Anibal Sanchez threw 6 hitless innings against the Red Sox on Saturday. His stuff was absolutely filthy to the point where he didn't seem to know whether or not a pitch would break out of the zone. This led to strikeout after strikeout, and walk after walk. It was what I imagine an Al Alburquerque start would look like.
Sanchez only ran into serious trouble a few times all night. His biggest jam was at the end of his outing, having walked the bases loaded in the sixth. Anibal quickly got out in front of Stephen Drew, one ball and two strikes. After watching a few good offerings get fouled off, Sanchez threw a wicked changeup that Drew cut and missed at. Detroit's third starter pumped his fist and whirled off the mound in celebration.
Fangraphs rates the leverage index of that particular at-bat at 5.02, the second-highest value of the game. Sanchez is then credited with being "clutch" for earning the K. That goes against the trend Detroit's hurler established this year of underperforming in high-leverage situations. Anibal had a WPA this year of 1.24, just 30th in the Majors, despite being 3rd in all of baseball with 6.2 fWAR. This discrepancy left Sanchez with a "clutch" rating of -1.31 and was a major reason that Detroit underperformed their PYTHAG this year.
Looking further into the right-hander's season reveals where his issues lay. With the bases empty, batters hit just .218/.273/.327 off of him this year. With runners on base, the slash line jumps to .238/.305/.335. Sanchez is striking more hitters out and walking less in bases empty situations, the main culprit. From the windup, he's got a phenomenal 4.66 K/BB ratio. This drops to a more human 2.68 with men on. Can it be reasonably be concluded that Sanchez is less effective out of the stretch? This is most likely true, especially considering that he allowed 25 of 26 runners to steal on him this year.
An in-depth look at all of Sanchez's plate appearances this year when the leverage index ranked higher than 5.00 produced a return of zero instances. None. This was his biggest moment of the year, regardless of no-hitter, regardless of the impact on the postseason, by a wide margin.
Saturday night, Anibal Sanchez delivered the most important pitch of his 2013. That one pitch defied his past trends and helped bring home a huge victory for the Tigers. For one night, we can all be thankful that the Ice Cream Man was serving it cold when it mattered.