written about before Sanchez’s arm falls off, which could be as soon Wednesday, when he’s due to make his next AFL start!

OK, maybe it’s not quite that dire. But the Jays– assuming they’re not working to change things– and Keith Law certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on where the potential ace’s mechanics are at.

At the beginning of last week’s Behind the Dish podcast– which is a must listen, as it also features Dirk Hayhurst– Law explained:

If you check the site tomorrow– that’s Wednesday, I guess depending on when you’re listening to it– I’ll have another column up, listing ten guys who performed in a way, or showed skills that disappointed me somehow. They did not meet my expectations in Fall League, and I’m a little lower on them than I was a year ago– leading off with Aaron Sanchez from Toronto, who I love, and have always loved him. I thought he was better than Noah Syndergaard when they were both in the same organization, but the truth is, Syndergaard looks better at this point, delivery-wise, whereas Sanchez has clearly taken a step backwards. Toronto has made some adjustments to his mechanics. The stuff is good, the command isn’t there, and now I’m starting to get worried about potential arm injury– which is not something I would have said about Sanchez six or nine months ago.

He elaborated during last week’s KLawchat at ESPN.com:

The Dude (Hartford, CT )
Sanchez for the Jays breaks out next year.
I hope you’re right, as he’s a great kid with absurdly good stuff, but the shorter stride and more upright finish are real concerns. The Jays have not had a good track record with young arms recently; this may be a window into why.

In the actual post at ESPN.com (Insider only) he notes that Sanchez, who has never had a Casey Janssen-like stride towards the plate, is now working with a “shorter-than-ever” one, coupled with a too-upright torso. The latter, he explains not only impacts his command, but “an upright torso at release is also correlated with higher risk of arm injuries.”

There is some interesting video of Sanchez’s outing last week posted over at Baseball America, in which he certainly does look short-striding, upright, and not making good use of his lower half, but I think that’s pretty easy to see when you know what you’re looking for. On YouTube there is a clip from MLB Prospect Portal that was taken in Spring Training 2012, where– despite the difficulty in sorting out the difference in angles, in addition to my amateurism when it comes to what precisely to focus in on– you can see something isn’t quite the same. He appears more upright at the point when the ball is about to be released, and also at the point when his back leg lands– for whatever that’s worth– but it’s subtle. So subtle, in fact, that I should probably note that the AFL shots are on the left below, and the ones from Spring 2012 at the right.

sanchezcomp2 sanchezcomp3

As far the command issues go, if you just go by walks, it looked like Sanchez may have taken a step in the right direction this year. Pitching a level up, he tossed four fewer innings than he did in 2012, and yet issued eleven fewer walks– 40 as opposed to 51. Perhaps the issue, then, is that while he was better, he wasn’t better enough, and the command is really the thing that everybody’s been waiting to take a step forward. His strikeout rates taking a step backwards probably isn’t a great thing either, as he sat down just 75 in 86.1 innings, compared to 97 in 90.1 innings last year.

It’s also worth noting that, over the course of the season, perhaps as these changes started to take better hold, Sanchez got worse. He was also, let’s not forget, coming off an injury that kept him out of action from mid-May to mid-June– and he also was less of an unknown quantity at the end than he was in his first month in the league– but it’s still somewhat striking to see that in April and May he faced 170 batters, holding them to a .445 OPS in the season’s first month, and .514 in the second, walking 16 and striking out 37. In July and August he faced 167 batters, with monthly OPS marks of .933 and .584 respectively, walking 21 and striking out 32.

Parceling out the month-by-month numbers like that isn’t exactly ideal, and the poor July coincided with his trying to pitch through a blister problem, but still… none of this stuff is particularly good. Definitely something to keep our eyes on. Though, at least fixable, it would seem. At least, according to a question further down in Law’s chat back on Thursday:

Jeff (NY)
Still Sanchez over Syndergaard? I know you go based on ceiling, but does probability start to factor in now?
No, I can’t stay with that, seeing Sanchez’ delivery and potential injury risk. Syndergaard doesn’t have Sanchez’ offspeed stuff, but he has to be as low a risk for an arm injury as any major starter prospect in baseball. Fix Sanchez and we can talk again.

So… OK. The notion that it can be fixed, plus the subtlety of the difference– at least to my somewhat hopeful eye– doesn’t make it seem maybe quite as bad as the all the initial consternation made it seem. The deeper issue, of course, is how the Jays could have allowed the one prospect who so much of their organizational hopes are riding on to have fallen into pitching mechanics that scream “red flag” so loudly to someone like Law. The next question, then, is whether there are others who share his concern– and if so, why they don’t work for the Jays, or why aren’t they being listened to?

