Please examine the following two tables showing the peripheral stats of two pitchers in their age 26-28 seasons. One is a hall of famer, one is a "headcase".
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Quite obviously, the second one is the hall of famer. The black ink and ERA+ is the giveaway. But who?
None other than Nolan Ryan.
The first is of course our favorite so-called "headcase," Jonathan Sanchez.
I really don't find this so surprising. I don't even find it surprising than between the six seasons shown, Jonathan Sanchez had the best one by ERA+ (his 2010 season). Of course, his 2011 season was terrible, but marred by injury, which he may have been pitching through. My point is this: Jonathan Sanchez is not a headcase. Yes, he was amped up and beginning to smoke and catch fire in his game 6 start of the 2010 NLCS, but that was easily the most important game of his life, with the entire Giants, Phillies, and MLB-playoff loving fanbase counting outs until his eventual meltdown. The common perception is that he's a headcase, after all. Headcases cave under pressure. It's their defining characteristic, like how snails are slugs with shells. It's how they're classified by biologists and given two-part latin names. Genus Headcaseum, Species Durtysanchezi. Headcases don't bean hitters by accident, but out of frustration. Their control only comes through the red lens of anger and bloodlust.
But he is also a very good pitcher, one who has some of the stuff in the game (like Nolan Ryan), but has difficulty controlling it and hates to allow hits. In all three of his age 26-28 seasons he was top five in the NL in strikeouts. He is prone to the longball at a high rate for the non-Zitos of SF's rotation. Also, it has been mentioned many times before that he has small hands and has difficulty gripping the ball for his breaking pitches.
Just like the "struggling hero narrative" given for players like Cole Hamels and Zach Greinke when they have bad luck or tough seasons/starts, the Jonathan Sanchez headcase narrative is overused, inaccurate, and unfair to a professional who played no small role in bringing us something we will all treasure in the 2010 Commisioner's Trophy.
Due to his injury, his trade value is at an all-time low. This is not the type of player that you DFA. This is not the type of player you trade for a failed prospect or a bag of balls. This is the type of pitcher you pay $5-6million to be the undisputed best #5 starter in baseball. I'm sure almost any team other than the pre-September Braves or Phillies would love to be able to slot him into the #3/4 slot in their rotation. On many AL rotations, he would easily be a #2. On the Royals or September Red Sox, a #1. To have the luxury of making him your #5 starter is downright unfair, and amounts to a ridiculous competitive advantage. Running this guy out against a classic #5 like Tim Wakefield or Rodrigo Lopez or Aaron Cook is something to look forward to every five games. And should help build our poor headcase's confidence. And his trade value.
Besides my own personal enjoyment of Sanchez's starts as he weaves his way in and out of sure trouble (bases loaded no-outs, anyone? I remember Grant describing watching his disaster-defying tightrope act as "Better than Cats"), I think the guy deserves a little more respect. He's a poor-man's left-handed Nolan Ryan. Or in other words, a far cry from a HOFer, but capable of being a pretty darned good pitcher.
He mentioned in an interview a couple weeks ago that if trade rumors were ever true, he'd have played for every team in baseball. He said he will probably spend the rest of his career here. If the price is right due to a "headcase" discount, I really wouldn't mind that so much.