There are a lot of reasons the 2017 Blue Jays weren’t as good as everyone hoped. An underachieving offense, injuries, regression from veterans, and players underachieving all contributed to a team that was in last place for all but the final day of the season. While some of that could have been anticipated, some of those things were complete surprises, things the team couldn’t really have planned for.
Among the biggest reasons the Jays underachieved was Aaron Sanchez, who was either bad or hurt for the majority of the year. Coming off a season where Sanchez was a Cy Young contender, expectations were high for the young starter. His injury struggles weren’t his fault: Sanchez didn’t will the blisters to life on his pitching fingers, or potentially make changes to baseballs that made it more likely for pitchers to get said blisters.
These issues might make Sanchez more of a question mark than we would like. The recurring blisters led to talk of moving him to the bullpen, with the hope that this would allay Sanchez’s problems. While getting him more 2017 outings may have been productive, the idea of moving him to the bullpen permanently is preposterous given his effectiveness as a starter when he’s been healthy. The only reason they should move Sanchez to the bullpen is if they absolutely cannot keep him healthy otherwise.
So to keep Sanchez healthy (and avoid cratering his value by making him a reliever full-time), the Jays need to figure out how to manage those blisters, which would help get him back to the top-end starter he was in 2016. A return to form would be a huge asset for the Jays as they look to get back into playoff contention. While we’re not here to propose solutions to Sanchez’s problem, as that’s well beyond the scope of our expertise, We do have a recent example of a player who had several blister issues and came back from it: Rich Hill.
The beginning of Hill’s 2017 season was similar to Sanchez’s. Hill was placed on the DL after his first start with a blister, and got three innings into another outing before having to leave again for The same reason. After acquiring him late in 2016 (and having similar problems then), the Dodgers were probably as perplexed as the Jays were on how to deal with it. Hill tried using his fastball more, which seemed to work for him. After coming off the DL in May, he didn’t miss a start for the rest of the season.
Even with their similar recent history, we need to acknowledge that Hill and Sanchez are very different pitchers. Sanchez is straight gas, hitting the high 90s with his fastball with regularity. Hill is a soft tossing southpaw, lacking the firepower that makes Sanchez so dominant, but still an elite strikeout pitcher because of his arsenal. Scoff at the 89 mph fastball all you like until he drops that sweeping curveball in and your knees buckle.
This may seem to suggest a course of action for Sanchez, but again, this is not what we’re trying to do here. Hill changed what he did, and Sanchez may not need to. Part of Sanchez’s dominance can be traced to his repertoire and he should be reluctant to change that. What we are doing with the Hill comparison is suggesting that Sanchez can come back from the blisters. While none of the things Sanchez tried in 2017 worked, and the finger problem marred basically an entire season, they don’t need to define who Sanchez is right now, or what he’s going to be. This was someone who was the anchor of a fantastic 2016 Blue Jays starting staff and can easily be again.
While none of us knows exactly what the Jays and Sanchez can or will do to figure things out, there’s more reasons to be optimistic than not about Sanchez for next year. 2017 might have been the year of the blister, but Sanchez was easily the worst case out of anyone who struggled with them and sheer luck should prevent that from happening again. It might be hard to remember, but Sanchez was really, really good as recently as one year ago. Hopefully, the only blistering we hear about from him in 2018 is about the fastballs he’s throwing by unsuspecting hitters on the outside corner.
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