Here’s the clip of Sanchez throwing last week, via Baseball America:

Image via MiLB Prospective.

Comments (60)

  1. This all makes sense, and is discouraging… but sure the Jays organization knows more about preventing injury in Sanchez than Law does, right?

  2. What a lot of hand wringing over nothing really. Trying to forsee the future of a double A pitcher is like trying to predict the weather on Oct. 22nd, 2015, even for an expert like Keith Law. I hope the Jays trade for Brandon Philips, who I suspect could be had for a lot less than Jose Bautista, perhaps less even than AAron Sanchez, given Philip’s salary and off year and disfavor in the Reds organization. Sanchez is and always has been a question mark; Philips is an exclamation point.

    • There is nothing wrong with looking at the mechanics a guy is using and predicting injury.

      Hundreds, thousands, of baseball people are doing that every day. Whether Law is right that this causes more potential injury is unfortunately not something I have any idea about.

  3. Should of traded.

  4. I don’t have a scout-trained eye either, but the differences to me seem minor.

    Furthermore, the two videos were taken 19 months apart. Pitchers and their coaches are constantly tweaking things, and the idea that a guy with iffy-at-best, downright awful-at-worst command would have made no mechanical changes over the course of 19 months is silly. I can’t speak to the merits of the changes, but the fact there’s differencs, minor or otherwise, shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.

    Further furthermore, the Spring Training video is of warm up pitches not game action, which could have an impact on his finishing position — most notably the landing spot for his back leg. Admittedly the intensity of the warm up pitches increases towards the end of the video, but maybe subconsciously when there’s no hitter in the box he doesn’t feel the need to have his back foot in the proper location to field his position. Or something. I don’t really know.

    It’s also late October and Sanchez has never pitched past late August before. Yeah his inning count was lower than in 2012, but even when injured this summer he was working on the side and rehabbing and all that jazz. He finished the 2012 season poorly if you can recall. It’s entirely possible this is a fatigue issue, and his body is just exhausted after eight months of work. Shorter stride, stiffer upper half, not staying on top of the ball, those are all tell-tale signs of a tired pitcher. He’s not a fucking ox like 6’6″, 240 lbs Noah Syndergaard. He’s closer to 200 lbs and is still mostly just arms and legs. It’s not shocking that the more polished and physically mature pitcher is developing faster.

    I’m not going to say everything is peachy clean with Sanchez and that he’s going to be just fine, but when I look at this situation I see a tired pitcher, not a mechanically unhinged pitcher. Perhaps the bigger concern is that after three-plus years in professional baseball, the guy is still getting tired in the second half and he may never be able to be a steady 200 inning guy.

    Or something. /keyboard warrior

  5. At the end of the day the Jays have no idea of what they really have in Sanchez until he throws at least 120-150 innings against more advanced competition in AA/AAA. Syndergaard looks like the better pitcher now simply because he has those handful of innings past A+ ball. This is going to need at least 3 years to play out before we really know if AA fucked up or not.

  6. If law is right, this is as good of an indication as any that jays player development isnt up to par.

    • They developed Syndergaard, and he’s as low risk for an arm injury as there is or whatever he’s nattering on about.

      • Did they develop Syndergaard though? I disagree.

        The Jays handled those Lansing 3 with fuckin kids gloves.

        The moment he leaves, the Mets actually let Snygen pitch and lo and behold, he has success.

        My personal opinion is that the Jays need to let the kids throw and build up the arm strength.

        Quit babying them.

        • He threw 14 more innings with the Mets this year, they would have bumped him more than that in our system.

          • Fangraphs states Snygen pitched 117.2 innings. Almost half in AA.

            You think the Jays would have had him in AA, had he not been traded? Pffft.

            Sanchez threw 86.1 innings. Im really good at math and there is a 31.1 inning difference there.

            Not sure where your 14 inning statement comes from???

            • “Pffft” is a pretty good argument.

              Sanchez was hurt.

            • He threw 103 innings last year, sure they’re moving him faster, but an increase of 14 innings is babying him too.

            • He threw 103 innings last year, sure they’re moving him faster, but an increase of 14 innings is babying him too. Sanchez got shut down why are you looking at his innings?

  7. Law hit it right on the head when he said, “The Jays have not had a good track record with young arms recently; this may be a window into why.”

