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June 19, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Grabbing Pablo Sandoval

by Marc Normandin

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Today I want to go into detail discussing a player who has recently become one of my favorites to watch. Pablo Sandoval was a hot topic of conversation yesterday during my chat, and there were many questions about him still left in the queue that went unanswered; I also had a few e-mails sent my way afterwards, so it's clear that this is someone that people want to talk about (many among you are in keeper leagues). The questions were mostly centered on his future performance, and whether he would be able to improve on this season, or if he was going to fall apart due to his lack of plate discipline. We'll take a look at both of those things and see what we can conclude from his numbers.

Sandoval's bat exploded in the minors in 2008, as he hit .359/.412/.597 at High-A before earning a promotion to Double-A, where the hits just kept on coming (.337/.364/.549). He walked in 7.8 percent of 301 his plate appearances in the lower minors, which was more than double what he had managed the year before; following his promotion, however, he dropped back down to just 4.4 percent, and relied entirely on his bat for value. Still, he didn't strike out much to begin with, and actually did so less often once he hit Double-A (10.9 percent against 13.0). This trend continued as he was promoted to the majors and plopped into the Giants' lineup: Sandoval hit a surprising .345/.357/.490, with a walk in just 2.2 percent of his plate appearances, with punchouts in 9.1 percent.

Two major concerns were attached to Sandoval, however, since he wasn't going to catch, and was instead going to play at a corner for the Giants. While his batting average was impressive, he had not shown an inkling of patience-in addition to the low rate of free passes, he saw just 3.1 pitches per PA, which is Randall Simon territory. His power, though visible in the minors with Isolated Power figures of .238 and .211 in 2008, fit in more with that of a middle infielder while in the majors, as he finished at the .145 mark. PECOTA was not concerned for the 22-year-old switch-hitter, projecting a weighted mean of .289/.329/.455, and a 90th percentile projection of .323/.362/.531. Both of those lines show some of his plate discipline from the minors carrying over to improve his major league line (5.3 and 5.6 percent walk percentage, respectively), as well as boost his power output (ISO marks of .166 and .208).

Sandoval is just 60 games into the year, but his line is very similar to PECOTA's most optimistic forecast. He is currently hitting .330/.373/.536, with walks in 5.5 percent of his plate appearances and a .205 ISO. He's become more patient, which is the kind of thing that turns someone with Sandoval's contact skills into a dangerous hitter. While in 2008 he swung at more than half of the pitches he saw that went outside of the strike zone (53.8 percent), this season he has cut it down to 46.2 percent. While that's second in the league among qualifying players, behind only teammate Bengie Molina, it's still a significant improvement. The result is 3.5 pitches per plate appearance, which isn't great, but it's no longer at the very bottom of the league either; that honor once again goes to Molina.

Sandoval makes a lot of contact with those pitches out of the zone as well, which is why he has been so successful with this approach. He ranks 18th among qualifiers in the majors with contact on 77.7 percent of pitches swung at out of the zone. This puts his overall contact at 83 percent, 74th in the majors. He's striking out a little more this year, which is probably just a side effect of letting a few at-bats run longer. Pitchers have also begun challenging him later in at-bats now: he saw first pitch strikes in over 70 percent of his plate appearances last year, and is down to a more league-average 58.9 percent this season. This may be partially due to his hitting .345 with a .621 slugging percentage on first pitches last year. That success has carried over, as he's hitting .350 with a .600 slugging percentage on first pitches in 2009. Starting him out with a ball on the first pitch hasn't helped either, as he's hit .398/.459/.682 following a 1-0 count. The only times that it seems like Sandoval struggles at all is when he is behind in the count with two strikes, but good luck making him sit still long enough to get there.

A little plate patience goes a long way with Sandoval, and his aggressive approach looks to be at the center of his success. Will he turn into more of a power hitter, though? There's nothing wrong with a .200 ISO, especially not from a 22-year-old who plays his home games in a park that leans toward pitchers. The power Sandoval does have comes from his ability to pull the ball-as a righty, he has hit .571/.571/1.214 on pulled balls in play, and as a lefty, he's hit .441/.441/.941. He hits the balls to all fields though, as you can see in this chart courtesy of ESPN's Inside Edge:

graph

He likes to go the other way and up the middle from the left side, and also often goes the other way to the outfield from the right side. He doesn't have a lot of opposite-field power, which is probably why he doesn't rack up a higher overall ISO, but he does hit for high averages in those spots (.368 from the left and .375 from the right). You basically have a hitter who sprays the ball to all fields, can go deep with regularity when he pulls it (six of his eight home runs have been pulled, with the other two going up the middle), but is just as capable when he goes with the ball and drives it the other way for a base hit. You could potentially get him to hit for more power if he sat on a few more outside pitches and waited for one he could pull, but there's also the chance that this will screw with his batting average and leave him as less valuable than he was already.

