by Jimmy Hascup
What does a player do after he finishes his first full season in the major leagues with the fifth highest batting average, finish sixth in the NL in slugging, and seventh in the NL in OPS? Oh yeah and you constitute your team’s offense and only fantasy-worthy hitter in the lineup. If you’re Pablo Sandoval you climb up Phoenix’s Camelback Mountain. It’s all part of a rigorous workout effort, a 3 ½ week one at that, for Sandoval to shed some pounds and become more durable on the baseball field. Though if you ask me, the 250-plus pound Sandoval did nothing this season to make fantasy owners wish that he was eating less Burger King and more Jenny Craig:
572 At Bats
.330 Batting Average (189 Hits)
25 Home Runs
5 Stolen Bases
.387 On Base Percentage
.556 Slugging Percentage
.353 Batting Average on Balls in Play
After taking a look at those numbers remember one important element, Sandoval played for the fifth worst offense in baseball. Without him Giants’ lineup would’ve probably had trouble holding its own in Triple-A. That’s how bad it is. And it makes those season numbers that more astonishing.
If you’re looking for a player with some strike-zone discipline, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Sandoval’s most incredible stat is his tendency to swing at pitches outside of the strike-zone, which he does over 41 percent of the time, second highest in baseball. Then you see that he connects on over 75 percent of them and you can’t refrain from saying, “Wow.” There are other hitters with higher outside-the-zone contact rates, but none of them swing at balls nearly the amount Kung Fu Pando does.
Sandoval’s average is obviously his biggest asset, though he is beginning to show some serious run-producing abilities. While the average came courtesy of a high .353 BABIP, Sandoval had a .367 rate his rookie season, and one near .340 in the minors. There’s definitely no reason to think his success this season was based purely on luck. The one thing owners should feel confident about is his ability to sustain the batting average.
A groundball rate in the minors over 47 percent and a line-drive rate of 15 percent (though it is over 20 percent in the majors), provides a great basis for keeping the average over .300. Especially as it seems Sandoval is growing (no pun intended) as a hitter, he’s turning some of those groundballs into line drives and those line drives into flyballs. He’s still just 23-years-old, so his major league learning curve is just commencing.
The Venezuelan native played five seasons in the minors, beginning in 2004 as a 17-year-old and compiled a .303 average and just 35 homeruns in nearly 1,800 at-bats.
This begs the obvious question: is Sandoval going to be a legitimate .330/25 HR kind of hitter or is he going to be a .330/15 HR hitter? His minor league hit rates suggests he has the capability to be a middle of the road kind of power guy. A 38 percent career-minor league mark is not a rate that compares too favorably with the best power hitters in the game. And this season’s rate, 36.5 percent, put him near players like Dexter Fowler, Adam Lind, Torii Hunter and Martin Prado. The results obviously vary. It’s all going to be dependent on Sandoval’s ability to put those long balls in the seats, as 14 percent HR/FB ratio is not extraordinary, but it’s adequate enough for him to be a factor in the homerun department.
Despite the absurd swing rates on balls out of the zone, Sandoval doesn’t strikeout that much, just 238 in the minors and a 13.5 percent rate in the majors. He also walked 52 times this year, which is eye-raising considering how impatient he can be.
While the average doesn’t suffer whether Kung Fu Panda bats righty or lefty, the power certainly does. Thus far in the majors he’s hit 22 of his 28 homeruns left-handed. His approach from the right side will be something to watch as his career progresses, as opposing managers will definitely try to exploit that weakness, which is pretty much his only huge flaw.
The possibilities are endless for Sandoval, if the Giants had some formidable pieces in their lineup. But of course they don’t and unless they do something drastic this offseason, Sandoval will have to again be the team’s offense. Sandoval’s value will be dulled, as long as the lineup remains as feeble as it is now. Regardless, I expect him to have another excellent, top-5 third basemen-worthy season.
My projections: .333 AVG, 26 HR, 97 RBI, 4 SB, 87 R.
What does everyone think? Does Sandoval continue to produce, despite the Giants’ lineup woes? Or does he fall-off next year?
To read the previous article, click here.
Picture courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.