    Have said it before and will say it again: would like to see a hire or two from the pitching side of the Rays organization. Those guys most certainly know what they are doing. Not so sure about the Blue Jays.

    On the flip side, Hutchinson has been pitching very well in the AFL. He has options and it would make sense for him to start in Buffalo. If he’s healthy, it would be great to have him begin as the 6th or 7th starter….and he could end up as much more than that.

    • Agreed

    • Absolutely.

      Hutchison has to be the most underrated player going into next season. With a healthy elbow, his minor league track record suggests he could be a huge midseason addition for us. Assuming everything else falls into place.

    • + Billions and Billions!!
      It cant be all that difficult or expensive to hire one or two Tampa people away. Look what Boston did with Butterfield. I’ve forgotten the ridiculous sounding stat but it was something like Rays pitchers have only had 3 pitching arm injuries in the last 10 years. The fact that they’re f * ing around with his stride suggests to me that they’re fumbling around not knowing wtf they’re doing. If Sanchez was a drop and drive pitcher before and they’re trying to shorten his stride, they should keep in mind that guys like Seaver Ryan and even Casey Janssen are great examples of successful drop and drive pitchers.

      • He’s always had a pretty short stride.

        • I noticed that too Andrew. I think he needs more from his lower body to help his arm. I would like to see him generate more power with his legs in his pitching delivery. From that video, all his power comes from his arm. Not good in the long run.

  8. I’m not sure I’d call Keith Law an ” expert “.

    I enjoy reading Law, he’s an excellent writer and seems quite bright.

    I’m not sure you could really call him a scout though, he was hired by Ricciardi from Baseball Prospectus where he was a writer. For the Jays he was a front office gopher who helped with contracts and did some analytics work, but I don’t think he did a lot of scouting.

    He hung around the scouts and picked up some of the jargon, and he’s very perceptive so his opinion has some validity. I just wouldn’t necessarily call him a scouting guru and I think people should realize he’s just one voice in the wilderness.

    • Keith Law, just like Marc Hulet at Fangraphs and Kevin Goldstein at baseball prospectus don’t do much actual scouting themselves. They collect information from professional scouts themselves and make assessments based on the aggregate information gathered. True, they do report it as though they have spent days and days watching the players on the field, but the truth is that they simply have a good network of scouts that they trust, and assemble the information into digestible information for the masses.

      • Law does a ton of on the ground amateur scouting and was offered a director of scouting position by the Astros in the last couple years.

      • Except you know that he scouts the AFL every year and he consistently posts ESPN Insider content about different prospects that he’s gone and scouted…so maybe you’re talking out of somewhere other than your mouth.

  9. I hate articles like this because it just proves that the Jays minor league system sucks. Do we all understand that proper pitching mechanics does prevent injury? Does the minor league pitching coach understand that?

  10. Stoets, just got an email that the 2014 Fan Pass goes on sale next week. Wooohoo. Only negative is that it’s again only 2 passes, and this year you are auto-assigned the same seats as last.

    Regardless, glad to see it’s still around!

  11. I can’t see from those pictures much of a difference in the first two shots of release point, but there sure seems to be a difference in the follow-through picture, and I agree that this is a cause for concern. If he’s not following through as well – meaning he’s not finishing in as much of a leaned-forward position, which we can see in the second pair of photos his right hand is across his body and down by his left knee in the spring training picture (blue jersey), where it should be, but not in the AFL picture – it means his body is doing less of the work in throwing the ball, and his arm has to do the heavy lifting. If he were losing pitch speed, we could reasonably conclude it was because he is not using his body to throw the ball, but as this isn’t the report, we have to conclude that he’s making his arm do the work. This added stress on the arm is not something you want to see from a young man who is trying to develop into an elite arm.

    • That said, can we please stop caring about how Noah Syndergaard compares with Aaron Sanchez? There were three arms, now there is one. If Syndergaard turns out to be a stud, it will only make the acquisition of Dickey seem like a bad move (unless Dickey wins the Cy Young next year). A comparison between the two prospects as they continue through their careers is a waste of time.

      Let’s let time decide whether trading a prospect pitcher to the Mets for Dickey was a good move, and let’s hope that our prospect – Sanchez – develops into a great asset. Let’s not merge those two things into the same debate.

      I’m also not hearing much applause for the fact that Justin Nicolino doesn’t seem to be a superstar prospect anymore, as if there was the Lansing Two.

