Brian Sabean

In defense of Jonathan Sanchez

First off, Jonathan Sanchez was pretty awful last night. 4 earned runs allowed in 4 innings, with 6 strikeouts overshadowed by 5 hits and 6 walks. He’s gotten a reputation for not handling adversity very well, be it a fielding error behind him, a stingy home plate umpire or the misplacement of his elusive “arm slot.” (That reminds me, I think I left my arm slot in my hotel room in Montreal a couple weeks ago, along with my cell phone.) Sanchez isn’t consistent, he can’t handle the bat and he comes close to walking one guy per inning.

In other words, he’s a fifth starter.

Everyone around the Giants has seemed to give up on the offense entirely. Let’s score three runs per game and let our staff hold ’em. Sabes says we’re in a pitching division; holding teams to 2 runs or less per game is what we do. Sanchez’s imperfections won’t be tolerated, damn it!

Perhaps the man most frustrated with Sanchez’s career arc is Mike Krukow, and in a way I understand his frustration. Sanchez has nuclear stuff, he’s been around for a while, he struck out 10 guys in a game twice last April and his facial expressions on the mound range from “deer in the headlights” to “I’m totally not sitting next to (fill in position player’s name who just committed an error) on the team plane, and I kind of wouldn’t mind if Bochy made a pitching change right now.” But to expect your fifth starter to win ANY game when his team only scores 2 runs on the road isn’t just unrealistic, it’s insane.

To those freaking out about Sanchez as if he’s the weak spot on this roster (rather than all of the starting position players with a waist size under 40 inches), take a look at the rest of the fifth starters in the National League going into today’s action:

LAD (19-8) James McDonald: 1-1, 8.16 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 6 K, 14.1 IP

SFG (12-12) Jonathan Sanchez: 1-2, 3.80 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 23 K , 21.1 IP

ARI (11-15) Yusmeiro Petit: 0-2, 7.84 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, 17 K, 20.2 IP

SDP (11-15) Chad Gaudin: 0-1, 5.06 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 10 K, 10.2 IP

COL (10-14) Jason Hammel: 0-0, 3.45 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 8 K, 15.2 IP

STL (17-9) Mitchell Boggs: 1-0, 3.29 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 15 K, 13.2 IP

CHI (14-11) Sean Marshall: 0-1, 3.32 ERA, 1.32 WHIP 15 K, 19 IP

MIL (14-12) Dave Bush: 1-0, 4.36 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 25 K, 33 IP

CIN (13-12) Micah Owings: 1-3, 4.84 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 11 K, 22.1 IP

PIT (12-13) Jeff Karstens: 1-1, 5.85 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 9 K, 20 IP

HOU (11-15) Russ Ortiz: 2-0, 5.21 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 14 K, 19 IP

FLA (15-11) Graham Taylor: 0-1, 6.23 ERA, 2.08 WHIP, 3 K, 8.2 IP

PHI (13-10) Chan Ho Park: 0-1, 8.57 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 11 K, 21 IP

NYM (11-13) Livan Hernandez: 1-1, 6.75 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 12 K, 21.1 IP

ATL (11-14) Jo-Jo Reyes: 0-1, 5.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 14 K, 18 IP

WAS (7-17) Jordan Zimmerman: 2-1, 4.24 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 14 K, 17 IP

Sanchez ranks fourth amongst NL fifth starters in ERA, seventh in WHIP, second in strikeouts and third in innings pitched. He’s only 26 and he’s been moved from the rotation to the bullpen and back to the rotation again throughout his Major League career (a cycle that’s already happened once this season). Sure it would be nice if ol’ Sanchy was good for 7 IP every game and didn’t unravel every other start, but that’s why he’s the FIFTH STARTER. It isn’t Sanchez’s fault that the Giants have only averaged 3.09 runs scored per game since their opening series against Milwaukee.

Maybe Sanchez will end up being the Giants’ next Atlee Hammaker, a talented lefty who suffered from severe lapses in confidence and concentration (meaning if Sanchez ever represents the Giants in the All-Star Game, the superstitious side of me prays he doesn’t actually have to pitch). Maybe he’ll turn into the No. 1 starter Krukow and Randy Johnson envision. Maybe he’ll become Jeremy Affeldt. Anything’s possible at this point.

Regardless, as fifth starters go Sanchez isn’t a bad option (as evidenced by the still-continuing careers of Livan, Russ and Chan Ho). If the Giants fall short of the postseason for the fifth straight season, it won’t be because their starting rotation isn’t deep enough, it’s because their hitters don’t go deep often enough.

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