Answer quickly: Who is second on the Pittsburgh Pirates in Equivalent Runs and Value Over Replacement Player? Considering the title of this post, it should not be that difficult to figure out, but I figured that would work as a suitable introduction. Sadly, the same answer might apply to "Who is going to see a great deal more bench time when Joe Randa returns from the Disabled List?", especially if the Sean Casey situation is any indication of the Pirates' plans. If only they had not signed Jeromy Burnitz away from the Orioles...
Freddy Sanchez was drafted in round 11 of the 2000 amateur draft out of Oklahoma City University, 332nd overall. He was assigned to the Class A- Lowell Spinners -- who play in a beautiful park if you've never had the pleasure of visiting -- and performed very well in short season ball, putting up a line of .288/.347/.439. He was quickly promoted to Class A Augusta after 34 games, and held his own. His walk rates were not that impressive, and considering his lack of real power, that could have been a problem. Over the course of his first professional season, Sanchez's BB/PA held at .074, while his K/PA was .129. Baseball Prospectus 2001 agrees with that assessment, but gives some insight on his defensive capabilities at that point as well:
Sanchez helped to solve some of those issues in his 2001 season, where he hit for acceptable middle infield power.
Sanchez still looked to have some plate appearances issues, as there was no real growth in his BB/PA; in fact, there was regression when he reached Double-A. His ability to hit singles continued to improve, and his power improved somewhat, although it remained almost nonexistent.
Baseball Prospectus 2002 was high on Sanchez, but cautious:
His batting eye improved in his second stint at Double-A Trenton, as did essentially every other facet of his offensive game:
This earned him a promotion to Pawtucket, where he managed four homeruns in only 183 at-bats before a September callup with Boston. The cup of coffee did not go anywhere near as well as his minor league season, as Sanchez only hit .188/.278/.188 with league average defense (according to Rate).
Sanchez continued to hit well at Pawtucket in his 2003 season, until he was dealt to the Pirates in the transaction that brought Jeff Suppan back to Boston. This trade was one of the few significant mistakes Theo Epstein has made in his time as general manager, as Suppan did not even make the playoff roster and put up an ERA+ of 85 in his 63 Boston innings. His 2004 season for Pittsburgh was a different story though. He only hit .264/.326/.360 in 125 at-bats before earning a promotion to Pittsburgh, where he only played in 9 games.
2005 brought opportunity for Sanchez. Baseball Prospectus 2005 had a positive outlook on Sanchez after a disastrous 2004 campaign:
John Sickels had much of the same sort of things to say in his 2005 Prospect Book:
Sickels rated him a C+ that year. He basically matched the expectations, with a .291/.336/.400 line along with 26 doubles and a .256 EqA. Defensively, Rate felt that he was an above average third basemen, with 4 FRAA in 54 games at his primary position. David Pinto's Probabilistic Model of Range rated Freddy Sanchez as the second best defensive third basemen in the league, with 3.278 Runs Saved per/27 Outs. Sanchez should have been in line for the starting job at third base after a fine season after a +6.94 pNRAA in 132 games the previous year. Instead, the Pirates signed Joe Randa, sending Sanchez back to a utility role.
Baseball Prospectus 2006 seemed to feel like Sanchez deserved a spot in the middle infield, saying his bat wasn't worth it at third base. Considering his PECOTA projection only put him at a .276/.334/.381 line, you can't blame them. Sanchez has surprised a great deal of people so far this season though, with a .338/.376/.483 line, along with 15 doubles and 4 homeruns. So far, he has a pNRAA of +11.54 and +22.11 as a third basemen and shortstop respectively (both figures per 150 game rate stats). Those are very good numbers, both better than anything Joe Randa is capable of at this stage of his career.
Is Sanchez's start a fluke caused by luck? Let's take a look at his batted ball data to find out, courtesy of The Hardball Times.
His Line Drive Percentage is currently 28.4%; that's a difference of +5.1% from 2005, and well over the league average-ish figure of 15%. Most likely that figure is unsustainable, as is his BABIP of .350; thanks to the neat little trick Studes left in the comments, I can see that Sanchez's BABIP should be around .404; is he actually underperforming on his BABIP that is already well above average? Does that make any sense whatsoever? His groundball percentage is down 10.6% from 2005, so when that balances out his LD% will decrease, but I'm not entirely sure what that means for his BABIP. Sanchez has been a line drive hitter throughout his career, slapping singles and doubles all over the field without hitting for any real power. He may just be a player who will always have an above average line drive percentage. The Pirates can only hope this is the case, and if they were smart, they would continue to play him everyday somewhere on the field.