Anibal Sanchez's changing delivery might be ruining his arm


Editor's note: our resident Pitching Mechanic FIPmyWHIP returns to talk about Anibal Sanchez and why he keeps getting hurt. You can reach him on Twitter at @FIPmyWHIP, or via email at fipmywhip@gmail.com.

Anibal Sanchez was a solid pitcher for the Marlins, which is why the Tigers went out and acquired him in 2012. He wasn't an ace, but he was reliable and consistent, even showing occasional flashes of dominance -- he threw a no-hitter in his rookie season, and a one-hitter in 2010. 

While he only saw the Disabled List twice in his entire time with the Marlins, once was for a torn labrum, in 2007. Video analysis shows that, starting around 2006, Sanchez had too much glove-side movement. He was bringing the glove above his head, which seemed to cause his shoulders to rotate more quickly, giving his arm slightly less time to externally rotate into position. 

Based on videos from 2011, he seems to have corrected the issue by keeping the glove level with his face. Sanchez pitched his first full season in 2010, and also pitched full seasons in 2011, and 2012 without any major issues.


The Tigers acquired Sanchez on July 23, 2012. Not long after that, sometime between September 3 and September 14, 2012, Sanchez altered his mechanics. He now featured a new back turn, where his torso, knee and foot all faced second base during his leg lift. This was his new delivery going forward. Below is a "before and after" comparison:


In 2013, Sanchez had the best season of his career, leading the American League with the best ERA, and setting a career high strikeout rate. Not only did it show in his stats, it showed all over the PITCHf/x charts. He set career highs in velocity for every single pitch. That season, he threw his four-seam fastball at 94.2 MPH, 1.6 MPH faster than his career average. He also set career highs in movement on three of his five pitches. 

Ultimately, his overachieving 2013 season cost him dearly. Sanchez just hasn't been the same since, and I believe this is due to the changes in his delivery that were made after the Tigers acquired him.

Here is a quote from Sanchez in 2013, "I worked on my mechanics during the off days ... I tried to be on top of the ball to make more move on the pitch, and that's what I did early in the season this year, and it worked today." 

Below is Sanchez's velocity chart spanning 2008-2013, which shows what staying on top of the ball did to his velocity. (We all know what it did to his health -- he hasn't pitched a full season since.)


Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones said this about Sanchez's mechanics in December 2012: "He was turning (his body) a little bit too much in his delivery and we worked on that." 

Oddly, this does statement does not line up with what is shown in video footage from September 2012 and October 2013. If you look at this comparison below, it shows that Sanchez actually rotates his body even further in Game One of the 2013 ALCS than he did in September 2012.


Sanchez has had pectoral injuries, side injuries, and shoulder injuries with the Tigers from 2013 through 2016. This is undoubtedly linked to the back-turn wind-up that he added shortly after coming to Detroit. The Tigers claim that they've been trying to get him to switch back to his original delivery "for the last couple years." If that's the case, it raises the question of why his mechanics were altered in the first place.

On March 22, 2016 after tossing four hitless innings in a spring training game, Sanchez said, "I don't turn at all ... I just keep it simple and straight. That's the way I used to pitch. It's so much better (on the arm). I feel a lot looser and not tight in the arm. It's so different. I am able to pitch and work out and not feel sore."

Sanchez started this season by returning to his original wind-up for his first four starts, but he has slowly been adding the back-turn back to the wind-up, little by little. As he said on April 28, "I just try to do my back (turn) to throw more innings ... my mechanics that I was working with earlier in the season is something that I don't feel comfortable with. I feel comfortable the way that I threw today."

It's mildly concerning that he's been returning to the back-turn wind-up, since that's the wind-up that has given him numerous issues during the past couple of seasons, and has kept him from pitching a full season without injury since it was added. It will be interesting to see if he continues with the hybrid style or if he returns to the full back-turn he once used. 

Sanchez has one of the most complex deliveries as far as timing goes. He is very very similar to Felix Hernandez in that they both use their body to hide the ball by turning away from the batter on the initial wind-up.

The problem lies in being able to repeat his mechanics.  He uses deception to beat the hitters, and in order to obtain enough deception, he has to execute his delivery identically every time. This is where the injury problem lies: if any point of his delivery is off it will cause an abnormal amount of stress on another part of his body.

Hopefully he returns to his original wind-up from the Miami days, without the back-turn wind-up. This seemed to give him the most consistent health and almost identical split stats overall during his time with the Marlins. True, that may cost him a bit of velocity, and we may not see 2013 Sanchez again, but it will still be better in the long run than what we're seeing now.
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