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2007 Bullpen Preview: Duaner Sanchez

Mike SteffanosWednesday, January 24, 2007
By Mike Steffanos

Duaner Sanchez began his pro career in 1996 with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. He signed as a 16-year-old amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic. He was a starting pitcher until 2002 when he was converted to a reliever in Double-A. That season Baseball America cited Sanchez for taking the "Biggest Leap Forward" in the D-backs system in their 2002 Midseason Report:

Righthander Duaner Sanchez has a live arm and an athletic body, but he did not always seem to have full concentration as a starter in 2001, a season in which he also missed a month because of a ligament sprain in his right elbow.

Moved to the bullpen in winter ball and kept there this spring, Sanchez has become a dominant closer at El Paso, hitting 101 mph on the radar gun twice and saving 13 games, leading to a late first-half promotion to the parent club.

Sanchez, 22, dropped several pitches when he moved to the bullpen and now relies mainly on his power package, a high 90s fastball and a slider. His changes helped his mental approach, too. "I wasn't that strong mentally," Sanchez said. "Back in the old days, when one of my teammates made an error, it would go to my head and I'd lose everything. I tried not to let everybody know, but they knew it because I'd lose all my concentration. Now, nothing bothers me right now."

Shortly after that report came out Sanchez was traded to the Pirates for Mike Fetters, a 37-year-old journeyman right-handed reliever. He made his major league debut later that year with the Pirates, and was selected by BA as the number five prospect in the Pirates system after the 2002 season. Here is a portion of the scouting report:

Strengths: Sanchez' fastball gained velocity and movement once he was used in shorter bursts. The heater normally sits in the 93-94 mph range, though he can dial it up to 97 when necessary. Sanchez also has a plus slider, though the Pirates asked him to shelve it in favor a curveball after he was called up in September.

Weaknesses: Sanchez has extremely thin legs, which causes some to wonder about his long-term durability. His command also needs work. He's a bit of a free spirit who has yet to totally accept that he is now a reliever instead of a starter.

The Pirates removed Sanchez from their major league roster following the season, necessitating putting him through waivers. Although at this point Sanchez only had 9 rather ineffective major league innings under his belt, this seems a strange decision on Pittsburgh's part to give up so quickly on a promising young reliever. The Dodgers snapped him right up, and he made their major league bullpen the following year out of spring training. After two solid years with the Dodgers Sanchez was traded along with Steve Schmoll to the Mets in exchange for Jae Seo and Tim Hamulack. The trade was roundly criticized at the time by the pundits -- this one from SI.com writer (and Yankees blogger) Alex Belth was fairly typical:

... In exchange for Seo and lefty Tim Hamulack, the Dodgers gave up a couple of decent relievers -- Duaner Sanchez and Steve Schmoll. Jon Weisman, author of Dodger Thoughts, agrees that L.A. got the better end of the deal. "Seo blew me away in August after he replaced Ishii in the Mets' rotation," he says. "I realize that some of that may have been luck, because he wasn't striking a lot of batters out, and he regressed a bit toward the end of the season." Though Weisman likes Sanchez's surging strikeout rate (7.79 per 9.0 innings) as well as his durability, he concludes, "Relievers are easier to come by, and I like the chances for Seo to add stability to the Dodger rotation and help the team more than Sanchez would have."

Both Belth and Weisman are very good bloggers who also write for SI.com, but I was amused at the time that Belth chose to interview a Dodgers blogger to "prove" that the Mets had come out on the short end of the deal with LA. I wonder how much of Jae Seo Weisman had really seen. In any case, time would show that it was quite a good deal for the Mets.

Although I like Jae Seo and expect him to bounce back to being a decent pitcher, both Belth and Weisman overlooked the fact that Jae Seo was a bottom of the rotation starter who added some pitches and snuck up on the league somewhat when he returned from the minors in 2005. After pitching well for Korea in the World Baseball Classic last spring, Seo completely faltered in LA. An ERA of just under 6 in 67 innings with the Dodgers earned Seo a ticket to oblivion -- otherwise known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- where he pitched better, but still had a WHIP of 1.70. Sanchez, in the meantime, continued to blossom as a reliever, and seemed to welcome the spotlight in New York. He was clearly the Mets top setup man until a late night cab accident in late July cost him the rest of the season.

