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In this guest post from Kyle Matte, we’re treated to some actual Pitch F/X data on Aaron Sanchez, whose arsenal of pitches, it turns out, looks as sparkly among the raw numbers as it does in our fantasies. Follow Kyle on Twitter at @KyleMatte.

The Blue Jays minor league system has been an area of much debate this winter – not so much to laud its merits, but as a calculation of ammunition should the organization be unable to improve the major league rotation with money and money alone. That’s the ideal outcome, of course; to sign a player like Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, and augment the present without hindering the future. Plans B, C, and D are being formulated on Twitter, blogs, and in the various comments sections, however, with fans putting together packages of minor league prospects that they believe could entice a team such as the Rays or Indians to part with a pitcher like David Price or Justin Masterson. I’ve succumb to this line of thinking more than once, and given the near-ready status of Marcus Stroman, it has instead been right hander Aaron Sanchez at the front of my hypothetical.

That ends now. We’ve all read the glowing reports on Sanchez’ right arm, such as Jason Parks’ Baseball Prospectus Top 10 Blue Jays Prospect List, in which he ranked second with the statement “7 FB; 6+ potential CB; 6 potential CH” next to his name and picture. That sounds really awesome, and if you’ve seen the video of Sanchez from the Arizona Fall League, it looks really awesome, too. What those numbers necessarily mean can be difficult to grasp, particularly for those of us without a scout school education, as there are different variables and characteristics that go into each of those grades. Thankfully for us, three of Sanchez’ AFL appearances came in parks with the PitchFX system in place, and BrooksBaseball.net has published the data for a closer inspection.

Note: a small sample size alert is in full effect, as only 146 pitches (67 fastballs, 23 sinkers, 28 curveballs, and 28 changeups) were recorded.

In order to gain a better idea of what Sanchez’ 7 fastball, 6+ potential curveball, and 6 potential changeup look like – and in another sense, just how good they might be if he could ever learn to consistently harness and locate them, I utilized Sanchez’ PitchFX data, applied a 5% error to the horizontal and vertical movement measurements, and compared the values to customized pitching leaderboards from the 2013 season on FanGraphs. Which major league right hander does Sanchez’ fastball have the most in common with? Who else throws a curveball with a similar shape at this velocity? What about his changeup? I was able to find answers for all of these questions, and the outcomes were staggering.

Fastball

We’ll start with the fastball, as not only did it receive the highest grade of Sanchez’ three primary pitches in the scouting world, it is also his most frequently thrown. BrooksBaseball lists the pitch as a four seam fastball, but I can promise you that is not the correct classification. You can see the ridiculous arm-side run Sanchez generates after one or two pitches – it’s a two seam fastball. The right hander threw 67 fastballs in front of the PitchFX cameras last fall, and the group averaged a fierce 95.47 miles per hour. The small sample has an effect here, as while Sanchez can reach back for elite velocity, I think if you were examining a few months’ worth of data instead of a few games, that number would be a tad lower. The fastball had -8.69 inches of horizontal movement (the negative meaning it moved to his arm side; or the catcher’s left) and 8.42 inches of vertical movement (meaning the rotation caused the pitch to drop that many inches less than it would have due to gravity alone).

I chose to apply that 5% error margin to the movement values in order to create a more realistic range of breaks. For Sanchez, this results in a horizontal movement range of -8.26 to -9.12 inches, and a vertical movement range of 8.00 to 8.84 inches. The table below shows the two seam fastballs thrown by qualified right handed starters with vertical movement within the range I identified for Sanchez, as well as their respective horizontal movement values and average velocities.

Name

Vert. Movement

Horiz. Movement

Velocity

Aaron Sanchez

8.4

-8.7

95.5 mph

Matt Harvey

8.6

-10.4

96.4 mph

Miguel Gonzalez

8.5

-7.3

91.4 mph

Ryan Dempster

8.4

-6.9

89.1 mph

James Shields

8.4

-8.2

92.0 mph

Bud Norris

8.4

-7.3

92.5 mph

Ian Kennedy

8.3

-8.0

90.3 mph

Stephen Strasburg

8.2

-8.3

95.3 mph

Only one of the seven pitchers bested Sanchez’ velocity and horizontal movement, Matt Harvey, and two seam fastballs accounted for just 2.2% of his total pitches thrown. The right hander with the most similar two-seam velocity and movement, at least in terms of PitchFX characteristics, is actually Stephen Strasburg. That’s quite the statement; merely a 2.7% difference in vertical movement, a 4.7% difference in horizontal movement, and a 0.2% difference in average velocity. James Shields would be a distant second, as while his vertical movement is almost identical, the horizontal movement and average velocity show greater discrepancies.

