Daily Dopplers: Jorge de la Rosa and Jonathan Sanchez

Posted on November 4, 2010

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Jorge de la Rosa will be one of the most highly sought-after free agents of the winter, a left-hander who strikes out batters in bunches and promises great things for any team that can pry him loose from Colorado–although the Rockies love his remarkable ground-ball proclivity and will probably do all in their power to keep him.

Still, there are detractors. An anonymous executive said of de la Rosa that he could be “the next Oliver Perez,” a damning admonition if ever there was one. Indeed, de la Rosa does have Perez’s one-time ability to miss bats, and he shares a young Perez’s difficulty keeping the ball in the strike zone.

Perez lost the strike zone and never re-discovered it, and perhaps that is what the anonymous executive thinks will happen to de la Rosa. I disagree. The Mexican southpaw has not shown himself to be anywhere near as erratic as Perez, whatever his walk totals.

Is there another left-handed strikeout artist whose control occasionally betrays him, but who is clearly capable of dominance? That profile sounds somehwat familiar. In fact, did not such a pitcher make an appearance in the World Series this year? Yes. Jonathan Sanchez, the young lefty who helped the Giants capture their first World Series title as Californians, is as good a comparison as can be made to de la Rosa right now.

Jorge de la Rosa

2010 Stats: 121.2 IP, 4.22 ERA, 113 SO, 55 BB, 4.30 FIP, 3.77xFIP

The career numbers aren’t terribly material for this comparison, as the similarities between de la Rosa and Sanchez are more accurately points of interest than bases for projection. de la Rosa made only 20 starts this year due to a finger injury, but pitched well when he got the chance: The 3.77 xFIP followed a 2009 campaign in which finished at 3.76, the picture of consistency.

Home runs have been a problem for de la Rosa, whose home park hurts him a lot in that respect. Nearly 16 percent of the fly balls de la Rosa surrendered in 2010 left the ballpark, so it’s a good thing he induced a sky-high 52.3 percent ground balls, a career high and good for 14th among hurlers with 120 or more innings pitched for the season.

He got more swinging strikes and a higher chase rate this season by throwing his change-up about 27 percent of the time, substantially up from previous years. The increase may have been because the change exerts less stress on the finger de la Rosa injured early in the year than do his other offerings, but he should not abandon it merely because the finger no longer hurts.

Jonathan Sanchez

2010 Stats: 193.1 IP, 3.07 ERA, 205 SO, 96 BB, 4.00FIP, 4.11 xFIP

Sanchez is a year and a half de la Rosa’s junior, so he may appear to be a better all-around pitcher after having reached his full potential in 2010. Not so fast, though. Note Sanchez’s fielder-independent stats. If the two men switched teams tomorrow, who would have the better 2011 season?

My guess would be de la Rosa. Sanchez is not the ground ball maven de la Rosa is, and his command seems to be tad worse. He allowed a .262 batting average on balls in play this season, which suggests he got very lucky, while de la Rosa allowed a more sensible (if still abit lucky) .281 mark.

If de la Rosa had had the leeway granted to Sanchez by AT&T Park‘s spacious gaps, he likely would have been a better hurler than Sanchez in 2010, if a less healthy one. For what it’s worth, Sanchez shares de la Rosa’s fastball/slider/change repertoire, and (like de la Rosa) effected a considerable improvement in his plate discipline stats this year by going to the change-up more often.

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