I took a break from working on the 2015 Prospect Guide today to respond to a question about whether Allen Craig would be a good replacement for Gaby Sanchez as the right-handed half of the first base platoon. My response was that Sanchez has been better in his career against lefties than Craig. My first mistake was even entering a discussion about Gaby Sanchez and saying something other than “Gaby Sanchez is the worst player ever!”
Gaby Sanchez is a special topic among Pirates fans. His role is quite simple: he’s the platoon option at first base who goes up against left-handers. Therefore, he doesn’t need to be good against right-handers, as long as he can crush lefties. But the problem is that he’s viewed as a guy who is flat-out horrible, regardless of whether he does his job or not. And you never get more hate than when you defend Gaby Sanchez by pointing out the facts: he’s good against left-handers and that’s all that is expected of him.
This year, the anti-Sanchez group has something to work with. He’s coming off a year where he had a .746 OPS against lefties, along with a 111 wRC+ and a .328 wOBA. That’s not horrible. The league average against left-handers was a .706 OPS/98 wRC+/.313 wOBA. The league average for right-handers was .731/105/.322. Whether it’s the league as a whole, or all right-handers, Sanchez was above average.
The problem is that platoon players — especially the right-handed variety — get judged by their overall stat line. In this case, it was a .229/.293/.385 line. Part of that is because his numbers get dragged down by his results against right-handers. That’s unavoidable for any platoon player, although the Pirates probably could have found ways to avoid Sanchez seeing so many plate appearances against right-handers this year. Even in a normal year, his numbers would be lowered by the results against right-handers. But with his usual left-handed production, his overall numbers look closer to a league-average first baseman than a guy who shouldn’t be in the majors.
Like I said, it’s a little bit easier for the anti-Sanchez crowd to go against him when coming off a below-average season by his standards. But that doesn’t mean they need it to be easy. The same arguments against Sanchez following the 2014 season existed following the 2013 season. That was a season where he had a .987 OPS, a 180 wRC+, and a .428 wOBA against lefties. He did his job, and he did it well. Yet he was viewed as worthless, because it’s too much trouble to click on the “Splits” page on Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs, or in some cases, to look past the batting average and home run totals.
Looking at his career, Sanchez falls much closer to the 2013 numbers than 2014. He has a career .863 OPS against lefties, along with a 138 wRC+ and a .376 wOBA. Which means this now becomes an issue of whether you think Sanchez will bounce back, or is starting on the downside of his career at the age of 31, or is somehow fulfilling the “worthless” tag that many put on him, despite the fact that he actually has a very specific value.
Bounce back candidates present an interesting situation. Usually the chances an individual places on the player bouncing back depend heavily on that person’s opinion of the player before his down year. In this case, a lot of Pirates fans didn’t like Sanchez when he was good at his role. So the idea that those fans will be counting on him to bounce back to a role that they didn’t appreciate is slim. Pedro Alvarez and A.J. Burnett both had down years in 2014. I’m willing to bet that if you held a poll to see which player would bounce back in 2015, Sanchez would finish third of that group. You could probably expand the list to include more bounce back candidates, and Sanchez would end up low on the list. Yet there’s really no reason why Sanchez wouldn’t be the one to bounce back to his career norms.
Let’s look at those career numbers and put them in perspective. Sanchez has been in the league since 2008. In that time, he has 714 plate appearances against lefties. There have been 124 right-handed hitters with 700+ plate appearances against lefties since 2008. In that group, Sanchez ranks 24th in wRC+, 30th in wOBA, and 32nd in OPS. During the span of his career, he has been in the top 25% or better of all right-handed batters when it comes to hitting lefties.
If the Pirates are going to go with a platoon at first base again in 2015, then it would make all the sense in the world to go with Sanchez. Throughout his career, he’s been one of the better right-handed hitters against left-handers in the game. Even in a down year like 2014, he’s still above average. He’s not a good overall first baseman, but that’s not really his role to begin with. He’s great against lefties, and is coming off a down year. The only question is whether you think he’ll continue with his down year, or return to the career numbers going forward.
Links and Notes