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ALCS Game 4 Preview: One Win From Capturing The American League Pennant

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 5:15
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Rather than start right-hander Mike Clevinger in Game 4 of the ALCS on Tuesday, the team will start ace righty Corey Kluber on short rest. Ryan Merritt will then get the ball in Game 5, if necessary.

Trevor Bauer was forced the exit in the first inning because the cut on his right pinkie began bleeding uncontrollably. He cut himself repairing his drone over the weekend. Francona broke it down like this before Game 3:

  • Trevor Bauer pitches well in Game 3: Merritt starts Game 4 and Kluber starts Game 5.
  • Trevor Bauer pitches poorly in Game 3: Kluber starts Game 4 and Merritt starts Game 5.

Since Bauer was knocked out early, the Indians were forced to rely on their bullpen heavily in Game 3. Kluber is an innings eater and Cleveland wean on him for some serious length in Game 4, even on short rest. He has never started on short rest in his career.

Merritt, meanwhile, has not pitched since Sept. 30  and he has done work on the side throughout the postseason so he will be well-rested for Game 5. This will be only his second career big-league start.

A win this evening would give the American League Pennant to the Indians for the first time since 1997.

Aaron Sanchez

Aaron Sanchez is a legitimate Cy Young contender this year, maybe even the frontrunner in the eyes of some, and while players typically get sent down to the minors because their organization doesn’t care much for what they’ve done on the field, Sanchez was optioned to high A Dunedin in August because the Blue Jays care too much. He just turned 24, and he’s a massive part of the organization’s future, and the move was simply made to skip one of his turns in the rotation in an effort to limit the workload of Toronto’s prized, young arm.

Sanchez has maintained his power, he’s broadened his repertoire, and he’s impressed the hell out of a future Hall-of-Famer. We’ve seen Sanchez dominate in relief, but last year out of the rotation, he allowed a .346 OBP, and a .392 slugging percentage. This year, his numbers as a starter are at .285 and .321, respectively. There’s another way of showing this. Because of Sanchez’s sinker, he’s always been able to generate grounders, but here’s a plot, courtesy of Fangraphs, of the 2015 starting pitchers with grounder rate and K-BB%:


And here is the plot for his 2016:


That’s an awfully big shift for that little yellow dot. A year ago, Sanchez was among the league leaders in lowest average launch angle allowed. This year, he’s kept that up. But he’s figured out the zone, and he’s improved his curveball, and so there have been more of the good things and fewer of the bad things. What Sanchez has pulled off, by improving his conditioning and mechanical consistency, is remarkable, and this table can tell you why. Since 2002, more than 1,700 pitchers have thrown at least 50 innings as starters in consecutive seasons.

Sanchez spent the majority of his first two seasons in the majors working out of relief, and now that he suddenly looks like an ace, that he’s already exceeded his previous season-high in innings by more than 20. And if you know about that, then you know about the sinker that leads Sanchez’s arsenal:

In 2015, Baseball America profiled the pitch as having “plus-plus life with bat-breaking armside run and sink.” When fangraph’s Jeff Sullivan looked for a comparison to Zach Britton‘s  sinker last season, the first name he mentioned was Sanchez, noting that the key difference between the two is Britton generated more downward plane due to his delivery. Sanchez’s release point is slightly higher this year compared to last, so a pitch that was already nearly Britton’s sinker last year is now slightly closer. It’s thrown harder than 95 mph on average, making it the third-fastest sinker thrown by a starting pitcher with at least 500 thrown this season. It generates nine inches of horizontal break, on average, and none of the five pitchers who get more movement to the arm side with their sinker also generate more vertical drop on the pitch.

Sanchez can get into trouble when he tries to challenge hitters with his fasatball:


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