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A Sort-Of Appreciation of Jonathan Sanchez

Pocket-sized Latos is for when you travel, but don't want to bring a full-sized Latos
Pocket-sized Latos is for when you travel, but don't want to bring a full-sized Latos

If there's anything I feel guilty about, it's probably about setting that house on fire in junior high over a crush I had. Yeah, still feel a little bad about that one, but that shop teacher wasn't picking up on the obvious signs, so I had to think outside of the horribly crafted box.

But if there's anything I feel guilty about when it comes to blogging about the Giants, it's that I didn't give enough love to Jonathan Sanchez when he left. The trade was more about Melknalysis than it was an opportunity to evaluate Jonathan Sanchez's career.

Consider the career of a player who was:

  • Drafted and developed by the Giants
  • Came up on a franchise that was in shambles, which is when fans need to latch on to any glimmer of hope
  • Pitched the first no-hitter for the franchise in over 30 years
  • Contributed to the first World Series win in San Francisco history

Mail those four bullet points back to 2005, and make a guess at how beloved that player was to Giants fans. I would have guessed somewhere between Will Clark and Juan Marichal, and I also would have expected the announcement of his traded to spark JFK-style "where where you?" discussions for the next 40 years. Instead, Sanchez was the prompt for every half-assed trade scenario and rosterbation fantasy for the last half-decade. When he was finally traded, it was more closure than surprise.

The hidden story behind those bullet points is that Sanchez wasn't really ever that good. There's a reason why the no-hitter -- an isolated instance of brilliance -- is the first thing that people mention when thinking about his time on the Giants. He never cracked 200 innings in a season, hitting the DL four times in six seasons. He walked almost five hitters for every nine innings he pitched. He had an ERA under four in only one season, though he sure picked the right one. In 70 of his 118 starts as a Giant, he pitched fewer than six innings.

But we're not talking about a Hall-of-Fame case, we're talking about a case for a hometown hero. When I read a story like this, I think about the Atari-sponsored bat I got back in 1982. When I think about Bill Swift, I start to get sinker fever. I'm not mad at Rod Beck, but if I were, it would be because he cost Shawn Estes his 20th win in 1997, and I loved Estes. None of these players had a no-hitter for the Giants. None of them hit a triple in a division-clinching game that lead to a championship. All of their departures made me more upset than Sanchez.

It's probably not Davis, Swift, and Estes for you. It might be Jason Schmidt and Garry Maddox, Russ Ortiz and Ronny Paulino. Whatever the player, the point is that Sanchez never had the feel of a player who was special to the Giants -- a guy we would hold in higher regard than the rest of the baseball world just because he was our guy. Other than some embarrassing moments in the great whose-rotation-is-better debates last offseason, it never felt like Sanchez was ever really overrated by anyone other than people trying to make awful fake trades on internet bulletin boards. He came up, he pitched, he left, and then we started talking about Melky Cabrera exactly five seconds later.

There are a couple of reasons. The first is that whole not-that-good thing up there. He had his moments, but he was certainly a frustrating pitcher to watch. The other is that Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum came up around the same time, and they're the kinds of pitchers that teams build statues for. That's a pretty easy way to get overlooked, regardless of how many no-hitters a pitcher throws*.

And maybe there was a sense of disappointment with Sanchez -- that he never broke through the control barrier and morphed into something special. Few pitchers really do. It's not like control and command are something that improve automatically with some repetition, as if it's the same thing as learning a language. He always had the stuff and arm and stuff and pitches and stuff, so there was a glimmer of excitement with his breakthrough year in 2010. Never forget:

But before there was a Nelson Cruz strikeout, there was an Everth Cabrera strikeout to warm our hearts in the offseason. Sanchez's no-hitter really is one of the best moments in franchise history, at least since the team moved to San Francisco. It's certainly one of my greatest memories as a Giants fan. Maybe he never reached that Koufax/Unit ZiPS comp as a Giant, but he was a part of some pretty sweet Giants-related memories.

So here's to Jonathan Sanchez. I'll miss him, even when I'm actively discussing how little I'm missing him. He didn't sell a lot of jerseys in his time, but maybe I'll get one just to be a Giants hipster now, and an astute fan of Giants history in the future.

* One.