This series is sure to dazzle with great pitching matchup after great pitching matchup. The Giants have announced that Jonathan Sanchez will switch with Matt Cain and start game two. It seems pretty clear the Giants have done this for a few reasons. One: the obvious, to split up the big righties and never give Philly a back-to-back look at a like-handed pitcher. I think another reason is probably the gem Sanchez tossed in Philly earlier this season, as well as the success he’s had against them in 2009. Lastly, Sanchez (41.5 GB%/ 43.7 FB%) gives up fewer fly balls than Cain (36.2/ 46.6) does. The percentages are magnified when you factor in the fact that Sanchez misses more bats, and thus fewer balls are put into play.
Roy Oswalt has been one of the better pitchers in the National League for a sustained period of time. Lincecum has been compared to him since he came into the league, and it’s a good comparison given their size and live fastballs. In 2010, Oswalt punched out 8.21/ 9 IP and walked just 2.34 for an excellent ratio of 3.51. Like all of the starters in this series, it seems, he wasn’t bitten too terribly by the long ball .81/9 IP, and he actually out-WHIP’d Halladay with a 1.03. He had an excellent final ERA of 2.76 but his FIP was 3.27. His BABIP for the season was .261 – which goes a long way to explain his WHIP – and seems to indicate he had some combination of good luck and good defense behind him. In particular, Oswalt benefited from an unsustainable .227 BABIP after coming over to the Phillies. I think this is as good of a sign as any for the Giants because Oswalt was actually striking out fewer batters after his arrival.
Oswalt is a lot like Halladay in that he’ll utilize four above average pitches. Oswalt used to throw a ton of fastballs (around 65-70% of the time), however, this season his pared that down to about 55. I’m not exactly sure why that is as his heater is still within about half a mile per hour of his career mark. In any event, he’s more often throwing his curve, slider and changeup which are all good pitches, but his fastball remains his best pitch. He has excellent command with all four pitches. He tends to keep the ball down where he’s most effective and can get the most ground balls (45.7 GB%). Oswalt’s got the reputation of a Bulldog and it fits; he’s got great stuff, can pitch and competes well. The Giants will have their hands full with him, too, and its one thing to beat him when he was on lowly Astros, it’s quite another to take him down as a Philly.
Jonathan Sanchez is the maturing lefty – right before our eyes – that the Giants very shrewdly refused to move for offense. He’s quite simply very difficult to hit. He actually led the staff with a 3.07 ERA but his FIP was 4.00 exactly, indicating his ERA probably deserved to be closer to mid-three. There are two counting stats he’s continued to rack up, and this year was no exception. Sanchez struck out over 200 batters for a rate of 9.54/ 9 IP, and walked a hefty 96 for a rate of 4.47 for a respectable ratio of 2.21. That’s too many walks, but then the league only hit .207 against him resulting in a 1.23 WHIP. This wasn’t something he lucked into, as he’s shown a sustained ability to do this; the league hit just .227 against him a year ago. Hitters hit nearly 1 HR off of him per 9 IP (.98)
He has an extremely free and easy motion that hitters don’t pick up, especially in the early innings, which makes his 91 MPH sneaky fast. Along with that fastball which he uses so often (65%), Sanchez has an absolutely disgusting slider which he uses against both right handed hitters and lefties. His ability to command this is pivotal so the hitters can’t sit exclusively fastball. The beauty of Sanchez, however, is the changeup he started throwing more often down the stretch. Sanchez has been mixing in a splitter that behaves like a changeup and keeps the hitter off of his two best pitches. When he’s able to command this he can at minimum, steal strikes, and at a maximum, use it as an additional strikeout pitch. That pitch is a huge part of his development both this season and going forward.
Sanchez threw a no hitter in 2009, and he appears to have turned a corner after that game. If he pitches well in this series it will be yet another chance for America to realize that game wasn’t a fluke. Bochy showed a lot of confidence in him by moving him up, and that confidence is shared by the young lefty who’s been lights out since September.