Aaron Rowand

In defense of Jonathan Sanchez

No matter how slow the news day, or how fast for that matter, the media absolutely loves it when athletes or coaches guarantee victory. It’s the absolute height of lazy journalism, complete with heavy usage of the phrase “bulletin board material” and obligatory mentions of Joe Namath.

Jonathan Sanchez made some reporters’ days on Sunday, when the anger and disappointment over his crappy performance against the Atlanta Braves spilled over. And it wasn’t just a good story because it took the focus off the Giants’ declining offensive numbers over the past week, but because it was Sanchy No. 1 (in Bruce Bochy’s nickname depth chart, anyway) has never been the picture of focus and intensity.

And because he’s thought of as a flighty left-hander, the media response has been even more dismissive than the normal way these guarantees are received by the media. The fans? They don’t really care about guarantees. If the Giants win, great, if they lose, that isn’t good. Doesn’t matter if there’s a guarantee attached or not, as long as the player who makes the guarantee at least puts out the requisite effort. You see, fans have been going through guarantee-fatigue for years now, just like how the term “must win” falls on deaf ears during the NBA/NHL playoffs whenever it’s applied to non-elimination games.

While many seem to think Sanchez’s focus wavers more than they’d like it to, I completely disagree.

First, a disclaimer. I am a Sanchez backer to the nth degree. I didn’t want him traded for some sort of Corey Hart stopgap outfielder, and that was before Huff/Torres/Burrell pushed Nate Schierholtz and Aaron Rowand to the bench. Admittedly, I have a soft spot for mercurial lefties that might play into this. I defy you to find anyone on the Internetz who promoted and defended Anthony Randolph as much as myself, and that includes Bill Simmons, who hijacked the Randolph love weeks after it was in full bloom on BASG.

However, I think Sanchez has us all fooled, and the guarantee opens a window into his psyche that shouldn’t really worry anyone, unless perfectionism is considered a harmful trait for starting pitchers.

Remember the reaction to not getting traded? How Sanchez dominated in his first start after the deadline, tying Juan Marichal’s team record with 7 strikeouts on his way to a dominant performance?

How about the fact that Sanchez has the team’s only no-hitter since Americans started buying Hondas and Toyotas, and that it probably should have been a perfect game?

To me, when Sanchez’s concentration wavers during a start, it’s not because he doesn’t care, it’s because he cares too much. Once the dream of perfection is gone, he gets incredibly angry at himself. He would actually do himself a favor if he were more like Madison Bumgarner and yelled “F—!” into his glove every time he screwed up. Then people would see his inner fire, and not get their boxer briefs in a bunch whenever Sanchez walked a hitter on four pitches.

I don’t want to go down the slippery slope of amateur psychology, but I feel like I have an idea where Sanchez is coming from. Not just because I feel like I’ve watched a lot of sports, but I understand the pitfalls of perfectionism. Not that I’m perfect by any means (far, far, FAR from it), but I’ve found myself wanting to do stuff like quit a game if things didn’t go well from the start. And I’m not alone — why else have reset buttons graced the front of every videogame console you can think of? It’s impossible to be sure, but I believe Sanchez wanted to follow up his start in Colorado with an equally dominant performance, especially since a series split was at stake at the end of a very long road trip. When that didn’t happen, Sanchez’s anger turned into false bravado.

But what’s so bad about what he said? He didn’t say he would no-hit the Padres, but that his team would sweep them and surge into first place, never to look back. He was disappointed in himself for letting the team down, and for the only time since that tearful embrace with his dad after the no-hitter, he let the world in. He probably won’t do it in that fashion again after the media backlash and an undoubtedly stern talking-to from Bochy, but at least we know he cares. Hopefully as he gets older he’ll get over this idea of perfection, learn how to consistently battle when he’s behind in the count, stop with the bad body language and speed up his tempo with runners on base (especially when it’s 98 degrees with 95% humidity).

So in all, it’s hard to see what Sanchez’s guarantee did to harm himself or his team. You think the Padres even know how to use a bulletin board that isn’t an iPhone app? Or, more to the point, that in a tight pennant race the Padres would need extra motivation, or that Sanchez’s words would make them throw harder or hit the ball further? Same with the Giants. If they don’t sweep the ‘dres, nobody will remember the guarantee for long. If they do, it’ll be the point in the season that the entire National League will fear the vaunted, confident Giants pitching staff and the team as a whole. If Sanchez doesn’t pitch well on Friday, he’ll learn a lesson he will never forget. If he pitches well, he’ll gain confidence in himself and from his teammates who in the end would laugh and call him the Puerto Rican Joe Namath –  if they haven’t been doing so for the last few days already.

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