Curveball

Sanchez’ curveball is his most effective secondary pitch, and the bender received a handsome 6+ future grade in the Baseball Prospectus assessment. Parks describes the pitch as “hard” and thrown in the low 80’s, but also cautions that Sanchez will sometimes struggle to stay on top of the ball, causing his curve to get slurvy. I believe this description matches up very well with the PitchFX data. BrooksBaseball shows an average curveball velocity of an impressive 80.51 miles per hour, with 6.59 inches of horizontal movement and -5.25 inches of vertical movement. As Jason Parks mentioned in his report, Sanchez throws the curveball hard – harder than most – and he has a tendency to pull the pitch when he fails to get on top of it, resulting in the relatively high horizontal movement value (note: the horizontal movement value is positive as the pitch breaks to his glove side, while the two seam fastball had negative movement because the pitch moves to his arm side).

Once again, I applied a 5% error margin to both the horizontal and vertical movement values in order to create the broader spectrum that you might see over, say, 280 curveballs instead of the 28 we have on record. The resulting horizontal movement ranges between 6.26 to 6.92 inches, while the vertical movement ranges between -4.99 and -5.51 inches. I created another FanGraphs custom leaderboard for qualified right handed starters and found four pitchers with similar vertical movement on their curveball to Aaron Sanchez. They’re in the table below, with their respective horizontal movement values and average velocities.

Name

Vert. Movement

Horiz. Movement

Velocity

Aaron Sanchez

-5.3

6.6

80.5 mph

Miguel Gonzalez

-5.0

6.4

77.6 mph

Shelby Miller

-5.1

5.7

79.4 mph

Hisashi Iwakuma

-5.3

7.8

72.2 mph

John Lackey

-5.6

6.2

79.5 mph

Iwakuma is the clear outlier here, as while his curveball carries a near identical vertical break, it has far more horizontal movement than any of the others, while also being thrown at a significantly slower speed. It’s more of a slow, sweeping curve than a knuckle-curve or traditional 12-6 curveball. Miguel Gonzalez’ name appears for a second time, and while the velocity is nearly three miles per hour slower than that of Sanchez, the movement and shape of the pitches appear similar. Shelby Miller’s comparison is equally flawed, as while he has the vertical movement and velocity components, his curveball has noticeably less sweep. The best match may be with Boston’s John Lackey. His ball has slightly more drop and slightly less sweep, but those differences might be negated over time as Sanchez more consistently stays on top of the curveball. Furthermore, the velocities have the most in common.

Changeup

Similar to the curveball, the scouting report on Sanchez’ change meshes well with the data collected by PitchFX. The average velocity of the “off-speed” pitch was an absurd 88.33 miles per hour. I’m of the belief that changeups should clock 8 to 12 miles per hour slower than the fastball to provide the greatest challenge to opponents timing. Any bigger of a gap and the pitch will be too easy to recognize and lay off; any smaller and the pitch is too much like a fastball and won’t throw off the timing enough. With only 7.14 miles per hour of separation from his fastball, Parks’ comment about the changeup being “too firm” is dead on. Sanchez generates a ton of arm side fade on his changeup, and while I haven’t seen how he grips the ball, this leads me to believe the pitch is of the circle-change variety. The circle is made with the thumb and pointer finger, and when combined with forearm twist upon release, the grip pushes the ball down and to the arm side. BrooksBaseball shows his 28 changeups averaged -10.99 inches of horizontal movement, with 4.37 inches of vertical movement.

Even with the 5% error applied to the horizontal movement, the range is still extreme at -10.44 to -11.54 inches, as you’ll soon see. The vertical movement shows a spectrum more on par with a larger sample of starting pitchers at 4.15 to 4.59 inches. Six qualified right handed starting pitchers with vertical movement on their changeup within that range were identified. I’ve listed them below, as well as their horizontal movement and average velocities (note: as I sorted by vertical movement, the changeups aren’t all necessarily of the circle variety).

