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Pablo Sandoval: Officially Hamate-less

2012 was supposed to be a big year for Pablo Sandoval in fantasy circles. Entering his age 25 season and coming off a 23 homer campaign in only 460 plate appearances the year before, a healthy Sandoval should have been a reasonable shot to touch 30-35 round-trippers with an above-average batting average if he could stay on the field. In fantasy circles, he was being treated like one of baseball’s near-elite. According to ESPN’s average position draft tracker, he was going off the board 38th overall (5th among third basemen). So in March, owners definitely didn’t envision seeing Sandoval slip to 26th in Zach Sanders’ End of Season Rankings for guys at the hot corner.

Even with all the aforementioned positive signs, some may remember that the year did get off to an inauspicious start. After turning heads with his new physique (checking in at 30+ pounds lighter) in 2011, manager Bruce Bochy’s grumblings about Sandoval’s conditioning began even before spring training started as his third baseman had reportedly gained 25 pounds. When he actually appeared in spring training, San Francisco and fantasy owners did not have their fears allayed when pictures like this began to show up on the interwebs. Worried about Sandoval’s weight spurred concerned about effectiveness and injury. And injury (although not directly due to his weight gain) was partly what did him in this year. Sandoval did manage to surpass the 350 plate appearance threshold for inclusion in the rankings, but not by much. At only 442 PA (in 108 games), Sandoval played approximately two-thirds of the season, leaving fantasy owners scrambling for a replacement for two months of 2012. And when Sandoval was on the field, it wasn’t necessarily pretty, putting up a .283/.342/.447 triple slash (all below career average) and only 12 homers (dropping from 23 in only 24 more trips to the dish in 2011).

Breaking down the season, the formerly svelte, now again hefty Ku Fu Panda came out of the gates hot this year, hitting .316/.375/.537 before leaving a game on May 2nd with a hand injury suffered on what should have been a harmless swing against the Marlins. Sandoval ended up with a fractured hamate bone (a common ailment among knob-grabbers) and ended up having surgery to correct the problem. Surgery which actually takes the bone out of your body. Just like that. Cut right out. Open-open, snip-snip. Interestingly, this whole procedure isn’t new to Sandoval, either, as he had the same injury in the other hand less than one year prior – in fact, it’s not hard to envision him sitting on a gurney and saying “trust me, I’ve been here before” while directing his own surgical prep.

Post surgery, Sandoval was given a four-to-six week timetable, and he actually returned to the big league roster at the lower end of that, resurfacing just a hair past a month after the procedure. From his June return until the end of August, he hit an extremely pedestrian .265/.314/.403 with only three home runs; worse, his .299 BABIP proved that it wasn’t just fluke luck, Sandoval was playing like a decidedly average baseball player. This, of course, was unfortunate for fantasy owners who were hoping (and needing) him to be decidedly unaverage (in a good way). Of course, this post-injury power drought shouldn’t really have surprised astute observers since he had similar problems at the plate following his hamate removal last year – in his first 165 plate appearances after returning from the 2011 procedure he hit .289/.327/.461 before turning up the wick to an elite .335/.373/.634 over his final 210 plate appearances. This year, Sandoval started to shake off the rust in September, hitting four taters en route to a .286/.364/.448 slash (at least quasi-helpful to fantasy owners, especially those in head-to-head leagues) but his saga from the MLB playoffs (the real re-emergence of “elite Panda”) needs no retelling as Sandoval crushed his way to a .364/.386/.712 line while en route to a World Series MVP award.

Unfortunately, the latter likely didn’t help owners in 2012, except those who have various postseason leagues/pools – if he was one of your guys, congratulations are in order. No, 2012 will go down as the year people took Sandoval as an elite third basemen, the year he showed up to camp overweight (again), and the year he came out flying but had a power-sapping hand injury (again) – altogether, a lost season. However frustrating he was to own this year, there is good news. Sandoval began to perk up late in the season as he was further removed from his hamate surgery. He took that smoldering heat of September and exploded into a Giant inferno come (real baseball) playoff time. And even with these accomplishments, his 2011 aggregate stat line will almost certainly keep his value suppressed beyond even conservative projections in redraft leagues next spring – although it would be nice for him to shed a few pounds as his back and knees get another year older while manning a position that requires a bit more athleticism that the opposite corner. But of course, we can’t forget the best news of all: nature only gives you two hamate bones to cause bat-swinging trauma – and now Pablo has none.