Second Look At Sandoval

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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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

39 Responses to “Second Look At Sandoval”

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  1. I believe with experience, the patience (as much patience that can come to a player unique as sandoval) to not get himself out will correlate to power and Sandoval will hit 25 homers annually.

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  2. tom says:

    I’d say that he’s similar to Juan Uribe defensively, in that you wouldn’t expect a guy that big to be able to move that well or defend as well as he does. He has a plus, plus arm at 3B(which is why I think it would be a waste to put him at 1B) and he moves well on plays that involve lateral movement. He has a hard time on plays that involve charging the ball, as he never seems to get a clean pick on the ball(teams bunt in his direction to exploit this), although that’s an area that shouldn’t be too hard to improve.

    Btw, his nick names are Kung Fu Panda(Pandoval) and Fat Ichiro.

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  3. Bill says:

    I hope he develops a bit more from the left side of the dish, his numbers as righty are quite a bit better.

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    • small sample size, bill. his numbers last year in his big league trail were a lot better from the left side than right, and the platoon this year isn’t drastic at all.

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    • B says:

      His minor league track record actually indicates he’s better from the left side.

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    • He’s a natural lefty, he went ambidextrous in order to play more positions in the field. In the minors, he’s actually had a worse platoon split against LHP than Ishikawa, and the worry was that he would need to platoon. But as noted, SSS rules whenever you talk about hitting against LHP.

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    • wcw says:

      I think you have that precisely backwards.

      Panda is a natural lefty, and it shows in his stats something fierce. His career minor-league LHB/RHB split is +160 OPS points in 1600 ABs. His major-league split is lower at +90 OPS points, but in many fewer plate appearances. Absent a much larger sample showing the same, I worry about his righty batting, not at all about his lefty swing.

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  4. Greg says:

    If Sandoval is relegated to an infield corner, then shouldn’t we compare his offense to other third and first basemen rather than shortstops and center fielders like Cameron, Hardy and Hunter? At this point in his career, his offense would look great at catcher but less good at first base.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      There is a difference between what I wrote and what you’re suggesting, though I agree with you.

      What I did was merely put up what his expected end line what be, .334 OBP/.479 SLG, and show that those numbers were similar to the end lines of Hardy and Cameron last season. That isn’t a comparison of productivity but rather a “Hey, if you want to know if .334/.479 is good/bad, what did you think of Hardy’s line last season?”

      Of course we should compare to other corner infielders, but this wasn’t a comparison.

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  5. Matt H. says:

    I read so many things about him being a butcher in the field, but he could hit before he came up, then whenever I watched him came away impressed defensively thinking he could at least be average. I’m glad my intuitions weren’t too far off.

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  6. Great article.

    It should be noted that Sandoval has been good with the bat all through the minors, for the most part, never striking out that much or badly (though also not walking that much either). I think the walks will come as his power come to the fore, as it appears to have been lately.

    And his BABIP should be real. I have seen many observers note that the hitter he reminds them of is Vlad, in the ability to swing at pitches outside the strike zone and still square it up well enough to make good contact. Those hitters make the opposing pitchers batty since there is no real way to pitch to them to get them out consistently.

    And, yes, his fielding has been very encouraging, I’m hoping he can stick at 3B and man it for us for years.

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  7. sam says:

    His plate discipline is just awful. I get the feeling watching him that he is planning to swing before the pitch is even thrown. If he could learn to not swing at garbage he might be able to contend for some batting crowns for years to come.

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    • Mark R says:

      It’s hard to argue with his results so far. Some players (Vlad Guerrero, Yogi Berra) have such freakish hand-eye coordination that this kind of approach works for them. Telling him to be more patient or whatever might throw him off his game. And he’s going to be competing for batting titles, bad approach or no.

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      • sam says:

        I dunno. I mean Vlad is a great player and all, but I think he too would benefit if he forced pitchers to throw the ball in the strike zone more. I mean it seems pretty clear that you can square a ball up better if it is the zone. Plus, Sandoval is absurd in this regard. I saw him strike out on a pitch that hit him. It wasn’t even a nasty breaking pitch or a get out of the way swing. He was swinging to hit a fastball that was like 14″ off the inner plate.

