Phillies' starter Cristopher Sánchez being haunted by an old problem again this season

Too many free passes have been holding Sánchez back.
Philadelphia Phillies starter Cristopher Sánchez
Philadelphia Phillies starter Cristopher Sánchez / Rich Schultz/GettyImages

The Philadelphia Phillies have one of the deepest starting rotations in MLB right now. Featuring six capable starters, and only five spots, the Phillies have the type of depth rival clubs like the New York Mets and Miami Marlins could only wish for in 2024.

When the Phillies sent Spencer Turnbull to the bullpen, the idea of having him piggyback Taijuan Walker and Cristopher Sánchez was floated. It made sense for a few reasons, one being that the evolution of Sánchez as a starting pitcher is still a work in progress. Sánchez has not yet become the type of starter to go deep in games, only pitching into the seventh inning twice in his 30 career starts.

His last start against the Mets on Monday was equal parts frustrating and brilliant. Struggling with command and dealing with some bruising in the palm of his left pitching hand, Sánchez hit a low point when he walked in a bases-loaded run before calling for a trainer to check his hand. Able to stay in the game, it only took nine pitches to strike out Brett Baty, Harrison Bader and Jeff McNeil and get out of the inning.

While it wasn't an ideal way to strike out the side, it's hard not to give props to Sánchez for refocusing on the task at hand and getting big outs in an inning that could have gotten further out of hand.

Old problems coming back to haunt Phillies' Cristopher Sánchez

Sánchez has been as reliable as any fifth starter in the game of baseball through the first month and half of the season. While his 2-3 record and 3.43 ERA seem like nothing to write home about, the left-hander has mostly given the Phillies a chance to win in most of the games he's pitched this year.

It's easy to pick apart a few issues that have plagued Sánchez through his first 30 starts in the majors. Defense has always been a problem, and his misplay covering first base on a routine play Monday night is the latest example of a pitcher who needs to learn to field his position better.

While some might look at his five-to-six-inning starts as a problem, the Phillies are more than happy if Sánchez exits the game with a lead. Manager Rob Thomson will take that production, and has little worry about relying on a Phillies bullpen that has built a reputation as being one of the best in the game to finish out.

The problem for Sánchez this season is that he's walking hitters again. In 42 innings, he has allowed 18 walks through his first eight starts. In 99 1/3 innings (18 starts) in 2023, he only walked 16 batters. That's a pretty troubling regression for a pitcher who established better control after high walk rates were a problem in the minor leagues and earlier in his MLB career.

Cristopher Sánchez has struggled to command his sinker

Sánchez has had trouble getting hitters out with his sinker this season. In fact, the sinker has been the worst pitch in his arsenal the last two years, as hitters have a robust .351 batting average against the pitch in 2024, and .297 in 2023. That's certainly a troubling trend with a pitch Sánchez has featured 49.2 percent of the time and has only resulted in seven strikeouts this year.

Those numbers pale in comparison to his results against hitters with his changeup (.190) and slider (.229). Looking at the way the sinker has performed over the last two seasons, it's either very hittable at times, or he loses command of the pitch completely. All told, that's contributing to more walks and increased traffic on the base paths.

Sánchez is going to have to find a way to relearn the pitch or else develop a new pitch to set up the changeup and slider, two pitches that continue to be successful out-pitches for the 27-year-old.