Name

Vert. Movement

Horiz. Movement

Velocity

Aaron Sanchez

4.4

-11.0

88.3 mph

Bud Norris

4.5

-5.6

85.1 mph

Mike Leake

4.5

-7.0

83.6 mph

Matt Harvey

4.4

-9.1

86.6 mph

Anibal Sanchez

4.3

-5.4

84.8 mph

Scott Feldman

4.2

-6.0

85.8 mph

Ian Kennedy

4.1

-6.2

80.5 mph

Speaking to what I touched on above, Sanchez throws his changeup so hard, and with so much fade that there really isn’t a very good comparison here. Other than Matt Harvey, no qualified right handed starter threw a changeup with more than -7.00 inches of horizontal movement – roughly four inches less than Sanchez. Once again, only Matt Harvey is even in the same realm of velocities within this identified group, and his change is almost 2 miles per hour slower. Still, given what the scouting report has said about Sanchez (overly firm changeup, struggles to stay on top of the ball causing added drift on his pitches), it’s not a stretch to imagine a more refined, mature, and technically sound version could throw a changeup similar to Matt Harvey – one that could rack up the whiffs at a high level.

There is a caveat, however, as Harry Pavildis – the Founder of PitchInfo and the Director of Technology for Baseball Prospectus – uncovered some intriguing trends during a three-part series on the changeup last summer. It’s a very interesting read, but without getting into too much detail, he mentions that when dealing with a high powered fastball, the collaborative changeup can do a number of things depending upon the velocity separation. Those with wide gaps (which he classifies in the 10+ mph range) tend to result in more swings and misses, while those with narrower gaps (in the 7 mph range) tend to be better at inducing ground balls. As always there are exceptions – Stephen Strasburg manages to create whiffs and weak contact with his changeup – but it’s possible that Sanchez has made a concerted effort to throw his changeup with the intention of contact, instead utilizing his curveball for whiffs in swinging counts (0-2, 1-2, etc.). Sanchez has maintained an exceptional groundball rate throughout his minor league career, but that could simply be the case of confirmation bias on my part.

When putting the pieces together – Stephen Strasburg’s two-seam fastball, John Lackey’s curveball, and a Matt Harvey-ish changeup – you have a truly exciting package hidden in Aaron Sanchez’ long and lanky build. We’ve been hearing about his monstrous potential talent ever since Alex Anthopoulos drafted him back in June of 2010, and as he gets closer and closer to Toronto, the public is finally able to perceive just how much ability he may possess, and just how high his ceiling may be. The sample the Arizona Fall League has afforded us is just the first taste, and it should be enough of an eye opener for fans to seriously reconsider just how willing they are to ship him out of town in exchange for short-term help. There are still many kinks to be ironed out – almost all revolving around mechanics – but an array of high level pitches coming out of an electric arm like this isn’t something found in one place very often. Patience must be exercised, because holy shit, Sanchez could be a great one.

Comments (64)

  1. Just throw strikes, ya know!

    Good piece. Thanks Kyle!

  2. “Note: a small sample size alert is in full effect”

    You could of led with that.

    • Since we’re nitpicking, do you mean “could of” or “could have”?

      So you read two paragraphs, saw “small sample size” and thought “Ugh! I can’t believe I wasted my time on those first two paragraphs. I shall read no further!”

      What a total dick comment for a guy’s first piece on the site.

      A great piece, I might add.

      • `What a total dick comment for a guy’s first piece on the site.`

        I totally second what Clay is throwing down. Dickish.

      • Hey man, I’m not trying to be unkind to the author, but if your going to write something the length of your arm based on a SSS I’m asking that you give the reader a heads up off the top.

        As a reader I can then make a decision.

        As for playing “it’s the guys first post” card, AGAIN, let me know off the top, so the reader can decide to read or not, or comment or not appropriately.

        Nothing dickish about requesting that courtesy to the reader. For me at least, authors who want to build a trust in readership have to tell what they are selling.

        • Did it take you a long time to read the first two paragraphs?

          • Look, don’t be too hard on the guy. I understand what he’s saying.

            If the author led off with “small sample size”, he wouldn’t have wasted his time on the first two paragraphs.

            He’s just a little bitter because it’s 45 minutes of his life he’ll never get back.

          • Not very long at all, but was annoying when I hit it, hence my comment.

        • Famous guy – i know, right? you were being no less dickish in your request than i am by suggesting that you figure out grammar.

          • My request asked the author to be upfront.

            Your (or shall I type you’re for your delight) observation was persnickety/pedantic, fuelled by some emotion to stick up for the author.

