by Will Overton
It has been an up and down three years for Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval burst onto the scene in 2009 hitting .330 with 25 homeruns. With expectations way up for the 2010 season Sandoval was a big disappointment, playing a full season but only managing to hit .268 with 13 homeruns.
Wondering what one could expect Sandoval’s draft position was all over the place last season, but he responded with a season similar to his 2009 campaign. Sandoval put up the following numbers in 2011:
.315 batting average
55 runs scored
70 runs batted in
.320 batting average on balls in play
So now Sandoval is a borderline top 50 pick who could go in any round from 4 – 7. That fear of regression is still there since we’re only a year removed from his last disappointment. However I think Sandoval has turned a corner and his days of letdowns are over.
My question is whether or not Sandoval can take the next step and improve on last season. Here is the case against and for Sandoval making the leap.
The Case against Pablo Sandoval Making the Leap
Sandoval is good at several different things, but is he great at any one thing? It would be fair to argue that he is a great average hitter, and I will make that argument in a little bit. But you can’t just forget that .268 average from two years ago. Last year Sandoval had a .320 BABIP and still managed to hit .315, it’s not going to be easy to reproduce that. Sandoval also doesn’t walk very much, so if you use OBP and not BA than Sandoval loses some points.
Other than the average Sandoval has never hit 30 homeruns, never drove in 100 runs or scored 80 runs in a season. It’s great to have a guy like Sandoval who you can count on in several categories, but to be great you’d like to have be great in at least one if not two categories.
The other big drawback with Sandoval which gives me pause is the team he plays for. The San Francisco Giants scored the second fewest runs in baseball last season, just barely outscoring the offensively inept Seattle Mariners. Despite the fact that Sandoval hits pretty well with guys on base he struggles to knock runs in because much more often than not there is no one on base when he comes to the plate.
Worse than that he doesn’t get knocked in very much and the Giants don’t offer protection to force pitchers to pitch to him. The Giants have added Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, but they might both hit in front of him and if so he’ll still be backed up in the order by the likes of Aubrey Huff. The best thing for Pablo Sandoval would be for a healthy Buster Posey to hit all year.
The Case for Pablo Sandoval Making the Leap
Despite what you see at first glance Pablo Sandoval’s numbers last season were the best that he has put up for his career. Keep in mind that Sandoval put up just about the same numbers from his breakout rookie season while getting about 150 less at-bats.
The biggest sign of improvement that we saw was in the power department for the Panda. Sandoval came just two homeruns short of his career high, but had his best HR/FB rate and HR/AB rate. Had Sandoval had those 150 extra at-bats he would get in an injury free season he would have cleared 30 homeruns. And Sandoval was getting better as the season wore on. From July – September Sandoval had 17 HR’s, including 7 of them in September in just 74 at-bats.
While there are questions of average that I raised earlier, I still think he has elite average potential. Sandoval should be in the hunt for batting titles for several years with his bat speed and contact rate. While I’d like to see Sandoval get a few more walks, he also doesn’t strike out much at all. Sandoval should never hit below .300 in a season.
While there is probably a ceiling on how many times Sandoval will cross the plate unless Brandon Belt turns things up this season. Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan are a serious improvement in front of Sandoval and should provide several more RBI opportunities. If healthy for a full season I can see Sandoval getting to 100 RBI.
I think Sandoval is ready to take the next step. Had he played a full season last year I think he’d be a lock for the top five at third base this season. This year I think he cracks the top five and I actually wouldn’t be at all shocked to see him finish just behind Jose Bautista and Evan Longoria.
I think you’ll see Sandoval hit .320 this season with 30 HR and at least 90 RBI, potentially 100 if Cabrera and Pagan get themselves on base with some regularity. Sandoval showed the signs of a leap being made last season, this season I think he completes it.
What are your thoughts on Sandoval this season? Do you anticipate regression, more of the same or do you, like me, think he can make the leap to the next level?