Last night there were a lot of people on Twitter calling for the Pirates to replace Michael McKenry with Tony Sanchez. On one side you’ve got McKenry, who is pretty established to be a liability with the running game. On the other side you’ve got Tony Sanchez, who has strong defense that could allow him to play in the majors today. I’m not going to talk about how well he’s hitting, because I don’t think that’s relevant to the backup catcher conversation.
In response to the calls for Sanchez, Dejan Kovacevic had this in his article last night.
Michael McKenry can’t throw out a runner to save his life, but don’t look for Tony Sanchez to come up soon. Baseball people who have seen Sanchez in the past week say he’s had a lapse — one would hope it’s temporary — into a case of throwing yips, even getting the ball back to the pitcher. I love the kid and what he’s done at the plate, but he needs to be all together before a promotion.
I wanted to go back and see what the throwing problems were. Fortunately there’s MiLB.tv to allow me to review this. I sped up the process by skipping to any inning where Sanchez had a stolen base, caught stealing, or throwing error. Here are the game by game recaps.
June 13th: Sanchez allowed three stolen bases in the third inning, all with Jeanmar Gomez on the mound. The first stolen base was a pitch inside, with Tim Beckham dodging the pitch, and Sanchez didn’t have a chance for a throw. The second and third steals came on a double steal, but there was no chance for any throw with the middle infielders not covering second. Brandon Guyer stole the first base, and Guyer and Beckham were running on the double steal.
June 11th: Sanchez was credited with a caught stealing, although the runner broke early, James McDonald turned, and got him at second.
June 10th: In the eighth inning, Sanchez took a high throw from Jose Contreras (not a pitch out, but a pitch over Sanchez’s head), and fired down to second. His throw was a little left of the bag, but accurate. He got the runner, but that was mostly because of a bad slide from Zealous Wheeler. The throw was good, and the bad slide made up for the pitch being high and Wheeler getting a great jump.
June 9th: No stolen base attempts.
June 8th: In the second inning, with Charlie Morton on the mound, Sanchez tried to throw out a runner at second, but the ball tailed to the right and hit the runner in the ribs as he was sliding in. A perfect throw wouldn’t have gotten the runner. The second stolen base came in the ninth. The throw from Sanchez was straight to second, but one hopped to the bag. Sanchez probably would have had the runner without the hop. After the first throw, the Indians announcers talked about how Sanchez worked with Indians coach Brian Esposito on his throwing before the game. We will see why when we get to the June 7th recap.
Also in that game, Erik Cordier came in for the ninth inning and his first four pitches were 99 MPH, 99 MPH, 100 MPH, 100 MPH. I don’t know how accurate the stadium gun is in Indianapolis, but I do know Cordier has some good velocity. If the gun isn’t accurate, then it would only be about 1-2 MPH off, since I’ve seen Cordier in the upper 90s before. This isn’t related to Sanchez, but is something I noticed, and I didn’t know where to put this week old information otherwise.
June 7th: This is the game where Sanchez had the most problems. In the 7th inning he allowed a stolen base, and threw very wide to the right of the bag, sending the ball into center field and allowing the runner to advance to third. He would have had the runner at second with a good throw. In the same inning he threw wide of the bag to the right side again, this time hitting the runner as he was sliding in to second. He probably wouldn’t have had the runner this time. He also had two instances where he airmailed a throw over the third baseman’s head after a strikeout.
June 6th: Sanchez allowed four steals in the first inning with James McDonald pitching. The first was a low and away pitch and Sanchez threw to the right side of the bag. There was a double steal later in the inning. Sanchez had a strong and accurate throw down to second, but had no chance of getting the runner, who was sliding into second when the ball arrived. That runner was Brandon Guyer, who had stolen two bases previously in this write up. Guyer later stole third base. Sanchez made a good and accurate throw down to third, but had no shot against Guyer. In the third inning, Rich Thompson stole second. Sanchez took the throw high and inside, but bobbled the transfer and didn’t have a chance for a throw even if he made the transfer. Thompson stole third on a breaking ball, and Sanchez didn’t think about throwing with two outs. Wil Myers singled Thompson in, then stole second. Sanchez threw down to second, and didn’t have a shot at Myers. All of these were with McDonald on the mound.
