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The Strike Zone

Anibal Sanchez vs. Zack Greinke: Closer than you think

Anibal Sanchez picked a good time of year to turn in some stellar performances/ (Alex Trautwig/Getty Images) Anibal Sanchez picked a good time of year to turn in some stellar performances/ (Alex Trautwig/Getty Images)

If the prevailing rumors are to be believed, the free agent market -- if not the entire Hot Stove season -- has come to a grinding halt as every team waits for the Rangers to make a move, be it by signing Zack Greinke, re-signing Josh Hamilton, trading for Justin Upton or even just receiving Michael Young’s approval of a reportedly finalized deal that would make him the Phillies' new third baseman.

The biggest kink in the works is Greinke. Whether he signs with the Rangers or elsewhere it should greatly impact what else Texas can and will do.With the possible exceptions of Hamilton and Upton, the player whose immediate future will be most impacted by Greinke’s is that of Anibal Sanchez, who is largely regarded as the next best free-agent pitcher remaining on the market and could land a deal just shy of nine figures. What’s curious, however, is that while Greinke may break the record for largest contract ever given to a pitcher (CC Sabathia's $161 million deal signed with the Yankees in Dec. 2008), the rumored total value of a potential Sanchez contract is merely half that of Greinke’s, whereas the difference between the two pitchers isn’t nearly as large.

For example, over the last three years, which pitcher has been worth more wins above replacement? Over that span, which pitcher has had a lower ERA and a better ERA+? Which pitcher is younger? Which pitcher has gone longer without a disabled list stay?

In each case the answer is not Greinke, but Sanchez. He is four months younger than Greinke, hasn’t hit the disabled list since 2009 (Greinke missed the first month of the 2011 season after fracturing a rib while playing basketball in the offseason), and over the last three years has posted a 3.70 ERA, a 109 ERA+ and been worth nine wins above replacement to Greinke’s 3.83, 106 and 7.9. The point here isn’t that Sanchez is a better pitcher than Greinke -- he’s not -- but there’s an argument to be made that he’s much closer to Greinke’s equal than their respective market values would suggest.

On a scouting level, Greinke has a clearer lead. He throws harder, has a deeper repertoire and is a few inches taller than Sanchez, who qualifies as a short righthander given the fact that he’s less than six-feet tall. The two miss bats at a comparable rate, Greinke doing so with his slider and curve, Sanchez with his slider and changeup. Greinke has better command and fools more batters, resulting in more called strikes, a higher strikeout rate and a better strikeout-to-walk ratio, but even there Sanchez isn’t far behind. Greinke led the NL with 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings 2011, but Sanchez was at 9.3 that season and has struck out 8.1 men per nine innings to Greinke’s 8.7 over the last three years while walking 2.8 to Greinke’s 2.3.

The perception that Greinke is a true ace who is much more valuable than Sanchez is left over from the 2009 season, when Greinke won the American League Cy Young award with a remarkable 205 ERA+, the 15th best mark of the Liveball Era, and Sanchez spent most of the season on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. However, Sanchez’s DL stay in 2009 was the final stage of a long rehabilitation from his June 2007 labrum surgery and his arm has remained healthy and active ever since, while Greinke hasn’t come close to replicating his amazing performance from that year, which was partially the result of some unrepeatable clutch pitching with men on base. Greinke’s opponents hit .253/.301/.396 with the bases empty that season, but just .197/.240/.251 with a runner aboard. In the three seasons since, his opponents have hit .252/.301/.387 overall, a near perfect match for his bases empty mark in ’09, with a fairly even split with the bases empty or occupied.

The market seems to have adjusted to Sanchez’s health reasonably well, valuing him as a strong No. 3 or possible No. 2 starter but it is wildly overvaluing Greinke. Consider this comparison between Greinke and the last two pitchers to ink record-setting contracts, CC Sabathia and Johan Santana, in the three years prior to their free agency:

Pitcher

GS

IP

IP/GS

ERA

ERA+

WHIP

K/9

BB/9

K/BB

bWAR

Santana

100

684 1/3

6.8

2.99

148

1.01

9.4

1.9

4.99

18.9

Sabathia

97

686 2/3

7.1

3.03

145

1.14

8.3

1.8

4.51

16.8

Greinke

95

604

6.4

3.83

106

1.22

8.7

2.3

3.78

7.9

Greinke has had much more in common with Sanchez than Santana and Sabathia over the last three years. Zack Greinke is a very good major league starting pitcher, but he’s not worth a record-setting contract, nor should the entire offseason be put on hold while he and his suitors hammer one out.

 -- By Cliff Corcoran

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