        It did occur to me, if you decide to swing before the pitch is thrown, you don’t have to wait to make a judgment about whether the ball is going to be in the zone or not and perhaps that extra split second can give you some edge. So, maybe Sandoval has that going for him.

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      • Mark R says:

        Sure, if Vlad swung at fewer pitches out of the zone AND he was able to keep doing the other things that he does so well, he would be better off. There’s no reason to think that both are possible, though. You have to take an if-it-ain’t-broke… approach to things like this. These guys have hit like they do their whole lives and have managed to stay productive. It’s who they are as hitters. Hyper-aggressiveness doesn’t work for Yuniesky Betancourt, but it’s hard to find fault with two players who have lifetime wOBAs of .362 and .398.

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      • sam says:

        You really think that developing a better eye might come at the expense of some other aspect of his abilities?

        An aggressive approach doesn’t work for Yuniesky Betancourt because he sucks. Just because Sandoval is really talented and is playing at a high level doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for improvement in his game.

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      • Mark R says:

        I think if you asked coaches and scouts, they would tell you that trying to get Sandoval to develop more patience would likely do more harm than good. It’s the complete opposite of how he’s succeeded to this point. It’s just extremely difficult to make contact with major league pitching on a regular basis, let alone make solid enough contact to be a productive hitter. Sandoval has found an approach that works. He has honed his skills over years and years and proven himself to be a special hitter. You can’t mess with him unless and until his production slips.

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  8. Long Suffering Giants Fan says:

    One thing everyone forgets about in all the Sandoval analysis is this: He’s surrounded by, without a doubt, the worst lineup in major league baseball. If the Giants, over the next few years, put a few good hitters around him, chances are he’ll see better pitches to hit. Last night he had Freddie Lewis hitting behind him. Lewis can’t even hit a belt high fastball, yet Sandoval still managed 4 hits including a home run. He’s not even 23 years old. Never played above AA till he was called up late last year and he’s hitting .318. If he played in New York or Boston they would have started building the statue already. And for someone who isn’t a 3rd baseman he’s done remarkably well (only 1 error). Stop looking at stats and watch the games. This kid is going to be a monster.

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    • Mark R says:

      The idea of lineup protection makes intuitive sense. It really does, and it’s very much embedded in the mainstream baseball psyche. But it doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. Good hitters don’t see anymore fastballs/strikes when they’re hitting in front of other good hitters.

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      • Isaac says:

        At the very least, he’d be putting up better RBI and Run totals, so he’d be noticed and spoken about a bit more.

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      • Mark R says:

        No doubt about that. Not to mention the attention a player gets just by virtue of being on a good team.

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      • Andre says:

        Forgive me for sounding all old timey but I cry foul. Science be damned, it’s baseball common sense – ask Albert Pujols. Who would a pitcher rather go after? Sandoval or Lewis? I would think he’d be more likely to nibble against Fat Ichiro, no? If he walks than you go at the light hitting Lewis.

        Living in the East, I haven’t seen too much of him (aside from the recent Mets visit) but he looks like he’s going to be a special ball player on both sides of the plate.

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      • Mark R says:

        I’m not saying that pitchers wouldn’t rather go after Lewis than Sandoval. I’m just saying that research hasn’t shown these preferences to reveal themselves in a meaningful way. If a protection effect exists, it doesn’t show up consistently or in the same direction and is overwhelmed, in any case, by the talent of the hitter himself. Pitchers don’t want to face Pujols, but he still makes outs more than he doesn’t. So walking him every time would be nuts, regardless of the lineup he’s in.

        There’s kind of an equilibrium that the league will reach against a hitter: if he’s good, throw him fewer strikes and more breaking stuff. If he’s bad, go after him. It’s a matter of balancing a hitter’s ability to hurt you with the prerogative to not give away bases (and by extension runs). In other words, every hitter will get pitches to hit. The closest thing you’ll see to a player getting pitched around every time was Barry Bonds in 2004, and he still got thrown to more than he didn’t.

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  9. scott says:

    Sandoval had an AB earlier this year @COL where – if I remember correctly – he fouled off the first eight pitches, took a ball in the dirt, fouled off three more, and then popped up right behind short. Even if he just maintains this line, and only has 15 HR/yr power, he is one hell of an entertaining player to watch.

