By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Anibal Sanchez
He’s been pitching in the major leagues since 2006, but 2010 was the first time Anibal Sanchez put together more than 30 starts. He still doesn’t have great upside beyond his fine 2010 season (3.55 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) because of his good-but-not-great K rate (7.25 K/9 in 2010, 6.87 career). His groundball percentage improved (45.1%), but if he has a little less luck on home runs next year, his ERA might be closer to four. The rest of his line was pretty luck-neutral, though.
Biggest Bust: Ricky Nolasco
Leo Nunez lost his closer role and Chris Volstad had a poor year that included a demotion, but much more was expected of Ricky Nolasco, so he’s the bigger bust. Nolasco put up some poor stats (4.51 ERA, 1.28 WHIP) and frustrated owners who saw that he’d been unlucky in 2009 (5.06 ERA, 3.35 FIP) and expected a big rebound. Well, he did it again, as his 3.86 FIP in 2010 was much better than his ERA. Nolasco still struck out a lot of batters (8.39 K/9), and walked very few (1.88 BB/9), but all those flyballs keep turning into home runs (1.37 HR/9), and he needs to iron that wrinkle out before returning to the top echelon of fantasy starters.
2011 Keeper Alert: Clay Hensley
It’s not a great idea to keep a closer, with all the volatility in the position, but this team didn’t show any great young arms in the bullpen. Into the breach stepped 31-year-old Clay Hensley, who found that magical combination of strikeouts (9.24 K/9), control (3.48 BB/9), and groundballs (53.4%) that makes him interesting despite his iffy pedigree.
2011 Regression Alert: Alex Sanabia
Alex Sanabia had an xFIP (a number on the ERA scale that strips out batted ball luck and normalizes home run rates) of 4.57 in 2010, and an ERA of 3.73. He’s got great control, but he’s a flyballer without a strikeout pitch, so he’ll have a little more trouble next year. Leo Nunez had terrible luck on the batted ball (.337 BABIP) and could easily return to his role with some positive regression in 2011.
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.