Last season, Anibal Sanchez became a study in analytics. He resurrected a career that had looked like it was nearing a statistical curve destined for retirement. This season he has had seven starts, and his best performances have been 2-run performances. But when you look at last season through his first seven appearances, he had 4 shutouts. What is the difference in this tale of two seasons? Maybe it can be explained away in the defense behind him and also defensive positioning because the hit rate has increased from 7.0 to 9.6 between this year and last year. Maybe it is the BB/9 rate that was 2.8 and is now 5.4. Can new pitching coach Paul Menhart change anything to improve Sanchez? He has identical HR/9 numbers nearly identical K/9 stats as last year so the difference is hits and walks leading to more runs.
A year ago, Sanchez went into Dodger Stadium and earned the win going 5 1/3 innings yielding 2-runs. The Nationals could use a gem from this pitcher who they invested upwards of $11 million in. Two departed Nationals starters threw shutouts in the past 24 hours. Tanner Roark went 6 innings yesterday against the Oakland A’s at 94 pitches and threw a shutout, and today, Gio Gonzalez shutout the Cubs for 5 2/3 innings throwing 79 pitches. Other teams have taken Nationals pitchers and polished them back into gems. Gio has a 1.69 ERA (small sample size) and Roark is at 3.27. Roark’s ERA is better than any Nationals starter not named Patrick Corbin, but statistically they are only separated by 0.07 of ERA. Add to that the All-Star success of Blake Treinen and Felipe Vasquez, and the recent success of cast-off Trevor Gott.
It is statistically frustrating to see the Nationals pitching alumni finding success on other teams when they could not find it before they left the employment of the Nationals. Can Paul Menhart be the difference with this team that has improved their catchers, and vowed to improve their defense. But the difference in success and failure might be rooted in analytics and defensive positioning and workload.
The hiring of Menhart seems to be a positive. He is engaging and last night was timely with two of his mound visits. He entered to give Patrick Corbin a breather and a pep talk en route to a 7.0 inning shutout gem. Menhart also came in to see Kyle Barraclough with two men on base and pinch-hitter Alex Verdugo entering the game. Barraclough darted six pitches all in Verdugo’s weakest part of his swing. He swung at a ball out of the zone and pulled an outside pitch directly to where Brian Dozier was positioned for an easy groundout.
Maybe just maybe we will see improvement in the Nationals starting pitching, and the team needs it tonight from Sanchez and the bullpen. The Nationals offense will face Kenta Maeda who they have somehow never faced before.
Tonight will also feature the Nationals debut of Gerardo Parra. He is the only Nats player besides Dozier who has faced Maeda before. In fact Parra has 19 at-bats against Maeda. With Parra in the line-up, Victor Robles returns to centerfield and Adam Eaton back to his rightfield spot.
Washington Nationals vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Stadium: Dodgers Stadium, Chavez Ravine, California
1st Pitch: 10:10 pm EDT
TV: MASN2; MLB App out-of-market
Nats Radio: 106.7 The Fan and via the MLB app
Line-ups subject to change without notice:
Eaton RF Robles CF Rendon 3B Kendrick 1B Gerardo Parra LF Suzuki C Dozier 2B Difo SS Sánchez RHP