Given Sandoval's natural skills with contact and the few adjustments he has made for this year, I can see him continuing to put up some high-average years with just enough plate patience and more than enough power to go along with his numbers. Fantasy-wise, that makes him a great option, as he won't have an empty batting average and should be hitting somewhere in the middle of the Giants' lineup. You may not be able to use him as a catcher in your league next year, which is a shame given how his line looks, but worry not, as these are more than adequate numbers at third base.

Related Content:  Pablo Sandoval Aggressive

15 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

R.A.Wagman

You might want to check the title of this article

Jun 19, 2009 09:50 AM
rating: 4
 
Ameer

When I saw the title, I thought the article was going to attempt to make cases for stashing Pedro Martinez and trading for Pablo Sandoval...

Jun 19, 2009 10:36 AM
rating: -2
 
jetson
(660)

Yeah, at first I thought it was about Pablo Martinez.

Jun 19, 2009 09:53 AM
rating: -1
 
jetson
(660)

Who I now have learned was an actual player other than the pitching great.

Jun 19, 2009 09:54 AM
rating: 1
 
Patrickj
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Ok, looks like a player i should go pick up!

Oops, he's already rostered in every single fantasy league I play in. Thanks for the sharp fantasy advice, Marc!

Jun 19, 2009 10:02 AM
rating: -19
 
jnossal

Read the first paragraph. Marc isn't constructing an argument for putting Sandoval on your fantasy roster, he's examining the likelihood that Sandoval will be a future contributor worthy of acquiring and holding in a keeper league.

Jun 19, 2009 10:21 AM
rating: 3
 
draysbay

Perhaps the snark should be shot towards Marc's editors who A)messed up Pablo's name, and B) threw up a misleading headline.

If you actually read the article, you would know Marc never implied he would be available.

Plus, your snark is awful. Please let the people with wit do the snarking in the future.

Jun 19, 2009 11:16 AM
rating: 3
 
Marc Normandin

Two things Patrickj. First, this wasn't about rushing out to grab Pablo Sandoval off of free agency or waivers. The words never came up in the entire piece. As jnossal mentioned, the first paragraph made this pretty clear, as does the last paragraph where I discuss how he'll still be good even exclusively as a third baseman--which doesn't happen until next year.

Second, and this was also in that elusive opening paragraph, but a lot of people asked me about Sandoval yesterday, both in the chat and outside of it, so I decided to write a piece answering their recurring questions. I'm sorry that you were not pondering Sandoval's potentially bright future as well.

Jun 19, 2009 11:18 AM
rating: 0
 
Ben Solow

I think his problem probably has to do with the headline of the article -- "Grabbing Pablo Sandoval" is a little misleading. The article was solid, though.

Jun 19, 2009 16:20 PM
rating: 1
 
LindInMoskva

For those of us in Strat leagues, is there any hope that he will better than a '4' at thirdbase?

Jun 19, 2009 10:28 AM
rating: 0
 
joeboxr36

It'd be awesome to see Pablo's Zone Rating this year. He has been excellent at 3b, and average at best at 1b.

Jun 19, 2009 12:05 PM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

I'm not sure about his Zone Rating, but I do have a few numbers I can throw at you. His Ultimate Zone Rating has him as exactly league average, worth 0.0 runs. He was a bit above last year, so he's done pretty well for himself. He's been worth about 3 wins over replacement in just under 400 plate appearances, which is pretty swell for anyone, not just a 22-year old.

Jun 19, 2009 13:27 PM
rating: 0
 
joeboxr36

Thanks for the reply Marc--good stuff!

Jun 19, 2009 22:37 PM
rating: 0
 
harderj

And for those of us in Strat leagues, the fact that he has played at least a couple of games at catcher (his favorite position, according to the man himself when I asked him) will make him catcher eligible there as well as at first and third (though as a Giants fan from afar I have no idea how he did in those games catching). He is actually a 1b-3 in the 2008 card set, and I am greatly looking forward to maximizing his limited but clutch positive card on my team.

Jun 19, 2009 16:22 PM
rating: 0
 
medmal

Where does Sandoval's value sit relative to someone like Matt Wieters over the next three years? I realize it becomes an apples-to-oranges comparison if/when Sandoval loses catcher eligibility...

Jun 21, 2009 16:20 PM
rating: 0
 
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