Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, whichever is applicable to you. When the biggest off-season news for a player is losing 20-25 lbs, it’s a given the prior season was a disappointment. A batting average of .245 with 10 HR, 43 Runs, and 47 RBI in 126 games qualifies as one for a player many expected to be a Top 10 third baseman. Sandoval’s first season in Boston was nothing short of disastrous, and his early ADP (24th among 3B) suggests not many expect much improvement in 2016. Sandoval never sustained top five 3B type production, however, for the most part he’s been a very consistent player who has avoided the pitfall type seasons, 2015 not withstanding. Can we expect a bounce back of sorts from The Panda in 2016, or will his numbers continue to go the way of his waistline?
Most of the underlying numbers suggest 2015 was just how bad Sandoval has become. His BB% declined for the 4th straight season, hitting a career low 5%. Adding to the recipe of misery was a career high K rate of 14.5%. Sandoval has always been a good contact hitter. Last season’s 82.6 % mark was right in line with his career mark. The problem Sandoval had in 2015 was the type of contact caused more trouble than good. A 1.51 GB/FB rate (career mark 1.21) for a player with the caloric intake of Sandoval isn’t appealing. As if the increased GB rate wasn’t a big enough issue, Sandoval had the 12th highest Soft Contact rate in baseball (21.5), combined with a Hard Contact rate of 24.5 that was nearly 6% below his career mark and easily a career low. If you take the high contact rate, mix in the batted ball data, set the oven on 375, the end result is a .270 BABIP and another career low.
While all the above information paints a rather grim picture, it really only tells us what we already know, 2015 was a miserable season for Pablo Sandoval. Generally speaking I’m a positive person. With this in mind I wanted to dig a little deeper, and hopefully find some information that would suggest these underlying numbers were victimized by bad luck. Unfortunately the outlook just kept getting worser and worser (I realize worser is not a word, it’s simply homage to a poker buddy of mine, who summarizes a bad run with that very statement). Sandoval has never been a good slider hitter (-.66 w/SL/C – for those unfamiliar, this is his runs above average per 100 pitches). Last season pitchers attacked him more throwing the pitch 14.1 % of the time. Sandoval responded with another career worst registering a -1.70 w/SL/C.
Sandoval also had struggles with the fastball. Throughout his career Sandoval had a wFB/C of .66. Last season that number fell all the way to -.35; you guessed it, another career low. All of this data only supports the fact that Sandoval the player was lost last season. Pitchers attacked him more, throwing first pitch strikes 65% of the time. So while Sandoval is a free swinging type, a Zone % of 41% suggest pitchers weren’t afraid to go over the plate with the offering. Perhaps the most concerning trend of all is the switch hitter’s inability to hit lefties. While Sandoval has always been better from the left side, 2015 could have been when the bottom fell out. In 155 plate appearances Sandoval managed a .034 ISO to go with a .465 OPS. The .034 ISO ranked 3rd worst among qualified hitters, while the .465 OPS ranked worst in baseball.
So I suppose this is where I tell you to use the white out across Pablo Sandoval’s name on the cheat sheet. This is where I should tell you that Sandoval, the unspectacular steady option, is dead to me. Do you recall I’m the optimist? While I have done nothing but support the validity to the miserable 2015, I’ll be that guy who hopes against hope that 2015 was the low hanging fruit on an otherwise respectable career. If you’re the type who needs numbers to support any claim than this isn’t the sales pitch for you. Minor injuries forced Sandoval to scrap switch hitting around mid-season last year. While he didn’t exactly mash, he did improve his production. In 68 PA batting right handed Sandoval had hit .103 with 0 HR, 1 Run, and 3RBI vs LHP. In 79 PA hitting left handed, Sandoval hit .278 with 0 HR, 2 Runs, and 8 RBI. While 79 PA hardly solidifies anything, if an improvement would occur that could be one hurdle closer to respectable. Even if Sandoval remained ineffective as a LH hitter vs. LHP the lack of a switch hitting option would put his name out of the lineup. While this isn’t a desired course for success, with struggles such as Pablo’s sometimes less is more.
My investment in Sandoval is not tied to his pending improvements vs. LHP. The selling point for me is the 24th rated 3B based on NFBC ADP. For anyone who has drafted Sandoval over the years, more often than not you’ve been disappointed. However, aside from last year the results haven’t been regretful. His 162 game average for his career is a .288 AVG with 19 HR, 72 Runs, and 83 RBI. Last year Adrian Beltre finished ranked anywhere between 10-14th among third basemen (depending on site) posting a .287 AVG with 18 HR, 83 Runs and 83 RBI. While I understand a full 162 is hard to expect, but even if you take away some of the counting stats, your still likely looking at a Top 15 third baseman that can be had several rounds later. With the obscene amount of data available to everyone, fantasy has become more and more, paralysis by analysis. We can’t come to grip with the mental aspect of the game. All that we see from Sandoval’s 2015 is a declining skill set. Perhaps a big contract and playing on one of the biggest stages had something to do with that.
My confidence in Sandoval isn’t strong. I wouldn’t punt third base and happily take Sandoval as my lone option. I would prefer to target him as a utility type, or perhaps pair him with a mid-tier option such as Mike Moustakas and feel pretty good that one of the two will pan out. Sandoval has had a careers worth of stellar play; let’s not let one year tell us differently, even if the numbers tell you so.
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