When Pablo Sandoval made his major league debut last season, three days after turning 22 years old, Giants fans held their collective breaths, holding out hope that Sandoval’s gaudy minor league numbers would translate into solid success at the big league level. Everyone knew the guy could rake but did not necessarily have confidence that the skillset could surpass the Quad-A plateau. Prior to the callup, Sandoval had posted a composite wOBA right around .415 in 112 games between Single- and Double-A. The team was not that high on developing Pablo as a catcher, especially with Buster Posey in the system, but his numbers suggested that his bat could play at one of the infield corners.
In 41 major league games last season, Sandoval hit .345/.357/.490, with a .361 wOBA. A regression seemed inevitable for his .367 BABIP, especially given his nutty plate discipline marks; in a 25.4% league, Sandoval swung at 53.4% of his pitches out of the zone. He swung at 77% of his pitches in the zone, again above the league average of 65%, but also made an inordinate amount of contact. Pablo didn’t walk all that much but he did not fall prey to the strikeout that frequently either. One of the most curious aspects of his season involved defense. At 5’11”, 246 lbs, Sandoval looks like he could never succeed with the glove, but a +2.1 UZR at 1B and +1.8 UZR at 3B helped raise Pablo’s overall production level to +1.3 wins.
Sandoval has played 52 more games this season, and it seems that last year’s offensive output was no fluke. In 208 plate appearances, Sandoval has a .318 BA, but an almost identical .356/.497 OBP/SLG and .363 wOBA. His BABIP has dropped subtly to .350, which helps explains the lower batting average (less singles) but also signals that he could be one of those hitters with consistently high marks in this area. Again, I’m not basing any definitive conclusions here with just 93 games of data, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least, given what we have seen, if this hypothesis ends up correct.
The defense has trailed off a bit, but at worst portends league average ability at the corners. If we assume that Sandoval will average around 145 games/season, then he has played the equivalent of 65% of a full season, amassing +2.4 wins in the process.
ZiPS projects a .340 wOBA from here on out, putting his bottom line right around .301/.334/.479, with a .351 wOBA, similar in the OBP/SLG departments to Torii Hunter, JJ Hardy and Mike Cameron from a year ago. He will never win a gold glove (although he might if his offensive production remains this high) or be lauded for defensive ability, but league average glovework at a corner coupled with a well above average bat for a 22-yr old with 2.4 wins to his name in under a full season is pretty remarkable.
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