By R.J. Anderson //
The name Alex Sanabia is foreign and unfamiliar to most baseball fans. The Florida Marlins drafted the 22-year-old (Happy Birthday, Alex!) right-hander in the 32nd round of the 2006 draft. Sanabia flew through the system, reaching Triple-A earlier this season and pitching extremely well. His complete 2010 stat line includes 16 minor league starts split between the upper minors with a 1.92 ERA in 98 innings.
How does he do it? With precision instead of flash.
Sanabia’s fastball averages 90 miles per hour, a pitch he backs with a slider and change-up. Somehow, batters are swinging and missing about 8% of the time at his slow-moving, a roughly league-average rate. In the minors, Sanabia flashed excellent control, walking a little over two batters per nine innings. That ratio has made a seamless transition to the big league game — he’s at 1.88/9 IP through his first 48 big league innings. The string bean’s strikeout rate of 6.38 is very playable when he’s that stingy with free passes.
Still, it’s hard to feel comfortable with a soft-tosser who relies enormously on flyballs. Flyballs turn into extra-base hits and home runs more often. Although batted ball data is not always reliable when it comes to differentiating line drives from flyballs, what it tells us is that 22% of Sanabia’s balls in play are supposedly liners; 39% are grounders; and 39% are flyballs.
His 3.52 FIP (a stat that runs along the same scale as ERA, but strips out defense, batted ball luck, park effects, and other factors a pitcher can’t control) looks solid through eight starts. But Sanabia has yielded home runs on just 6.3% of the flyballs he’s induced, which means more long balls are likely to come.
You should also actor in that some might not be completely sold that Sanabia’s game will translate to the major leagues for a length of time. Perhaps it’s inherent scouting bias, one that says guys with Sanabia’s stuff is better suited for the bullpen. But the fact remains there just aren’t many skinny, low-velocity, high-flyball right-handed starting pitchers who survive long in the big leagues.
Add him if you’re desperate for a starter in your deep league playoffs. He’s not highly recommended for keeper leagues, though.
For more on Alex Sanabia and other starting options on your waiver wire, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.