Detroit Tigers: Anibal Sanchez’s Home Run Problem Mystifies Everyone

Of all the crazy things we have seen this season from the Detroit Tigers, perhaps nothing is more mind boggling that this:  Anibal Sanchez has given up 28 home runs this year. 28! He gave up 4 home runs all of last year. And only 9 the year before. And to make it more weird, more home runs have come against right handed batters than left, which is totally opposite to what it normally is.

Think about that – a 700% increase in the number of home runs when compared to last year. Now, for sure he has already thrown more pitches this year, but that is still ridiculous. And to make it more confusing, his other numbers haven’t really been that different. His strikeout percentage is actually up from 2014, while walks are up slightly. His percentage of outs on balls hit into play is identical to last years.

So what is the problem? I have to admit, after looking at multitudes of graphs, charts, and other statistics, nothing seems to leap out. His pitch speeds seem similar. He has been healthy the whole year as far as we know, so I don’t think it is related to that. He is still pitching in Comerica Park, which isn’t exactly home-run friendly. I couldn’t find a thing.

I went to searching the internet.  It turns out, no one on the internet knows what the problem is either.  I found this article by Craig Edwards (FanGraphs), and this article, by Neil Weinberg (New English D), who both took a deep look at Sanchez’s 2015 performance, and neither of whom could find any reason why his home run rate should have spiked like this.

Here’s Edwards:

His BABIP is a low .278, his velocity is not down, and other than experimenting with a cutter at the expense of his four-seam fastball, neither his pitch mix nor his general location have differed from last season…the source of the home-run problems, if there is anything other than noise, is not clear.

And here’s Weinberg:

Anibal Sanchez’s bad season is based entirely on a home run problem that I cannot explain. His pitches aren’t worse overall. He’s not throwing them to different spots. He’s not throwing them very differently. There is no good reason why this should be happening.

These guys, while probably not being as good looking as me, have way more knowledge on baseball subjects. I will defer to their judgment when it comes to statistical analysis of baseball trends.

You would think the Tigers, who probably are better at analyzing stats than anyone on the internet, would be able to figure out what was going on, but because the home runs keep coming it is obvious that they don’t have a clue either.

I hate to think that the problem isn’t explainable – my engineering brain says that there must be a rational reason. But I can’t figure it out ,and neither can anyone else, it seems. Which is why there is a limit to the usefulness of statistics, and why there will always require coaches with keen eyes and baseball knowledge to diagnose somebody.

Maybe the coaches do know.  Maybe there is something going on externally to Anibal, which causes momentary lapses where he throws a meatball up to the plate, but that the coaches can’t talk about. Maybe there is an injury we don’t know about, that only affects him on certain pitches, that the coaches don’t want to discuss. Or maybe it is just bad luck – the kind the Tigers have seemed to have all year.

Whatever the reason might be, Anibal Sanchez is the epitome of the Tigers this year. Nothing seems different, yet everything has changed.