The Cubs made a minor signing today. Per Paul Sullivan, the Cubs inked 31 year old LHP Jonathan Sanchez to a minor league deal. The deal contains incentives if he makes the major league squad.
Sanchez is best known for throwing a no-hitter in 2009, though that season was actually sandwiched by two better years in 2008 and 2010. 2008 was a year when Sanchez was much better than his record implied and it foreshadowed the successful results of the following two seasons. The best season in terms of results was in 2010 when Sanchez went 13-9 with a 3.07 ERA and averaged over a strikeout per inning (25% rate).
Since then Sanchez has lost a tick or two on his fastball and works in the 87-91 mph range with a good slider that he threw particularly well during those 2008-2010 seasons.
Sanchez really struggled last year, going 0-3 with a an ERA of 11.85 but two numbers were somewhat encouraging. The first is that he still struck out 9.88 batters per 9 IP, though his K rate dropped to about 20% compared to his peak seasons. He also had trouble with the longball, allowing 7 HRs in 13.2, but a normal HR rate puts his xFIP at 4.95 -- and 3.17 vs. LH hitters.
In fact, he's been much better vs. LH hitters for his entire career, having allowed them to put up a well below average wOBA of .304 with FIPs that are nearly a point lower vs. lefties (3.86) than righties (4.60).
Which brings us to our next point...
The Cubs signed Sanchez to put him into the bullpen mix rather than a starter where perhaps he can throw a bit harder and where his mediocre command won't be quite as exposed. For me it calls to mind the move of Oliver Perez, who had good stuff and showed promise early on as a starter before the wheels came off in 2009. Like Sanchez, he struggled with command and it often hurt him the 2nd or 3rd time around the order. Both pitchers eventually lost some oomph off the fastball, but since moving to the bullpen, Perez is throwing 2-3 mph faster than he did in his prime. Just a guess here, but I think the Cubs are hoping to get a similar resurgence from Sanchez with a move to the bullpen. Sanchez was reportedly clocked at 95 mph while at AAA Albuquerque last season.
The Cubs now seem to have a glut of LH relievers with James Russell, Wesley Wright, Brooks Raley, Zac Rosscup, and perhaps Chris Rusin as potential LHRPs from the 40 man roster to go with non-roster signee Tommy Hottovy and now Sanchez. It's certainly an area of surplus and you have to wonder if the Cubs may use this depth as insurance for a long season or perhaps to shore up another need on the roster by dealing one of them.