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.