As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We continue today with Aníbal Sánchez, who (much like the team as a whole) completely turned his season around after a wretched start.
PLAYER REVIEW: ANÍBAL SÁNCHEZ
Age on opening day 2020: 36
How acquired: Signed as free agent, December 2018
MLB service time: 13 years, 83 days
2019 salary: $8 million ($2 million deferred to 2021)
Contract status: Signed for $9 million in 2020 ($2 million deferred to 2021), $12 million club option (or $2 million buyout) in 2021, free agent in 2022
2019 stats: 11-8, 3.85 ERA, 30 GS, 0 CG, 166 IP, 153 H, 77 R, 71 ER, 22 HR, 58 BB, 134 SO, 4 HBP, 1.271 WHIP, 119 ERA+, 4.44 FIP, 2.5 fWAR, 3.7 bWAR
2019 postseason stats: 1-1, 2.50 ERA, 3 GS, 18 IP, 15 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 2 HR, 4 BB, 18 SO, 2 HBP, 1.056 WHIP
Quotable: “Amazing. Amazing. This guy has been really good the whole year and making all the kind of pitches. I know how hard it is to face him. I faced him last year. It’s really tough. It was amazing.” - Juan Soto, after Sánchez carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series
2019 analysis: If there’s one player who best encapsulates the Nationals’ 2019 season, it’s Sánchez. For six weeks, he was a major disappointment. He opened his season 0-6 with a 5.27 ERA, with only one of his eight starts lasting six innings. Then he landed on the injured list with a hamstring strain, all while his team was on its way to a wretched 19-31 start that left jobs in jeopardy.
What happened next? Sánchez returned from the IL and rediscovered himself. He trusted his ability to throw the ball down in the zone and over the plate, inducing weak contact. After averaging 5.3 walks per nine innings before the injury, he averaged only 2.4 the rest of the way. And he authored some dominant starts against top opponents: He allowed one hit in six innings against the Braves, retired 20 Dodgers in a row and carried a shutout into the ninth inning against the Cubs.
Sánchez’s best (and most important) performance of the year, though, came in the NLCS. Forced to take the ball for Game 1 after the Nats’ three big starters were burned up beating the Dodgers in the previous round, the wily veteran carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning at Busch Stadium and set the tone for what would be a series sweep. His World Series start was laborious (four runs, 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings) but he still was entitled to celebrate his first career title as much as anyone, given his importance to the club over the full season.
2020 outlook: The Nationals seemed to be gambling when they gave Sánchez a guaranteed two-year deal last winter. It doesn’t look like such a gamble now. They’ll happily have him back at an affordable salary and hope he can continue to do what he did over the final five months of this season.
Sánchez remains an anomaly of sorts. In this era of power and launch angle that prioritizes the high fastball perhaps more than any other pitch, his strength remains the ability to keep the ball down in the zone and induce weak contact. Given how many different types of pitches he throws and how they all look the same coming out of his hand, he still has the ability to be effective like this.
As he approaches his 36th birthday, though, Sánchez can’t afford to get complacent. Because he can’t rely on stuff alone, he has to keep working on perfecting his repertoire and his command of it. He also has to keep his body and arm in good shape. Given the other big names he’s trying to keep up with on the Nationals staff, motivation shouldn’t be a problem.