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Anibal Sanchez is single-handedly destroying the Tigers’ playoff odds

The Tigers have continued to start Sanchez to their extreme detriment.

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

With Jordan Zimmermann and Daniel Norris not quite ready to return from the disabled list this early in the second half, the Detroit Tigers will turn to Anibal Sanchez as their starter on Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins. Matt Boyd will start on Monday.

Tigers fans have grumbled all season long anytime Sanchez, Boyd, Mike Pelfrey, or pretty much anyone besides Michael Fulmer takes the mound, but Sanchez’s numbers are so far-and-away worse than everyone else’s that he is almost single-handedly killing the Tigers’ playoff chances. Pelfrey and Boyd haven’t been great, but given how good the Tigers’ “Big Three” of Fulmer, Zimmermann, and Justin Verlander have been, most of the Tigers’ back-end starters have been passable.

Except for Sanchez. During the All-Star break, commenter Herndonknees did some research on just how the Tigers’ rotation breaks down in terms of wins and losses. Including the previous series against the Royals, the Tigers are 33-15 when Verlander, Zimmermann, or Fulmer start, and 15-29 when someone else takes the mound. Broken down further, the Tigers are 7-11 in Pelfrey starts — not bad for an average fifth starter — and 2-4 with Boyd on the hill.

Their record in Anibal Sanchez starts? Three wins, 11 losses. Herndonknees has more.

Incredibly the Tigers have lost the last 9 straight starts from Sanchez. Opponents have averaged 7.7 runs per game in those 9 contests with the lowest game output allowed of 4 runs in any of those 9 contests and 8 of the last 9 games the opposing team has put up 5 runs or more in a Sanchez start. Sanchez ERA on the season as a starter has been an ugly 7.46 overall as well. The Tigers actually scored 5 runs or more in nearly half of those 9 starts (4 of the 9 overall and obviously lost them all).

...No starting pitcher has hurt his team more this year than Anibal Sanchez has hurt the Tigers. Sanchez has had the WORST ERA in the American League by a starting pitcher (50 IP minimum) at 7.46 overall in the 14 games he’s started. If the Tigers would have gotten even a normal #5 level performance (5-12 record from Sanchez/Norris) from this spot in their rotation instead of getting the absolute league worst like they have so far, they’d probably have a good 3-4 more wins right now which would put them right on pace with the rest of the top teams in the American League this season.

The sad part is that Sanchez’s stats include a few starts in April when he looked serviceable. Since May 1, Sanchez has given up at least four runs in every start, and has an 8.16 ERA in those nine starts. He has allowed 12 home runs in 46 1/3 innings, and has a 1.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio. FanGraphs says that he has been worth -0.3 WAR this season, while Baseball Reference has him at a full 1.3 wins below replacement level.

Unfortunately, there’s no positive way to spin this for Sanchez. He has been worth -2.75 win probability added (WPA) this season, the worst in baseball. Run expectancy stats like RE24 (click here for a tutorial) are slightly more favorable in that Sanchez has actually been better than former Tiger Alfredo Simon, but not much. Sanchez’s -26.31 RE24 is the fourth-worst in baseball.

Mike Pelfrey also factors into the conversation when talking about WPA and RE24. For the season, his numbers are an unsightly -1.91 and -13.69, respectively. He appears on the first page of FanGraphs’ sortable charts, which is not where you want to be. However, the “Pelfrey is getting better lately” comments have some merit. Since May 12, Pelfrey has a passable -0.81 WPA and -2.45 RE24. These numbers were even better prior to his last start, but are still manageable for this team.

And that’s the lesson here. You can twist the numbers to make Pelfrey look passable, and while we laugh at the “inning eater” moniker, he has been the pitcher most of us expected. You can’t do the same for Sanchez, who has been bad any way you slice it. Every start is as close to a guaranteed loss as you will find in baseball, and the Tigers don’t seem to have learned that yet.