It would probably be unfair to say that Pablo Sandoval was responsible for the miserable season the San Francisco Giants are having, but it’s certainly true that he hasn’t really helped too much. Early season projections posited a productive year for the Panda — with Steamer suggesting a .298/.358/.502 slash line with 20 home runs and 80 RBI. His body of work to date has his numbers looking so bad that one wonders if he will crack the top 15 options at third base this off season.
He’s dealt with ankle, elbow, forearm, foot, and back issues throughout the season, and he’s visibly put on significant weight over the course of the season. These issues are ostensibly at least partially responsible for a forgettable season that has him currently hitting .271/.329/.392 with just 10 home runs. But what has been really missing over the last month is any hint of power. During the month of August, he hit .255 but slugged just .347, with one home run and just four doubles.
Notoriously a free swinger, my intuition led me to look at his swing rates to see if he was simply waving at more pitches outside the strike zone. What I found was quite the opposite. Take a peek at the layover of the two periods from 2013 — one from the beginning of the season to the end of June, and the other from July to present:
So he’s actually swinging at far fewer pitches outside the strike zone. While this might not be smoking gun evidence that it will continue, it certainly does make one wonder why he’s been unable to find gaps or leave the yard. Balls in play data doesn’t suggest he’s getting particularly unlucky either. His BABIP from July 1 is .308 where his career mark is .315. His BABIP prior to that was actually .287 when he was hitting for much greater power.
If you carve out the type of pitches that he’s really struggling with, it’s the breaking stuff that’s giving him fits. Here’s how he fared in 2012:
Here’s how Sandoval managed in the same categories in 2013 up to the end of June:
|2013 to 6/30||BAA||SLG||ISO|
And then here’s July 1 to present:
|2013 7/1 -||BAA||SLG||ISO|
It seems fairly likely opposing pitchers have picked up on this.
Looking at his batted ball distance on home runs and fly balls, Sandoval averaged just over 291 feet from 2011 through the 2012 season. And through June in 2013, it looked much the same at 293 feet. But from July 1 to present, his average distance has dropped more than 20 feet to 272. Something is clearly wrong, and some decent speculation would put it to injury. His latest ailment is his back, which one would think is a necessary piece to swinging a bat. So maybe he’s just playing through pain despite himself.
The big issue for Sandoval is that 2014 is his walk year. It seems extremely likely that he comes into camp in better shape in an effort to either convince the Giants to extend him or convince another team to give him a, excuse the pun, fat contract in the off season. But it’s kind of difficult to pin down whether his waistline is necessarily related to a more resilient body relative to all these bumps and bruises. What’s more, without definitive proof that this second half swoon is related to his health and not just a terrible approach, it’s hard to gauge his value for your fantasy team. There will no doubt be plenty of Twitter followers waiting for shots of him in the gym come December.
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