The Giants and Royals pulled off a trade on Monday that will see Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo (largely a non-prospect) head to Kansas City, while Melky Cabrera heads to San Francisco. Looking at things on the surface, the Giants deal from a surplus of pitching, to help bolster their offense, and the Royals address their need for pitching. Win-win right? Well, not necessarily.
The Giants seem to have dealt Sanchez at his low point. Last year he missed time throughout the season, and finished with just 101.1 innings pitched. In those innings, his control was at its all-time worst with him sporting an unacceptable 5.86 BB/9. He still struck out a bunch of hitters, which has always been his calling card, with a 9.06 K/9. Sanchez struggled to get ahead of hitters throwing a first pitch strike just 53.4 percent of the time, or four percent less frequently than he did in his “breakout,” 2010 season. Expecting Sanchez to take a step back from his career best 2010 season would have been reasonable, as only his ERA took a big step forward from his previous career marks while his xFIP, FIP, and SIERA remained about in line with previous production levels.
Even accounting for a move to the American League, Sanchez should strikeout roughly a batter an inning, and his fantasy value will be tied to his ability to locate the strikezone. If he’s able to get back to the 4.5 BB/9 range, and maintain a two-to-one BB:K ratio, he’ll have fantasy value. In a perfect world, working with a new pitching coach could be the key to unlocking control that’s better than he’s ever previously displayed. Banking on a perfect world scenario is a foolish proposition from a fantasy perspective though.
Sanchez batted ball data for his career shows almost an identical groundball and flyball distribution at 40.8 percent and 40.9 percent respectively. Hitters rarely squared him up in 2009 and 2010 with line drive rates of 16.2 percent and 14.8 percent, and his BABIP benefited sitting at .276 and .252. He has also shown a knack for popping hitters up inducing infield flyballs 11.4 percent of the time in 2009, 13.5 percent of the time in 2010, and 13.3 percent of the time last year. Sanchez will have to adjust to switching leagues, and facing lineups featuring a designated hitter, but at least he will be moving from one spacious ballpark to another.
The other player in Kansas City who sees a change to his fantasy value is Lorenzo Cain. Beyond acquiring a starting pitcher, which the Royals were in need of, they opened up a starting center field role for Cain. Cain was acquired as part of the Zack Greinke deal. He had modest success in the majors playing in 43 games for the Brewers in 2010, but spent almost the entire season in Triple-A with the Royals seeing action in just six major league games. He is a speedy player, and it should come as no surprise he has a higher than league average BABIP, but the .365 mark he has in 49 games is likely to slip some. He doesn’t walk a ton, and he strikes out a bit more than a non-slugger should, but he could provide value in AL-only leagues stealing bases. He only stole 16 bases in 2011, but did swipe 33 the year before. Mixed leaguers would be wise to look elsewhere for an outfielder.
The Giants prize acquisition, Cabrera, had a career year. Unfortunately for them, his “big,” year doesn’t pass the sniff test. His single season best .305 batting average that he hit in 2011 was almost entirely BABIP driven. He had a .332 BABIP in 2011, 33 points higher than his .299 career BABIP, which would be a larger gap if it didn’t include his 2011 season. Nothing in his batted ball data suggests he turned a corner. His line drive rate was less than one percent better than his career mark, and his groundball and flyball rates were less than two percent off from his career rates. His HR/FB of 9.8 percent was his second best rate, trailing just a 10.3 percent HR/FB rate he posted in the grand opening season of new Yankee Stadium, a noted launching pad. A 26-27 year old (August 11 birthday) seeing a bump in power production isn’t entirely surprising. He also had tough luck in 2010 across the board, but especially on HR/FB with just 3.1 percent of his flyballs clearing the outfield walls.
Delving further into Cabrera’s 2011 season, you’ll see a player who walked at the lowest rate of his career, and struck out the most often he has in a season. His strikeout rate of 13.3 percent is completely acceptable, but his 5.0 percent walk rate is troubling, especially if he isn’t able to turn it around when his BABIP regresses to his career norm. Cabrera was more aggressive than he’s ever been in any other season both chasing pitches outside of the strikezone, and swinging at them when in the strikezone. Perhaps his aggressive approach can be credited for his most productive offensive season ever.
Not all is doom and gloom with the Melkman. His .164 ISO was 22 points higher than his previous best. He also was credited with his second best speed score according to FanGraphs, though, his stolen base success rate of 66.7 percent was poor with 10 caught stealing in 30 stolen base attempts. Taking everything into consideration, I don’t expect him to repeat his breakout 2011 season, but I also don’t expect him to struggle as mightily as he did in his first tour of the National League with the Atlanta Braves in 2010. He should be capable of popping 15-20 home runs next year, but I’d expect an average closer to his career .275 average than his .305 average last year. His poor success rate stealing bases last year isn’t encouraging for a second 20 stolen base season, but his prior success efficiently stealing bases on a lower volume at least indicates there is some hope for improvement and a repeat. His fantasy value will be limited to NL-only leagues, and deep mixed leagues. He’s probably going to be given a shot to nail down the leadoff gig, which would aid his value, but temper expectations.