Sanchez went into Saturday's game with 3-14 record -- 3-14! -- and a 6.07 ERA on the season. The 27-year-old right-hander led the American League with a 3.00 ERA three years ago, plus he's always had tremendous power stuff, so it's not like this came out of nowhere. That said, Saturday's performance was still stunning.
"I am proud of him for containing his energy, containing his excitement," manager A.J. Hinch told reporters, including MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, following the game. "He is so happy to be here. That came through from the first phone call all the way through to the meetings we had with him during the last 24 hours."
The Astros have a recent history of acquiring talented yet enigmatic pitchers and helping them take their game to another level, usually with a change in pitch selection and pitch usage. Sanchez, similar to Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton, did indeed change his pitch selection with Houston. The numbers:
with Blue Jays
Fewer sinkers, more four-seam fastballs and more curveballs. Cole and Morton both made similar adjustments after joining the Astros. Sanchez has always had velocity -- his four-seamer has averaged 94.3 mph and topped out at 97.3 mph this season -- and his curveball boasts a very high spin rate. Houston emphasizes spin rate; it's not a coincidence they targeted Sanchez.
It's not just that the Astros convinced Sanchez to throw more four-seam fastballs. It's where he used the pitch as well. Sanchez pitched up in the zone with his four-seamer, and elevated four-seamers with big velocity are an excellent swing-and-miss and weak pop-up pitch. Here are his four-seam fastball locations Saturday:
Verlander and Cole (and Morton) have ridden high velocity elevated fastballs to great success with the Astros, and when you back it up with a high spin breaking ball (like Sanchez's curveball), it can be an awfully tough combination. Execution and buy-in are important, of course, and it looks like Houston convinced Sanchez to buy in.
"This is everything you dream of," Sanchez told reporters, including Jose de Jesus Ortiz of La Vida Baseball, following the game. "Special thanks to (catcher Martin Maldonado) behind the dish, and even the starting pitchers and the pitching staff who kind of brought me in and showed me how they prepare and showed me what they look for. I think that played a big role in today."
Of course, one start is just that, one start. When it comes to Sanchez fully adopting this new approach and legitimately improving his performance, we're still in wait-and-see mode. That said, the early returns are very promising, and Sanchez's adjustments match up with the adjustments other successful Astros acquisitions have made in recent years.
It might not ever get better than Saturday -- how can you top a no-hitter? -- but everything that went into it indicates Sanchez can be Houston's latest pitching success story. No team in baseball does it better.