The Toronto Blue Jays have been on a bit of a roll lately and have climbed to within two games of division leaders Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. They won 19 of their last 27 games as their hitting has finally come around, joining a starting rotation that has been better than expected. Aaron Sanchez who beat out Drew Hutchison for the fifth and final spot in spring training is now considered both an ace of the staff and the pitcher with the highest ceiling. It is for this “long term potential” that Blue Jay manager John Gibbons mentioned that at some point this year, Aaron Sanchez will be moved to the bullpen.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) June 15, 2016
Come again? It sounds weird, doesn’t it? The 23 year-old has had one helluva year already going 6-1 with a 3.38 era and averaging 8.8 strikeouts per 9 innings. Much of his success has come through the development of his nasty curveball in addition to his mid-90s fastball and sinker. Now it is quite understandable that all parties want to ensure a long and healthy career for the California native. Personally, I think teams in general should sacrifice the progress of one season in favour of what is best long term for the player. The problem is, I don’t think what they are planning to do is going to make much of a difference.
Protecting a pitcher isn’t a relatively new concept. Limiting pitchers to an innings count based solely on how much they pitched the year before though, may not be the best statistic to use. It is a belief that early in a career, if a pitcher pitches more than 30 innings over their previous season, the chances increase that the pitcher will get hurt. In 2012, the Washington Nationals pulled their pitching prospect after 159.3 innings despite being in a pennant race. Stephen Strasburg did manage to pitch the next 4 years relatively healthy with a 43-27 record. Last year the NY Mets were in the same dilemma with their pitcher Matt Harvey. They kept Harvey to under 190 innings during the regular season by using a six-man rotation at times. The Mets felt that was enough protection to allow another 26.6 innings pitched during their playoff run.
Moving Sanchez to the bullpen may not be the most egregious move the Blue Jays could make, in fact it actually sounds quite reasonable. But in this case I have to disagree and here are three reasons why. 1) Both pitchers mentioned above, already had Tommy John surgery, Sanchez hasn’t. So there shouldn’t be the added fear of it happening again as there was with Strasburg and Harvey. 2) Using innings as a reference point is absurd because you can have a three pitch inning or you can have a 20 pitch inning, with the wear and tear on the arm varying considerably. 3) In this particular case, even if the first two points are moot, it’s not like the Jays would be shutting Sanchez down for the season. They will move him to the bullpen where he will most likely pitch as the 8th inning setup man once again, leaving Roberto Osuna as the closer. So rather than pitching six or seven innings every five days as he is now used too, he will be pitching one or two innings every other day. I don’t see that significantly reducing the wear and tear on his arm.
Now, technically I am not a doctor or sports scientist so how should I know what is best for Aaron Sanchez’s arm. What I can tell you though is if Sanchez believes even a little bit that he will get hurt if he continues to start, then he better go to the bullpen when it’s time. If he doesn’t, he might very well end up hurt. Not because any facts or statistics say so, but because karma has a funny way of being not so funny.
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