As the Phillies entered 2023 Spring Training, a variety of names were being considered for the fifth starter job. Andrew Painter was a top pick amongst hopeful and eager fans, while Bailey Falter, who started Game Four of the 2022 NLCS, remained a realistic option. Toss in a splash of Nick Nelson as a swingman and a pinch of long-shot Mick Abel, and a competition was born (briefly).
It didn’t take long for the candidates to withdraw from consideration, by no choice of their own. Injuries to Andrew Painter and Nick Nelson eliminated them from Opening Day roster consideration quite early. Mick Abel would’ve needed an earth shattering spring to make the cut, meaning Bailey Falter was the guy.
It didn’t take long for Falter to, well, falter. The southpaw lasted until just May 15th on the Phils roster, as he got shelled and failed to replicate his 2022 second half success. So who would take the place of Falter?
That question was not immediately answered, though eventually solved once the Phils found the right man for the job. His name? Cristopher Sanchez.
2023 stats: 19 G, 18 GS, 99 1⁄3 IP, 88 H, 44 R (38 ER), 3.44 ERA, 3.77 xERA, 1.047 WHIP, 24.2 K%, 4.0 BB%, 1.8 fWAR
Where do we start? Sanchez was simply stellar. The six-foot-five-inch Sanchez had been shifted from starter, to bullpen, to swingman, to cementing a spot in the rotation.
Once he grasped a spot, he did not relinquish it, even with the acquisition of Michael Lorenzen at the trade deadline.
So how did the 27-year-old manage such a drastic turnaround? Well, for starters, he lowered his walk rate to just 4.0%, drastically lower than he’s ever posted. The strikeout percentage remained consistent with his career trends, but his chase percentage jumped up just over six percent from 2022.
The stunning turnaround and evolution of Sanchez all traces back to his command, specifically of his changeup.
Sanchez slowed down the change about three miles per hour and managed to add two inches of vertical movement. It became his strikeout pitch.
Cristopher Sanchez's 10 Strikeouts by Changeups. pic.twitter.com/j7zz0tPiRW— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 25, 2023
He is the epitome of hard work paying off as he added strength, put in the time, and is a product of the Phillies system and Caleb Cotham.
Sanchez also stacked up quite well against league norms in a variety of categories.
There is not really much bad to point out. His start in the Postseason was less than impressive, but a month long layoff could certainly explain the struggles. He tossed just four of fifteen changes for strikes and did not manage to earn a single swing a miss.
The lefty only tosses three pitches - the aforementioned changeup to go along with a slider and sinker. His pitches are effective enough for him to stick as a starter, but a fourth pitch could be a game changer.
Sanchez is in line to be the team’s number five starter for 2024 and remains under team control for years to come.
The best is likely yet to have come for the Dominican Republic native, who will now have a full offseason to continue to refine his mechanics and gear up for potentially a full season of starts.