            They are not the same at all.

  3. Fantastic post. More of these please. He’s got great stuff, let’s just hope he learns the command and control next.

  4. i’m just laughing to myself about how fucking good these guys are if their change up is almost 90 mph

  5. Stuff like this is so fucking awesome. Hooray for science, hooray for school!

  6. Yeah, Kyle pitched this to me, gave me the general idea and results, and asked if I’d be interested. I was like, holy shit yes! Great stuff.

  7. Also: seriously, just throw fucking strikes already!

    • How do you throw strikes when his pitches move so much to his arm side? He’d have to start 6″ left of the rubber to get his Changeup over for a strike. A back door fastball is probably the hardest pitch to master, and he will need that pitch with his arsenal. If he can’t, it’s inside heat for ground balls.

      • Uh, if he anticipates 8″ movement to his arm side, he would aim approximately 8″ to the left of his catcher’s target. He wouldn’t necessarily change his position on the rubber for each pitch. That’s called tipping your pitches.

        • Changeup at – 11 horizontal movement. Like I said aiming glove side isn’t easy for arm side movement guys.

  8. Who needs a high priced arm??

  9. Mailing in another post eh Stoets? Kidding, this was awesome, well done Mr. Matte, keep it up!

  10. Some cool youtube videos of his pitching in the AFL. Also a nice one of Stroman from AA.

  11. I’m having trouble reading the conclusion past my throbbing erection.

  12. Boners up!

  13. Wow. that was interesting. Upside!!

  14. I’d be good with a Matt Harvey clone + a Shelby Miller curve

  15. This post just brought up the “AND ITS GONE” meme in my mind though when we hear he was traded for Shark or Bailey.

  16. I was fortunate enough to see Sanchez play in Lansing two seasons back and he just dominated. Seeing him routinely throw 96-97 mph fastballs was amazing.

  17. Doesn’t King Felix throw a hard change that only has a few MPH separation from his sinker?

  18. I remember mark wholers having alot of movement on his fastball.

  19. An 8-9 inche horizontal run into a right handed batter is nasty ass shit. He should break a lot of bats if he throws it effectively.

  20. Great post! i for one do not want the Jays calling this guy up without at least another year in the minors though..

  21. I as looking at the AFL stats for this year and noticed how much better Aaron was at giving up hits. H/9 below for all pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched:. Basically he whooped ass.

    NAME IP▼ H▼ H/9
    Aaron Sanchez 23.1 11 4.29
    Kyle Crick 15.2 9 5.33
    Jamie Walczak 15.1 9 5.36
    Matt Heidenreich 21 14 6.00
    Andrew Heaney 27.2 19 6.29
    Tyler Cravy 16.1 12 6.71
    Alex Meyer 26 20 6.92
    Drew Hutchison 21.2 18 7.64
    Michael Roth 21 18 7.71
    Jason Adam 29 25 7.76
    Jarret Martin 15 13 7.80
    Matt Purke 23 20 7.83
    Matt Benedict 16 14 7.88
    Stephen McCray 21 19 8.14
    Sam Gaviglio 27.2 25 8.27
    Hansel Robles 18 17 8.50
    Miguel Pena 27.2 28 9.26
    Vidal Nuno 19.2 20 9.38
    Adalberto Mejia 17 18 9.53
    Grayson Garvin 26.1 28 9.66
    Bo Schultz 32 35 9.84
    Brandon Maurer 19.2 21 9.84
    Sammy Solis 29 32 9.93
    Dallas Beeler 21.2 24 10.19
    Blaine Hardy 16 19 10.69

  22. Great post! This speaks to raw talent and high ceiling. Yes, control will be the determining factor. Thanks for this.

  23. He is the tits when it comes to OPP AVG and, well, everything else as noted above. Again, it’s that fucking command. If he had Noah Syndergaard’s command he is a top 10 and possibly a top 5 prospect.

  24. Great read. Supports all the reports – the guy has filthy stuff. Can he command and control it is the concern like so many before him.

    Is there analysis that considers when the ball moves which must be a major variable that could outweigh the overall movement? The hard curve tends to move late. Its easy to see the guys with late break having better success even when breaking less sometimes and easy to know its harder to hit if you have tried against decent pitchers.

    Would that extreme horizontal movement on the change off set the lack of velocity differential with respect to timing? Always wondered why the pitchers dont have a “peel” change that goes more down (if not a glove side break) to throw against the righties and use the fade circle change against the lefties. Leads to reverse splits for some guys with good change ups.