Sanchez dropped another transfer in the fifth inning on a Tim Alderson breaking ball. The ball was high and glove side. Sanchez didn’t have a shot at the runner, which might have been the reason he rushed the transfer and dropped the ball.
June 4th: There were no stolen bases, however Sanchez had a throwing error. Sanchez fielded a slow bouncer infront of the plate, fired to first, and the throw was wide, pulling Matt Hague off the bag. After the play, Indians announcer Howard Kellman mentioned that Sanchez has had some other problems, referencing a three error game on May 21st. Sanchez did have nine games between that three error game and this game.
Sanchez has had problems in the past with his throwing accuracy. A lot of that usually stems from him trying to do too much to get the throw down to second base after a slow delivery. The Pirates have stressed to him that he’s got the arm strength to make a good throw, and all he has to do is get it down there at his normal rate to do his job. Instead, he tends to try and throw the ball harder and quicker down to second, which leads to wild throws.
A lot of the stolen bases I saw were against Durham, a team that has three of the top 12 base stealers in the International League. A lot of those stolen bases were from two of those guys, Rich Thompson and Brandon Guyer. Also, if you’re wondering, that’s the Rich Thompson who used to be in the Pirates’ system and who is now 34. There were also a lot of stolen bases off of James McDonald.
The common issue Sanchez had was that he was throwing wide of the base to the right. A few were hitting the runners as they slid in to second. You want to see a throw going low and to the right of the bag, since that gives you the best chance of making a quick tag. However, Sanchez isn’t actually hitting the glove, instead putting it too far to the right of the bag. In a lot of cases, an accurate throw isn’t getting the runner, due to either an off-speed pitch or a slow delivery time to the plate.
There have been bigger issues. The throwing error into center field led to a runner advancing to third (although he would have scored no matter what). The throw to first base looked unnecessarily rushed. There were also the two throws that went over Jared Goedert’s head after strikeouts. I didn’t see any throws that went wild back to the pitcher. The only thing I noticed was that Brandon Cumpton had to reach for one throw.
This has been a problem for Sanchez in the past, and it looks to be a problem for him recently. As noted above, the Indians broadcast said Sanchez had been working on the issue on June 8th. Most of the problems came on the 7th and 8th. Since then he hasn’t had many chances to throw out runners, so it’s hard to say whether the work he’s put in has helped. The throws can be explained by Sanchez rushing throws down to second, which has been an issue in the past. Throwing wild to third and first can’t be explained in the same way, and speak more to a problem. Sanchez has had the same issue in the past, and it usually follows these instances where he has trouble throwing out runners, then tries to do too much and lets his game fall apart.
The thing about Sanchez and these problems is that with these issues he’s the same as McKenry. So it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep McKenry up in the majors and give Sanchez more time in Triple-A. As hard as it is to watch people running at will on McKenry for the last two years, I don’t think he’s going to cost the Pirates many games. If the backup catcher is your biggest concern, then you’re doing pretty well. As it stands, the Pirates have more pressing issues, like Travis Snider not hitting, and the rest of the offense being inconsistent so far this season.
I’m not sure how I feel about the debate on whether to bring Sanchez up. I agree with Dejan in that you don’t want to bring him up when he’s got some issues. Plus if you keep him down in Triple-A, you give him more time to try and continue putting up strong offensive numbers.
At the same time, I don’t think those issues are long-term, and they seem to be confined to a few bad games. Even with these issues, Sanchez is even with McKenry. There could also be some value with Sanchez being in the same clubhouse as Russell Martin. If these issues are the same as the previous problems Sanchez has had, then getting daily advice, or between innings advice from Martin could definitely provide some value.
So after thinking it out there while writing, I’d have to lean more on the side that a Sanchez promotion would be a good thing. There have definitely been issues lately, but I don’t think they’re long-term problems, and if those issues will be resolved by coaching then who better to help Sanchez than Russell Martin? The only downside is that Sanchez won’t get as many at-bats in the majors. He shouldn’t see a huge drop in plate appearances, and Martin is under contract through the 2014 season, so it’s not like Sanchez is needed to be the starter next year. There could be some value in getting Sanchez slowly adjusted to the majors.