Game 21: Breaking down Sanchez’s performance
Yes, the Braves have a lot of high-strikeout hitters. And yes, I realize they were hacking with a 10-run deficit after four innings.
Anibal Sanchez’s ability to pile up 17 strikeouts against them remains a feat.
Usually when a pitcher puts up that many strikeouts in a game, somebody makes solid contact and produces some damage. Not only did Sanchez shut out the Braves, he kept the Major League leaders in home runs from anything close to clearing the fences. He gave up two gappers to the fence and a ground ball down the line, all of them doubles, and they accounted for the only runners in scoring position Sanchez faced all evening. The only one to advance to third did so on a passed ball.
In addition to the franchise-record 17 strikeouts, Sanchez induced seven groundouts. The only out in the air was the first out of the game, Andrelton Simmons’ popout to first baseman Prince Fielder. No outfielder recorded a putout. The only time they touched the ball were on the five base hits.
Sanchez threw 84 of his 121 pitches for strikes, and 27 of them were swings and misses according to MLB.com’s Gameday data on brooksbaseball.net. He recorded swings and misses with six different types of pitches, including 10 swings and misses off of his changeup.
He recorded first-pitch strikes to 19 out of 29 batters, which is impressive. More impressive were the 0-2 counts, 11 of them. Eight of them ended in strikeouts, along with a groundout and a double play. The only Brave to escape an 0-2 count was B.J. Upton, who struck out 169 times last year. He went from an 0-2 count to a two-out walk that extended the second inning for Juan Francisco, who promptly struck out on three pitches.
While the Braves lineup has changed substantially from even last year, Sanchez was at his toughest against the hitters who should know him best, the hitters who were around from the Braves teams that roughed up Sanchez regularly. Dan Uggla and Freddie Freeman came up to bat seven times against him and came back with seven strikeouts. Uggla struck out four times on four different pitches. Freeman struck out three times on three different pitches. Francisco, who homered three times against the Tigers in Spring Training, swung and missed at three different types of pitches for strikeouts.
As the strike zone plot from brooksbaseball.net shows, the Braves certainly chased pitches low and out of the strike zone, which Sanchez exploited masterfully. However, he wasn’t getting much off the corner.
He had a 94 mph fastball that resembled his postseason work, and it set up his changeup wonderfully. Add what looked like two different breaking pitches, and Sanchez had nasty stuff. The Braves, in turn, looked nasty chasing it.