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  10. Rdizz says:

    As a Giants lifer I must say Pablito’s defense at the hot corner has been remarkably good this year. Behind the plate, he can call a solid game and is more agile than most other catchers in the league. Thus far at first base (the position he’s primarily played since returning from a slight injury, and as a result of Travis Ishikawa’s insignificance) he’s looked less than stellar. With Angel Villalona in the pipes, I expect Pablito to become more of a first baseman as only time will tell.

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  11. Walter Guest says:

    The Giants have a Hall of Fame catcher if they’re smart enough to put him there and if he doesn’t eat himself out of baseball. Posey? Switch him to 3rd. They both would be better fits at those positions.

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  12. scott says:

    Sandoval’s AB in the 3rd against Doug Davis; foul, swinging strike, foul, foul, foul, foul, foul, ball, foul, ball, ball, ball. God what a hilarious guy.

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  13. B says:

    “The Giants have a Hall of Fame catcher if they’re smart enough to put him there and if he doesn’t eat himself out of baseball. Posey? Switch him to 3rd. They both would be better fits at those positions.”

    Given the assumption that Sandoval will be at one of those positions and Posey at the other, the offensive aspects of the positions don’t matter. As for the defensive aspects – Posey is projected to be a very good to gold glove caliber defensive catcher. 3B? Nobody even bothers to project him there, it’s not his position. With Sandoval playing it rather averagely (which is much better than expected), and not projected to be a great defensive catcher, keeping Sandoval at 3B and Posey at C would seem to be the better fit.

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  14. Walter Guest says:

    Posey went to Florida St. as a shortstop and played there as a freshman. He volunteered to catch after his freahman year when the school was weak in that position.

    Sandoval has far more experience catching and has proved to be above average at the position in the majors. As a first baseman he is below league average. At third he might be a bit above average. At catcher he is Hall of Fame caliber. (These estimates include his offence of course.) The right position for him should be obvious.

    Posey is an unproven commodity in single A right now. You’re going to hold the catching position open for a kid in A ball?

    On the other hand, if Posey is that good then the Giants have a big time trading chip at a preium position. No team can afford to keep two top calibre catchers.

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  15. B says:

    Dunno if you’re a Giants fan or not Walter (I am, myself), but a lot of Giants fans have gotten it into their minds that Posey can more or less play any position on the diamond because he went to college originally as a shortstop and then had that one stunt where he played all 9 positions in a single game. From what I’ve read, he doesn’t really profile well anywhere but C – and reputable baseball people like BA/Keith Law make no mention of moving Posey off C but rather moving Sandoval. My own guess is he could probably play 1B or 3B since they don’t require the same range as the other positions, but just some lateral quickness and fielding skills (also needed by a good C), but so far all the reports on his defense at C indicate he’s learning rapidly and has all the skills of an excellent defensive C. Basically the whole point of this paragraph is his defensive ability at C + Pablo’s defensive ability at 3B makes the best defensive combo for the two.

    That said, you do bring up some good points. As much as we [Giants fans] like to tell ourselves Posey is the next Mauer, he still is only in A-ball. A lot depends on what we do with Posey next year. If we promote him all the way up to the big league club (we’ll likely be moving him to AA or AAA soon this season), our best combo would be Sandoval at 3B, Posey at C with the option of Sandoval moving back to C if Posey isn’t working out like we hoped. If Posey doesn’t start the year in the bigs, I definitely think Pablo should play C, especially since finding a fill in corner infielder until Posey comes up should be easier than filling C. It also raises his trade value if he shows he can handle everyday C, which as you said, could potentially give the Giants a lot of options with two good trading chips at C.

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  16. trampslikeus says:

    Look….I love this guy and am confident he will be a major part of a huge Giants resurgence in 2010 or, at the latest, 2011. I only have one request; can they please get him two more games at catcher so he’ll qualify there in 5-game leagues? Is he still the backup catcher, or have they stopped that since his injury?

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  17. trampslikeus says:

    one more thing, isn’t “long suffering Giants fan” redundant? is there any other kind? I’m 52 years old, born in 1956, and they haven’t won it all during my entire lifetime. Living in SoCal, my Dodger fan friends make sure I don’t ever forget this. Over and over and…..

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