  12. Regarding Law he mainly did statistical analysis, but he did dabble a bit in scouting apparently.

    From an old Batters Box article;

    “Asst to the GM: Once spring rolls around the team brings in Keith Law to help with the draft preparation. Law works with Lalonde and the scouting coordinators, often bouncing ideas off of one another and trying to find ways to separate similar players, often through statistical analysis. As Lalonde notes, “we see the players through one light and Keith can offer an opinion or angle that we just don’t consider, but makes a whole lot of sense”.

    Law also looks at the draft from a global perspective, trying to get a feel for where players will go in the draft and what teams may be interested in particular players. Additionally, he also provides scouting support in New England in the spring and summer.”

    It doesn’t sound like he’d be at the cross-checker level , and I’m sure most of his work was statistical, but he did do some low level area scouting. Just remember if you had 10 scouts in a room, you’d have 10 different subjective opinions, some more valid than others.

  13. As an aside AA is one of the scouting coordinators mentioned in the preceding quote.

  14. This isn’t something only Law is noticing. From a former ML scout on Sanchez:

    Bernie Pleskoff

    @dshemie8 Has the repertoire but his mechanics are not helping him. Has walked too many hitters here. Falls behind in counts. Needs work.

    So, not as specific, but mechanical issues with his delivery are noted.

  15. Does anyone remember the last big three: Halladay (for sure), Carpenter (likely) and Escobar (maybe)? I remember liking Escobar the best. He was a fantastic starter, and I thought he had the most promise, but something would always go wrong. Maybe one hiccup a game or something.
    Who was the last Blue Jay prospect who really turned into something with the Jays? I can’t really think of the last.

    • Hill?

      • Could be, yes. Seems the Jays are better at reclamation projects (Bautista, Encarnacion) than developing. I wonder if that’s the case throughout the league.

    • Casey Janssen has turned out pretty OK, but otherwise, yes, the list is troubling. The Ricciardi era drafts ended up being quite awful. Jury still way out on the AA era.

  16. Any chance Napoli leaves Boston?

  17. Hasn’t most of the pitching mechanics ‘red flags’ kind of been debunked?

    Weren’t Mark Prior and Strasburg thought to have ideal deliveries, mechanic’s wise? And wasn’t Lincecum and Sale supposed to blow up their arms as a starters (Matt Scherzer too)?

    Pitching is bad for your arm. Most pitchers have arm injuries, the ones that don’t are the exceptions, not the guys who get injured. Just look at the list of TJ pitchers in the last couple years…Zimmerman, Anderson, Wainwright, Madson, Wheeler…its a long list.

    • Agree. Just have a look at some of the pics of pitchers’ arms just before they release the ball. Downright scary. And they do that (in some cases) 100-120 times a game.
      Yet the Rays’ have found a way to avoid injury, scouting pitchers with effortless natural deliveries, and then putting them all on their own programme of arm exercises which they do once/week. After all that, their pitching coach Jim Hickey is probably one of the best in MLB.

    • Prior was at an interesting point in time, in terms of knowledge of pitching mechanics. Scouts thought his mechanics were fluid and smooth, but years after his arm blew up, it was noted that his scapular loading caused a timing issue which led his arm to drag behind his body and show up “late” (in correlation with the hips, and legs).

      The physical correction is to speed up the arm, which puts ridiculous amounts of stress on the shoulder and elbow, beyond what pitchers with “in time” mechanics would experience.

      Strasburg’s motion is extremely similar to Prior’s, and he’s likely to experience more of the same issues going forward.

      Chris O’Leary has written a TON on the subject, and I suggest anyone wanting to learn more should read his essays on his site.

  18. KLaw has been Sanchez’s biggest supporter. To see him turn on him, thats pretty disconcerting.

    I don’t know why they altered his delivery to curb his BB rate. As long as he strikes guys out at an insane rate, he’ll be fine. At the very least a great reliever. Injured, he’s no use to anyone

    • He didn’t strike out guys at a great rate, and also, let’s not mistake what Law is saying here. He’s not “turning” on him, he’s just concerned about the mechanics– still loves the stuff and thinks it’s fixable.

      • That’s what I take from it so far too….”fixable”. But, I’m definitely not a fan of what seems to be the way the Jays are doing things. They seem to be fumbling around.

  19. Speaking of the vaunted Rays, one of their prized pitching prospects was busted for PED’s. Again.

  20. It’s also worth noting on his podcast that KLaw admits he saw Sanchez in the AFL once, after he’d had a month-long layoff.

  21. [...] is not sticking and my limited IT skills make it difficult to fix, so, if inclined, you can see it over here.  The clip above is from the Florida State League and if you compare the two, the difference is [...]

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