Free Swingin’ Sandoval

Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval is an equal-opportunity hacker. Bring him your fastballs, your curves, your sliders and your changeups: ball or strike, it matters little to the switch-hitting, ambidextrous Venezuelan.

The swing-from-the-shoe tops approach generally worked to good effect in the minors, where Sandoval authored a career .303/.342/.445 line, including an absurd .350/.394/.578 season in 2008 split between San Jose of the High-A California League and Connecticut of the AA Eastern League.

Pablo also pummeled major league pitching in a scalding cup of java with the Giants to end the year, batting .345/.357/.490. Some claim to have actually seen Sandoval draw a walk, but like Big Foot and Loch Ness sightings, you can never really be sure. Sandoval made a lot of contact (9.7 K%, 86.9 Contact%), but his rate of free passes taken (2.7%) would make Shawon Dunston blush.

Sandoval’s degree of hacking was unmatched: he offered at an absurd 53.8% of pitches thrown out of the strike zone (!) Among batters with at least 150 plate appearances, Pablo led the competition by a wide margin. Even notorious bad-ball hitter Vladimir Guerrero couldn’t keep pace, with a 45.5 O-Swing%. Overall, Sandoval swung at 64.6% of the total pitches he saw, giving him a comfortable cushion in front of Miguel Olivo, Humberto Quintero, Vlad and Alexei Ramirez.

In 2009, Sandoval has improved his level of selectivity, swinging at just…52 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone (hey, you gotta start somewhere). Unlike last year, the line-drives and doubles aren’t manifest in the box scores: Sandoval has a .279 wOBA in 48 plate appearances, with a walk rate (2.2 BB%) and OBP (.292) that even teammate Juan Uribe could poke fun at.

It seems as though opposing pitchers have just plain stopped throwing Sandoval strikes. They were already reluctant to fill the zone in 2008, given his see-ball, hit-ball edict (46.6% of the pitches that Sandoval saw were in the strike zone, compared to the 51.1% average).

But in ’09, just 33.6% of pitches seen have crossed the plate: that’s the lowest rate among all hitters to this point in the season. Sandoval has almost whiffed as many times in 2009 (11) as he did in over three times the amount of PA’s in ’08 (14). And really, why risk tossing a cookie to Sandoval if there’s a better than 50/50 shot that he’ll swing at something off the dish or in the dirt?

Sandoval is undoubtedly a talented hitter, making the sort of hard contact that leads one to believe that he possesses a .300 skill-set in the majors. However, batting average fluctuates more than most offensive stats; it’s not out of the realm of possibility for someone like Sandoval to hit .244 in a short stretch of at-bats. When that happens, he doesn’t have the proverbial flotation device that walks provide, so his offensive value goes down the drain.

The best thing fantasy owners could do with Sandoval right now is to remain patient. He’s something of a mess at the plate at the moment, but cutting bait now would be to sell an asset at its lowest point. Stay the course if you selected the 22 year-old hacker- this sort of uncertainty comes with the territory when a player’s value is dependent on his batting average.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

9 Responses to “Free Swingin’ Sandoval”

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  1. Steve says:

    I already cut ties with him. I don’t have the patience…

    Come on, one RBI and only three runs scored in 45 at bats?

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  2. fiji.siv says:


    I bet you waived him Apr 15th because ever since then he’s hit .352 (and slugged .588). Nice work, I needed him to get going. Could you drop Granderson and Encarnacion too?

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  3. Sandy Alomar says:

    Isn’t this where a batting coach is handed these numbers by teh front office wonk, pulls sandoval aside and tells him that he won’t see a strike for eth rest of the season unless he takes a few balls? Isn’t that how players, and teams, progress?

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  4. fiji.siv says:


    As a life-long Giants fan I’m fairly certain the organization doesn’t use fancy things like data to make decisions.

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  5. SharksRog says:

    Why did it take NL pitchers so long to realize they don’t have to throw strikes to Pablo?

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  6. Alireza says:

    I think the comparisons with Vladimir Guerrero have always been overblown. Guerrero is significantly stronger and has/had the ability to pound balls off his shoe tops over the wall. Also, even in his hobbled state, Vlad has always been much faster than Sandoval, which allows him to beat out weak grounders that he hits off the end of the bat.

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  7. JW says:

    I believe Keith Law recently referred to him as a ‘hitting savant’. I’m hooked on him as my C this season (and likely next) and with the MLB package have gotten to see him play a bit. If only all subjective viewings were as dead-on accurate as watching a single Pablo at bat. I watched him triple on a ball that appeared nowhere close to hittable with a swing that was tailormade for a pop up but the ball just kept going. Twice in that game he had 8 pitch at-bats, once he struck out swinging, the other was the triple. He swung at everything. In those 16 pitches only 5 were called balls.

    Also worth noting – of his 4 walks in 92 pa this season, 3 were intentional.

    I did not see either of his SB but I’m assuming failed hit and runs?

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  8. Sam says:

    Sandoval actually has OK speed. He’s no Rickey Henderson, but he’s not Bengie Molina either.

    Watching him at the plate is frustrating. He routinely swings at pitches so far out of the strike zone that you never see anyone else swing at. Yesterday he swung at a pitch that hit him in the thigh. It wasn’t even one of those trying to get out of the way swings. He was seriously trying to hit a pitch that was coming right at him. No kidding!

    The thing is, I have to concur with JW’s comment. The guy often hits with authority what appear to be real pitchers’ pitches. He clearly has an uncanny ability at the plate. If he works on his plate discipline the ceiling is so high for Sandoval.

    It’s kind of weird problem. How can you be so good at hitting and at the same time have so little clue as to what is a ball and what is strike?

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  9. Jesus says:

    Must be kicking yourself now, huh Steve? As far as free passes go, Sandoval looks pretty discerning compared to Bengie’s 8BB on the season.

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