Here are Duaner Sanchez' major league numbers since his first complete MLB season with the Dodgers in 2004:

Duaner Sanchez
Year-Team Games Innings Hits/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA AVG OBP SLG
2004 - Dodgers 67 80.0 9.1 5.0 3.0 1.0 3.38 .266 .335 .398
2005 - Dodgers 79 82.0 8.2 7.8 4.0 0.9 3.73 .248 .332 .403
2006 - NY Mets 49 55.1 7.0 7.2 3.9 0.5 2.60 .223 .316 .316

Despite possessing a very good changeup, Sanchez has struggled some against lefties. Although he took another step forward in that regard last season, a look at his lefty/righty splits suggests there is still some work to do in that regard:

Duaner Sanchez L/R Splits By Year
Year   Innings ERA Hits/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 AVG OBP SLG
2004 vs. RHB 48.1 2.79 8.8 6.1 3.2 0.9 .260 .333 .370
 vs. LHB 31.2 4.26 9.7 3.1 2.8 1.1 .276 .333 .439

2005 vs. RHB 43.1 2.49 5.6 8.7 3.7 0.6 .182 .272 .318
 vs. LHB 38.2 5.12 11.2 6.7 4.2 1.2 .310 .372 .484

2006 vs. RHB 32.0 1.13 5.3 7.3 3.1 0.3 .179 .266 .226
 vs. LHB 23.1 4.63 9.3 6.9 5.0 0.8 .276 .362 .425

The walk total against left-handers needs to come down. Sanchez' stuff is good enough that it can be frustrating figuring out why he can be prone to nibbling at times. His changeup is a quality pitch, and he should be able to improve his numbers against lefties similar to the success Aaron Heilman and Guillermo Mota enjoy. If Sanchez can do this, there is no reason why he couldn't be a pretty good major league closer some day. He's fearless, aggressive and seems to love the spotlight. With Billy Wagner turning 36 in July, it's important that the Mets have people in the bullpen that could possibly step up and fill in if Wagner is injured. Sanchez is a definite candidate for the job.

The huge question about Sanchez, of course, is how he will come back from the injury. He's only been cleared to throw again fairly recently, and there's no telling how he will bounce back until he's pitching regularly again. Although the injury obviously wasn't suffered while pitching, there is going to be plenty of concerns about his recovery from a serious injury to his shoulder until he proves he's 100 percent. Fortunately, he is young and has no history of arm problems. He's famous for not icing down his arm after he pitches.

Provided there are no complications from the surgery, expect Duaner Sanchez to eventually reclaim the eighth inning for his own again, although it would probably be wise if the Mets went a little slow with him early in the season. With Aaron Heilman seemingly surviving another winter's trade rumors, the Mets will be able to utilize their young and effective 1-2 eighth inning punch and should have no need to push Sanchez too hard in the early going.

2007 Bullpen Previews:
Jon Adkins
Adam Bostick
Ambiorix Burgos
Marcos Carvajal
Pedro Feliciano
Aaron Heilman
Guillermo Mota
Clint Nageotte
Juan Padilla
Chan Ho Park
Duaner Sanchez (This Article)
Steve Schmoll
Scott Schoeneweis
Aaron Sele
Joe Smith
Jorge Sosa
Billy Wagner
Other Candidates
Four Other Names for You

2007 Pitching Previews: Summing It All Up

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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Comments (10)

Sanchez was a delight to watch until he got hurt in the late night "food" run. He has the fearless approach to late inning pressure that makes for great closers. If I am not mistaken, his shoulder injury was not likely to cause any major structural / rotator cuff damage that would affect his pitching, velocity etc. His surgery was up in the air for a day or so, and was ultimately done more for palliation of severe pain.

There's obviously the concern about whether or not the velocity and movement he had before the injury will return, but if it does I expect more great things from Sanchez. Much like Mota, his presence and addition to the mega pen is key, not only for the regular season, but for any sort of playoff run. If he's as good as he was, Heilman repeats his 2nd half performance and Mota returns effective, we have the makings for a new version of the old Nasty Boys.

