When baseball games that count are played in early April, most of the conclusions people draw are based around confirmation bias. These first nine games are no more significant than the nine games that will happen May 8-16 or June 15-23 or whenever.
But conclusions are drawn at this point anyway, because all the stats that show up on the TV screen and scoreboard rely solely on these nine games and because we have not seen these players take part in baseball games that affect the standings in half a year. So the statements are made: Pedro Alvarez will never hit lefties, Russell Martin can’t hit at all, it’s Losing Season No. 21 already and on and on in any combination that tickles your fancy.
On to Jonathan Sanchez.
If you thought before the season that he still has a chance to bounce back this season, strike some hitters out and benefit from being a lefty in PNC Park, you have something to point to. It was just five days ago that he stared down a tough Dodgers lineup, pitched five strong innings before running into trouble, commanded his fastball well and avoided his regular control problems. And he could do it again.
If you thought before the season that Sanchez simply doesn’t have it in him anymore to be a Major League starter, you have something to point to. He looked awful Wednesday afternoon in a 10-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. His velocity was down, the two-seam fastball and slider were more hittable. The results, before he exited in the fourth inning, were horrendous: nine earned runs, eight hits, four walks and a hit batsman and only two strikeouts. Sanchez also served up two home runs to young A.J. Pollock, who wasn’t exactly a power hitter in the minor leagues. And he could do it again.
Do you think that Sanchez is pretty much unredeemable as a starting pitcher? I won’t argue with you, not after I quoted Gertrude Stein’s “There is no there there” to describe him in the season preview. His results last year were putrid, and there’s a decent chance he will not be much better this year.
Do you think that there is still some hope for Sanchez? I won’t argue with you either. He struck out 200 hitters in a season once, his slider still has the ability to make hitters whiff and his good spring training starts can’t be entirely waved away.
All of this is not to say these games are meaningless or that there is nothing we can gleam from Sanchez’s first two starts. My point is that his results after two starts are far less significant than his results after four starts, after six starts and so on (if he even gets the opportunity for six starts). That goes for a lot of these guys, be they newbies like Russell Martin and Mark Melancon, who we are looking at as more than merely “some guy on the other team” for the first time, or players that we expect breakouts from like Starling Marte (who collected two more hits today) and James McDonald.
I wish I could provide better analysis than a long-winded version of throwing my hands up, but I still haven’t seen enough from Jonathan Sanchez to know if I should bury him or praise him.
Other thing happened in the game, like the Pirates going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position, Chris Leroux throwing half his pitches for balls, Jared Hughes tossing two perfect frames in mop-up duty and bad infield defense happening. These are all less important than trying to figure out what Jonathan Sanchez is or isn’t.