Everyday Gaby? Wandy throws. One last comment on Burnett


SOUTH HILLS – If you had Gaby Sanchez as the first name to be pulled in the he’s-reported-to-spring-training-in-the-best-shape-of-his-life pool, congratulations, you’re a winner.

Rob Biertempfel reports from Bradenton that Sanchez has toned up and lost 20 pounds, motivated by the opportunity to seize more playing time at first base.


“I’ve always felt I could take first base and be perfect there,” Sanchez said. “What (management) does is out of my hands. All I can do is work hard, train hard and show, ‘Hey, I am here. I definitely can help the team.’ ”


Sanchez’s career splits suggest he’s a platoon player no matter how great of shape he is in. He’s a lefty masher – career .300/.399/.498 slash line – and below league average for the position against right-handed pitching: .242/.313/.387.


Still, GM Neal Huntington suggested at the winter meetings that Sanchez could emerge as an every day first baseman and noted he had more success against right-handed pitching earlier in his career — which is true but Sanchez has never been better than league average in a single season.


On Thursday, Huntington said Sanchez remains a contender for an everyday job.


“Guys get to the point where they recognize there’s a big opportunity for them,” Huntington said. “Gaby’s got the opportunity to become a regular first baseman again.”
On paper, Sanchez is screaming for a platoon partner. But there are a couple numbers that make me wonder if there is some upside for him against right-handed pitching.


For one, Sanchez has controlled the strike zone well against RHP for his career posting an above-average walk rate (9.0 percent) and a below league-average K rate (16.5 percent). For his career he appears to be somewhat unlucky from the right side. His career BABIP against lefties is .320. BABIP against righties? .268. Seems like a strange split. Now, maybe that is explained by producing consistently weaker contact against RHP. But maybe part of it is poor luck the Pirates are hoping reverses itself.


The simple debate comes down to this:


Door No. 1: Do you throw prospects, or dollars, or both, at a left-handed bat? (We’re not really sure what the asks are but Justin Wilson‘s name had been rumored. Kendrys Morales is made somewhat redundant as a switch-hitter who is worse against LHP than Sanchez and will costs dollars and the 25th overall pick)


Door No. 2: Do you first try an internal platoon partner in Andrew Lambo or Chris McGuiness?  (Lambo is going to strike out a lot. McGuiness is a lottery ticket).


Door No. 3: Or do stick with Sanchez and hope for some better luck against right-handed pitching?


It’s perhaps the most interesting question to play out this spring along with Wandy Rodriguez‘s health and the No. 5 spot in the rotation?



Speaking or Rodriguez, he threw a bullpen today and told reporters afterward he feels good. He’ll throw again Monday. Rodriguez is a wild card. He could be a mid-rotation, 200-inning contributor and go a long way toward replacing Burnett — or he might be limited by left elbow tendonitis. We need to see him in game action because he threw about 57 bullpens after his initial injury last year before shutting it down.



From a Baseball Prospectus chat:

mmcd (ottawa): Drastic falloff in store for A.J. Burnett? Leave Pittsburgh where you’re content and pitching supurbly with a dynamic young team that plays great defence behind you for basically, the opposite in Philly. Yeah, I get that.

R.J. Anderson: Pride can be an ugly thing. I’m not sure if he’ll have a drastic falloff, but his raw numbers will probably take a few steps back.


– TS