In his first full season, Pablo Sandoval was a glimmer of offensive hope in an otherwise dismal San Francisco Giants lineup. Sandoval finished out the ‘09 campaign batting .330/.387/.556 in 572 at bats, ensuring that he will be in high demand on draft boards this upcoming season. But when I look at a guy like Pablo Sandoval I don’t see a high batting average, or even a great slugging percentage, I see a lack of plate discipline, a ton of it.
At first glance, everything looks great. Sandoval ended 2009 with a .387 OBP, a number 57 points higher than his batting average. However, 13 of those 52 walks were intentional. This was a product of his great season, no doubt, but it is worth pointing out that the intentional passes did help to inflate his on-base percentage.
As we probe deeper into the numbers, we uncover more stats that may be cause for concern. Last season, Sandoval swung at the first pitch he saw 47% of the time, the highest percentage in all of baseball. This stat alone may not be so alarming. However, when we consider that Sandoval swung at balls that were outside of the strike zone 41.5% of the time last year as well, we notice a dangerous combination. Sandoval’s motto seems to be “swing early and swing often,” and so the question becomes, can his kind of success really be sustained with such a philosophy? It certainly worked for him in ‘09, but is there a reason why?
One might be tempted to look at Sandoval’s BABIP (batting average on balls in play) last season. A player’s BABIP is a number that represents how often a ball that was put in play went for a base hit, Sandoval’s BABIP was .350. Consider also that the balls Sandoval put in play were grounders 45% of the time. What might this mean? Well, a guy who puts the ball on the ground that much with a BABIP that high may not have the best forecast for his future, particularly since it does not appear he will be legging out many infield hits. One would expect at least a few more of those grounders will go for outs next season. Despite the preponderance of ground balls, however, Sandoval did manage to hit his fair share of line drives as well, as he roped the ball 18.6% of the time last year.
What does all this mean for fantasy players regarding Sandoval? Proceed with caution. In his young career, Sandoval has shown flashes of greatness, however, they have been tempered with signs of trouble. His 2009 BABIP was very high, but the jury is still out on whether or not he can sustain that number, or something close to it. The amount of ground balls he hits seems to suggest that this will be a difficult task. One thing that is not in question, however, is his lack of discipline. The number of pitches he swings at outside of the strikezone are definitely a concern, and when you combine that with his propensity to swing at the first pitch of an at bat, you get something that is not exactly ideal. Make no mistake pitchers will adjust to Sandoval’s aggressiveness, whether he will adjust back or not will be key for his survival in the big leagues.
Christopher Olson is a huge baseball fan who roots for both the Yankees and the Nationals in a futile attempt to make himself look like less of a front runner than he actually is. You can catch up with Christopher in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of letter181.
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