    • Learning any form of change up takes time. It took Marcus Stroman a good two years to learn to throw a good change up. It’s not like you throw a circle change to this guy and then a “peel” change.

      Typically these pitchers have been throwing these pitches their whole life. I know the Jays teach 25% change ups in long toss, and that shows how much time it takes to develop even one type of change. Sometimes certain guys due to comfort or hand size just don’t feel comfortable to throw a change up.

      It’s not as easy as it looks to learn a pitch. It’s not as simple as getting the grip right. To throw a change up at the same arm slot, angle and speed is incredibly hard, and I’ve seen pitchers drafted who still can’t master all 3. Sure him reducing the speed of his change up sounds like a great proposition, but if he slows his arm, you know a change up is coming, and for a hitter it’s like a BP fastball.

      I think calling him a potential 6 change is a bit high. I think with a league average change up, with his fastball, he would be absolutely nasty. Not saying that is the reason he should be a 5, but I believe his crazy plus fastball just makes his change up look good.

      Just think, if he threw a league average fastball movement wise, would his change up really project to be plus? I’m not sure. If he truly was a 7-6-6 guy, you are talking about a HOFer.

      Sure movement on F/X is great, but note J.A. Happ’s fastball is 4.5/11.8 and CC Sabathia is 5.1/8.8. J.A. Happ is a lefty so the movement on his change up is a bit different 6.6/9.3, which would look pretty impressive on this scale.

      Not saying that this is at all wrong, it was a very interesting look, but still I wouldn’t get carried away with his off-speed… Yet. I think Happ is a good example of a 5 fastball/5 change up guy.

      I have him at 7-4-5, and I think if he reaches that he is a true potential he’d be nasty. You don’t need to have a plus off-speed if your fastball is that good, you’ll still make hitters look stupid. Realistically if his change up fell to the 85 MPH range he’d be unbelievable.

      Great read/post!

  25. Great read, I really enjoyed this.

  26. Nice nice job kyle. You found an interesting niche to explore.

  27. I wish I had 8 inch horizontal.

  28. Great article, given the findings it’s easy to see why the Jays and most scouts were/are higher on Sanchez than Syndengaard. Love to see something like this for Stroman as well.

    • But they are higher on snyderguard now. Seems he has better command right now so maybe sanchez has a higher potential given his stuff but snyderguard is more of a sure thing. Kind of like the rookieball jays prospects not propelling them above 24 in laws rankings

      • ‘higher’ in this case may simply be that noah is closer to the bigs and hasn’t blown up (i.e. deteriorated, or gotten injured).

  29. AA better be Goddamn sure if he’s trading AS.

  30. Awesome guy! Great and detailed article. http://dcfxbroker.com/

  31. Brilliant post! I think the changeup is the most effective pitch in baseball, and if you look at the batting averages for all pitches in baseball, the numbers seem to agree. In Sanchez’ case, I think that aside from the lack of speed differential between his fastball and changeup, the issue is the the changeup also moves in the same direction as his fastball.

    So, besides Sanchez’ general need to improve command, I think he could also benefit from finding a few other ways to throw hitters off. Maybe he starts trying to cut his fastball from time to time. Or maybe he could start throwing his changeup with 2-3 different grips like Brandon McCarthy does. For instance, his huge arm-side fade seems consistent with a circle change, but a guy his size should also be able to throw a split change to get some straight vertical movement, and maybe take another mph or two off the change.

    At the end of the day, though, Sanchez’ stuff looks amazing enough to convince me he could be a huge asset to the Jays as early as 2015.

    • That his CH moves in the same direction as his FB is intended, and a benefit. you want that pitch to mimic as much as possible the FB, so having it take a different trajectory would tip off that it’s a different pitch than the FB…you want the hitter thinking it’s a fastball until it’s too late for them to adjust.

  32. Thanks for the kind words everyone. I was actually terrified to look at the comments, but was pleasantly surprised. I saw it as a rare opportunity to take a different, interesting angle at one of our prized prospects, and I’m honored Stoeten thought enough of the idea to give me a shot.

  33. [...] sample, backs up the amount of movement he has on his pitches. As Kyle Matte pointed out over at Drunk Jays Fans using limited Pitch F/X data from the Arizona Fall League, there are few pitches from major league [...]

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