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Detroit Tigers player preview: Anibal Sanchez is one of the best pitchers in baseball

Anibal Sanchez has been overshadowed by three Cy Young winners in the same rotation, but he is one of baseball's best starting pitchers.

Leon Halip/Getty Images

Anibal Sanchez has the lowest fielding independent pitching (FIP) ratio in the American League over the past two seasons, among starting pitchers who have logged at least 300 innings. He ranks fourth in ERA, seventh in WAR, and has the lowest home run ratio allowed during that span. Sanchez has been one of baseball's top pitchers in the past, and if he can remain healthy Sanchez will be one of the game's best pitchers once again in 2015.

The Tigers acquired Sanchez from the Florida Marlins at the trade deadline in 2012, along with second baseman Omar Infante, in exchange for pitchers Jacob Turner and Brian Flynn, and catcher Rob Brantly. In two and a half seasons with the Tigers, Sanchez has a 26-19 record, with a 3.08 ERA and a 2.75 FIP, striking out 369 and walking 99 batters. By comparison, those numbers are comparable to those of Max Scherzer, and easily better than those of Justin Verlander during that time frame.

Then, a strain in his right pectoral muscle sidelined Sanchez following a start in Toronto on August 8, 2014, and he never returned to the Detroit Tigers rotation. The club chose to go with their four other starting pitchers -- three of them former Cy Young winners -- and keep Sanchez in the bullpen for the postseason. Sanchez went largely unused during the playoffs and only pitched for two innings in Game 2 of the AL Division Series, which was a point of contention for many at the time.

Sanchez has pitched with some accomplished pitchers on the team, including Cy Young winners Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and David Price, but he has been an excellent pitcher in his own right. Since the start of the 2013 season, he has an ERA of 2.92, a FIP of 2.52, and a home run ratio of just 0.38 home runs per nine innings. He has a strikeout ratio of 8.88 per nine innings, just ahead of David Price.

Sanchez has thrown 700 innings, for an average of 175 innings pitched over the past four seasons, while never throwing 200 innings in a single season. His time on the disabled list last September was due to his only significant injury during that time frame. He ranked 17th in the AL in WAR, despite making just 21 starts last season.  He won the league's ERA title in 2013, with a 2.57 mark.

Contract Status

Sanchez signed a five-year, $80 million contract extension after becoming a free agent following the 2012 season. He will earn $16.8 million per season through the 2017 season, and the Tigers have a team option for $16 million, with a $5 million buyout for 2018. He has over eight seasons of major league experience.

Stats and projections

2014 126 8-5 3.43 1.10 2.71 7.29 2.14 0.29
Steamer 166 11-9 3.67 1.20 3.51 7.87 2.32 0.88
ZiPS 152 11-6 3.43 1.20 3.11 8.17 2.37 0.65

All signs point to Sanchez having made a full recovery. He has allowed a team-high six home runs this spring, which is two more than he gave up all of last season, but he has a WHIP of 1.05 with 26 strikeouts in 24 2/3 innings in spring. As long as he is healthy in the 2015 season, Sanchez should again be one of the premier pitchers in the game.