Pablo Sandoval In 2011: Sink Or Swim?
By Tommy Rancel //
Despite having just over two seasons under his rather large belt, Pablo Sandoval has seen the ups and downs of the major leagues. The Kung-Fu Panda made his debut for San Francisco in 2008, hitting .345/.357/.490 in an abbreviated 41-game rookie season. In his first full season at the big league level, he hit .330/.387/.559 with 25 home runs, 44 doubles, and somehow legged out five triples. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a top-10 finish in the 2009 National League MVP vote – placing seventh. Sandoval entered the 2010 season as a 23-year-old with a career batting average of .333 in over 700 at-bats. Then the season started…
Not only was Sandoval unable to replicate his 2009 success, but he did not even come close. In 152 games, he posted a slash line of .268/.323/.409. His home run total was pretty much cut in half (13), and he drove in just 63 runners compared to the 90 from the previous year. By season’s end, he was replaced by Juan Uribe in the lineup and totaled just 19 plate appearances in the playoffs as the Giants’ marched to a World Series title Such a steep drop-off for a player with Sandoval’s experience immediately brings up the word fluke. However, when looking past his fantasy stats, there are not many signs of fluke.
In terms of plate discipline, he was still a free swinger last season, but did not rack up a ton of strikeouts. He walk rate declined a bit, however, nothing substantial. Overall, he displayed the same patience as he did in 2009. In terms of batted ball data, he hit about the same number of line drives as well as ground and flyballs.
The areas where he experienced steep regression were batting average on balls in play and home run-to-flyball ratio. He was unlikely to be a career .330 hitter anyway so some correction was expected. In terms of the HR/FB issue, he might have regressed a bit too much leaving the potential for positive regression in the future.
With similar peripherals yet differerent results over the past two seasons, what can we expect in 2011? Another near-MVP caliber season or another mostly disappointing and average campaign?
According to Bloomberg Sports’ projections, Sandoval should fall right in between. Our projections peg the Panda with a .293 average and an OPS of .825. In terms of power, the system projects him to once again top the 20 home run plateau with a steady dose of doubles mixed in.
After the season, Sandoval was told to lose weight by Giants’ management or face a demotion to the minors. We don’t know if he is the best shape of his life, but reports say he is in much better condition than he was a few months ago. In addition to working with trainers, he has also picked the mind of Giants’ great Barry Bonds about improving his swing and plate approach.
With the fresh stench of his 2010 lingering on some draft boards, Sandoval may linger around a bit longer than his true value. That said, he becomes a prime target in the mid-rounds as a bounce back sleeper with multi-position flexibility.