Excellent series again Mike...lots of effort obviously goes into these reports. On this cold winter nights it's a breath of spring air, bud...truly your good work is like drinking a brewmasters' really fine microbrew with its complexity and richness...you da Man!!....anyway it was the non-throwing shoulder that was disclocated and the tissues were not torn, just overstretched,as the reports revealed at the time of surgery...Thanks for the time wellspent....

It's hard for me to forget watching that last strike of our season and feeling the loss, but concidering what we overcame with the loss of Pedro, Herandez and Sanchez and going so deep into the playoffs, I feel good of what we have going into this year.This is a team coming together and last year was a terrific team effort. I think it will just get better.Lets Go Mets. They say sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make. I pray that is true and Pelfrey, Humber and Milledge shine for us and become allstars.I believe in confession and repepenting of our sins and giving Moto a second chance will bless us.


I've got a question about lefty-righty split stats: how do you split an ERA between lefties and righties?

For instance, if three lefthanders get singles off a reliever, then the following batter, a righthander, drives them all in with a double, on which side of the plate do the runs get charged? Whichever way it goes, an instance like the one above could skew the results unfairly.

PS - I love seeing those splits in your profiles. It's illuminating to see how
carefully crafted this pitching staff is for all sorts of game situations. Let's go Mets!

"He's a bit of a free spirit" listed among Sanchez' weaknesses! I love reading this stuff, but it is as well that the media writers include items like that one; it serves to remind us that they don't know everything any more than we do.

I found Duaner to be one of the best interviews on the Mets last year; his responses were thoughtful and he wasn't full of himself, not at all. And he sounded plenty focussed to me. Delmon Young; now there's a free spirit.

Nothing else to say except to hope along with everybody else that Sanchez has a full recovery.

Salman - I agree that it's not the type of injury that should cause concern going forward.
n8genius - thanks for the medical info.
Rev - Sounds good to me.
NostraDennis - I've never been big on ERA anyway, it's one of the things I agree with the real stat heads on. I tend to look at the AVG/OBP/SLG numbers of the best snapshot in the splits.
dd - I agree. Maybe he sobered a little when he filled out those spindly legs...

n8genius - It was his right (pitching) shoulder that was dislocated, not the left. But the surgery he had on it was minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery. He should be fine.

I was amused at the time that Belth chose to interview a Dodgers blogger to "prove" that the Mets had come out on the short end of the deal with LA. I wonder how much of Jae Seo Weisman had really seen. In any case, time would show that it was quite a good deal for the Mets.

I'll freely admit that I have been wrong about the Sanchez trade so far, but just so you know, my status as a Dodger blogger had no influence on my positive feelings about the trade at the time. Do you like every Mets trade? I have been plenty critical of Dodger moves in the past - in fact, I'd be shocked if any team blogger celebrated every move the team made. So I don't really understand your thought process here.

It's nothing personal at all, but I just feel it would be better if you stuck to the part where you evaulated what I said, rather than speculate on why I said it.

I will still stick to the logic that in general, a promising starter is better than a promising reliever. In fact, on Dodger Thoughts, I wrote that the best course for the Dodgers might have been for them to convert Sanchez into a starting position, rather than trade him for one.

That wasn't my point, Jon. My point was that you hadn't really seen enough of Jae Seo for Alez Belth to quote you for an expert opinion on him. I wasn't speculating on why you said it. I wasn't accusing you of being a Dodger cheerleader. If I felt that way I would have hardly said that you were a fine blogger that wrote for SI.com.

As for you being wrong, that wasn't the point, either. I've been wrong plenty, and will sometimes have a laugh about it here at my expense. At 48 I've learned enough about fallibility not to make fun of anyone else for it.

Mike, it's just that you assumed I hadn't seen enough of Seo to have an informed opinion, and then you were "amused" at your own assumption. So that strikes me as making fun of somebody's fallibility - mine or Alex's - whether or not your assumption was even correct.

It's no big deal. I guess it did rub me the wrong way, but I really don't mean to make a big deal about it.

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