Why Gaby Sanchez Shouldn’t Be in the First Base Mix Against RHP

The first base position projects to be a platoon between Andrew Lambo and Gaby Sanchez. However, Pirates’ General Manager Neal Huntington was asked about the possibility of Sanchez being the everyday guy, and noted that Sanchez is in competition for the job against right-handed pitching.

“As we’ve said from day one, Gaby is in that competition to become the regular first baseman, and to get the majority of at-bats there,” Huntington said. “If we find a left-handed compliment for him that we feel makes us better, then we go in that direction. Gaby is working hard. [Chris] McGuiness is working hard. Lambo is working hard. [Travis] Ishikawa is working hard. And we’re still working through that process. It may be something that evolves even once we get into the season. It’s not something to be written in concrete.”

I personally don’t think Sanchez should be the everyday first baseman. The only way it would make sense to start him daily is if there were no other options available. That would involve Lambo and McGuiness both tanking in their attempts to hit Major League pitching.

In his career, Sanchez has a .700 OPS against right-handed hitters. By comparison, Garrett Jones had a disaster of a season last year, and had a .730 OPS against right-handers. Looking at the yearly numbers, Sanchez has never been that dominant against right-handers, even in his best years as a starter in 2010 and 2011.

2010: .742 in 479 PA

2011: .742 in 503 PA

2012: .566 in 215 PA

2013: .619 in 194 PA

In those 2010-11 seasons, he was successful because he crushed left-handers. His numbers against right-handers weren’t that much better in those years than the numbers Jones put up in 2013. And the Pirates are hoping to upgrade from Jones. There’s no reason to think Sanchez will have everything click this year, to the point where he will post acceptable numbers against right-handers. It’s something he has never done in the majors, and he didn’t even do a good job in the minors.

In 2009, Sanchez had a .780 OPS against right-handers, playing mostly in Triple-A. He had an .825 OPS in 2008 against right-handers, playing mostly in Double-A. Those numbers might be a little better, but those are minor league numbers, which don’t translate to the majors, and haven’t translated to the majors. Sanchez has had over 1400 plate appearances in the majors, and hasn’t been effective against right-handers.

If Sanchez is on the depth chart against right-handed pitching, he should be well down the list. Andrew Lambo and Chris McGuiness should get the first shots. I’d even go with Travis Ishikawa over Sanchez, as Ishikawa has a career .737 OPS against right-handers in his career, which is better than Sanchez. If those options fail, then you’d have to look at a trade, and if you can’t find a trade, then you might turn to Sanchez.

Sanchez is what he is. He’s a great defensive first baseman and he crushes left-handers. But he’s not an everyday first baseman, since his bat struggles against right-handed pitching. The Pirates can put him on the depth chart as an option against right-handers, but he should be low on that depth chart based on his career history.

  • James Tarantino
    March 18, 2014 11:10 am

    I totally agree, but here’s the problem. 2013 AAA #’s vs. RHP –

    Lambo – .153/.257/.237 (59 ABs)
    McGuiness – .231/.348/.388 (268 ABs)

    So this team has 3 potential 1B who can hit lefties but are inept against righties. YIKES

    • McGuiness had reverse splits last year, correct.

      I don’t think those numbers for the Lambino are correct, where did you get them?

      I get mine from baseball reference, and Lambo had 9HRs vs. LHP last year (all year, which is all BR shows for minor leaguers), and 18 HRs with Indy, so that means he had at least 9HRs vs. RHP at Indy, which doesn’t jibe with those numbers….

  • Despite being 2-31, Lambo has only struck out FOUR times (and walked 3 times). That is encouraging. His BABIP is horrible.

    However, I still think McBeer or Ishi is gonna go north and Lambo heads to Indy.

  • Monsoon Harvard
    March 17, 2014 5:10 am

    I’m still rooting for a deal that brings Mike Carp from Redsox. You would think the Pirates have the best chance at getting him over the other teams in play (Brewers, Tigers) since Huntington has made more deals with the Redsox than he has with any other team. They seem to have a good trading relationship going.

    I would not count out Adam Lind yet either, Huntington has a history with the Bluejays as well.

    • SabrBucs did a column on Carp…he is below average…unsustainable BABIP last year. Also, if we DO deal for him, I ain’t giving much up…

      • I agree that I would not give up a lot but I think after watching him play he has an upside .

      • Monsoon Harvard
        March 18, 2014 2:24 pm

        I’ve been following Carp since he was a rookie with the Mariners and he has always held his own facing right handers. I have no problem giving up a Mazzaro or Tabata or both for him. (I wouldn’t care if they released Tabata, and if somebody would give us a player for him, that’s gravy.)

    • Maybe NH can insist on Lind as the PTBNL (way later!) in the Jose Bautista trade?

  • No discussion about trying Travis Snyder at 1st if he hits well at the start of the season when Polanco is ready?

    • Monsoon Harvard
      March 17, 2014 4:57 am

      Snider can’t stay healthy all alone out in right field. How could he ever remain healthy at a base where physical contact is a high probability and being so close to a line drive off the bat? Plus him not knowing the position well, and you have Cliff Floyd – Todd Hundley collision all over again…Floyd was a phenom outfielder being tried at first base to give him more playing time. He turned the wrong way with Hundley coming down the line and wham!, he severely compound fractured his wrist and was out for that year. Not only that, it took years off his career and he never hit the same again.

      • 1) Floyd was a horrendous defensive outfielder.

        2) The toll on the body is much higher in the outfield where a lot more running is required. I’m surprised they haven’t at least tried him there- my guess is that they did at one point and he was horrible. Although poor defensive players and big guys tend to get pigeonholed at 1B, in the Pirates system defense is important, and it’s probably not as easy as most folks think it is.

