Aaron Sanchez has arrived on the scene this season, exceeding expectations and reaching his star potential far quicker than the Blue Jays organization initially expected. In only his third big league season, Sanchez has rounded into the true ace of the team’s big league staff, posting an 11-1 record accompanied with a 2.71 ERA.
With the Jays acquiring pitchers Scott Feldman, Mike Bolsinger, and Francisco Liriano towards the trade deadline’s closing hours, the hot debate topic on the Toronto sports scene is what to do with Aaron Sanchez. With Sanchez having already surpassed his career-high in innings pitched this season, the move to acquire a pitcher with the track record of Liriano indicates the Jays at one point will send Sanchez to the bullpen and hope Liriano can fill the void Sanchez leaves in the starting rotation. Sanchez thrived in the bullpen last season in an 8th-inning setup role, but many believe that limiting Sanchez to one to two innings of work could get the pitcher out of the current groove he’s been in so far this season.
I believe that the Jays would be smarter to skip some of Sanchez’s starts during the stretch run of the season. Although he would reach closer to 200 innings pitched if he pitches into the playoffs even after skipping some starts, Sanchez is far more effective in a starters role, where he can maximize his pitching prowess over a longer duration, which puts the Jays in a better position to let the offense takeover. Sanchez’s pitches mix in 97 mph speed with late movement, making him practically unhittable. Why wouldn’t the Jays want to maximize that? Further, why try and mess with what Sanchez has going? He’s clearly in a groove and moving Sanchez to the bullpen could impact the momentum he is riding.
There’s no definitive proof that limiting a pitcher’s inning total protects their long-term durability. Tommy John injuries creep up on pitcher’s arms rather unpredictably, and every pitcher’s body is different in how susceptible they are to sustaining serious injuries. Skipping starts rather than strictly making Sanchez a bullpen arm seems to be a logical solution for the Jays in attempting to protect their star pitcher’s prized arm.
Obviously you don’t want Sanchez making a jump of 100 innings over his career high this season, which is why it’d be smart to skip three or four of his starts down the stretch to keep him fresh for the playoffs. With Sanchez having pitched non-stressful innings so far this season, his durability shouldn’t be over analyzed at this point. He’s in better shape than he’s ever been in his major league career, and the shoulder issues he briefly experienced last season seem to be a thing of the past. It’s really a question of how well the Jays are able to balance winning it all this year with protecting Sanchez over the long-haul. Finding that point of equilibrium will be crucial for team management.