  • As far as I can see, it is Ishikawa, who is hitting .300+ in ST, which does not matter, or Sanchez full time, or a trade. Sanchez would be my choice. Ish and McG are sent packing and AL is allowed to go to AAA camp and possibly out from under the spotlight. He goes to AAA and hopefully we see him back in the near future if Sanchez cannot hit RH any better than our LH folks.

    • Personally, I want a trade. I do not like any of our internal options at 1B against RHP. We have tons of bullpen depth and loads of minor league talent below the top guys. It shouldn’t be that difficult to make a solid trade.

      • I agree, and I think it will happen. If not, I don’t think they will play the Lambino very often because Gaby has always been Clint’s security blanket.

  • The part of this issue I am bothered with is how a platoon situation is valued. It seems to me by looking at how Gaby hits RH pitching vs how Lambo or whoever hits vs RH pitching isn’t looking at the whole picture.

    First of all, what is the value of defensive improvement for Gaby when a ground ball heavy SP like Morton is on the bump compared to his platoon partner? Next, not all RH SP are the same. Does Gaby perform better vs a certain type of RH pitcher and poor vs another? And lastly, since the NL Central is so RH SP heavy, what are the ramifications of keeping Gaby on the bench so often to his confidence?

    There’s just too much to take into consideration to make a blanket statement Gaby Isn’t a viable option to be a Starter vs RH.

    • Excellent take on the defensive considerations for having a solid, experienced 1B out there with our Rotation that emphasizes throwing down in the zone. Our strength is our pitching and the defense against GB’s, implementing shifts, etc. And, more than 60% of Sanchez’ AB’s in 2013 were against RHP’s. He is the best option for this team and his 1100+ AB’s in 2010 and 2011 as a full time starter are more than enough reason for me. We are in a numbers game and have to make some tough decisions – rather than lose players/pitchers to FA, I prefer sending people down who have options available such as Locke and Lambo.

    • Good point skliesen. Comparing Gaby’s #s vs. RHP to Jones #s vs. RHP is unfair because Jones is a lefty. If you use Gaby only against LH starters, that means he is only starting about 20% of the games. .740 OPS against sameside pitchers is not bad. I am in the middle here. Whichever LH hitter you go with at first, I think he should get half the starts, and Gaby should get half the starts, which means some starts against RHPs. If nothing else it keeps him sharper than sitting on the bench 3-5 days in a row.

    • Terrific point. There are other ways to platoon than just righty/lefty, including vs. fly ball pitcher/ground ball pitcher (other team), FB/GB (our SP, which is why I hope to see Barmes at SS every time ground Chuck throws), fastball/offspeed type pitcher, etc. But the bottom line is, Gaby has many weaknesses, and they need another competent guy (hopefully a lefty or SH) to balance him and allow him to perform well as he did last year.

      Guys like Gaby tend to start sucking once they are overexposed.

  • Why kick Garret Jones to the curb without a clear upgrade option first? He would have been a legitmate backup option for Lambo.

    • because he would have cost 5 mil in arbitration and 3.5-4 mil in free agency

      • It’s only $1-$2 million above market on a 1-yr deal and you could always trade him to get rid of salary (you wouldn’t get anything in return,but you could still get rid of him). I wasn’t a huge GI Jones fan, but I would love to have him right now. He’d probably be an offensive upgrade over Lambo and Snider. While unspectacular, you know what your getting out of him. Who knows what snider and Lambo will do. At the very least jones would have been a great plan b.

        • I was in this camp when Jones was first let go, but I’ve changed my mind on it. Jones might be better than he was last year, but I don’t think he gets back to his 2012 numbers. I’m fairly sure one of Lambo, McGuiness, or Ishigawa can have a .750 OPS against righties, which is actually a little more than I expect Jones will show this year. Here’s hoping they pick the right one out of Spring Training.

          Now, that being said, I feel Justin Morneau would have provided something closer to an .800 OPS against righties…he’s the one I would have tried to keep depsite his middling numbers from September.

          • Wow Greg, I checked the stats to refute your argument, but to my surprise, Morneau has still hit RHP well, even in his last few down years, OPS of .728 in 2011 in just 193 PAs, .902 in 2012, and .819 last year. I’m sure the FO thought there were better options out there but just weren’t able to land one. I think they’d take Morneau now for $12.5 mil over the next 2 years, since everything else has gone sideways, plus there’s a chance he recaptures his late 20’s production. I’ve been a Free Lambo guy since August of last year, but now I miss Morneau.

  • If they think that Sanchez is better vs righties than Lambo, then there’s no way they won’t get one via trade. As if Grady Sizemore wasn’t already enough of an easy-to-root-for guy/story, i’m REALLY rooting for him to play Mike Carp off of the Sox.

  • As it stands right now, I am not seeing Lambo as much of an option. He may be trying to hard or whatever, but he cannot hit the broadside of a barn right now.

  • He’s NOT a great defensive first baseman, actually, he’s a slightly below average 1B who is not as bad defensively as Jones or Lambo.

    I don’t like the way Huntington’s comments sound. They hopefully will get someone at a reasonable price once the end of spring training rolls around.

    Sanchez can’t hit righties. No matter how hard Hurdle tries to pound that square peg into that round hole, it’s not going to fit.

    • I don’t honestly feel like they see him as a prime option, but what are they gonna say? “Yeah, no way we trust this guy enough to play every day?” You’ve gotta show confidence in your players to do basically anything when you’re talking to the press, even if you don’t actually think they can.

    • Agree completely GW. He gets labeled as a great defensive 1B because we see the alternatives on the team. I think he’s pretty solid and probably a bit above average, even though the defensive metrics say he’s not that good. Sample sizes are so small with the small side of a platoon and a late inning replacement here and there.