Ladies and gentlemen, I am stumped. I have followed his whole career extremely closely and am still pretty stumped. What can we expect from Pablo Sandoval, the reigning World Series MVP?
There may not be a more Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde player in all of baseball than the man called the Kung-Fu Panda.
From a fantasy perspective, the question with the Panda is this: Can Sandoval get back to what he did in 2009, far and away his best year as pro. He set still-standing career highs in every fantasy category that year, including steals, though I won’t spend time analyzing them. If you draft Panda for his stealing prowess, please contact me immediately so I can get you an invitation to our cash league.
Can he reach his 2009 totals again? Well, not if he can’t clear what’s been a major roadblock over the last two seasons.
I don’t want to be repetitive so I’ll say it right now. A key is his health. Sandoval has missed 99 games over the past two seasons, which looks like a problem. But I’d categorize it more as a freak thing. Two trips to the DL were caused by a broken hamate bone, one in each wrist. The fact that it happened in each wrist is weird and something that only switch hitters risk. But that injury will nor reoccur.
Another injury was caused by stretching out to catch a ball at first base. That’s odd because that’s an act entirely unique to first basemen, which Sandoval is not most of the time. Actually, with the Giants seemingly committed to Brandon Belt (with Buster Posey filling in on days where he takes a break from catching), it’s not terribly likely that Sandoval will see fewer games at first than ever before, even down from three games in 2012.
So, while three trips to the DL in two years does look bad. Still, I need to see another year of more normal injuries before I label him injury prone.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a category-by-category look and see what to expect.
Runs (2009 Total — 79)
Sandoval should fly past 79 runs scored this season. The Giants are the defending World Series champions and while they weren’t exactly a team driven by offense, the 2012 team’s bats blew what the 2009 team had out of the water. Barring injury, the 2013 lineup will look eerily similar to the 2012 team.
Posey, the reigning NL MVP should hit immediately behind Sandoval again and while Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt are far from perfect, they are a lot better than Aaron Rowand, Fred Lewis, and Bengie Molina, who were primarily responsible for driving Sandoval home in 2009.
So, if Sandoval is on the field long enough, there’s no reason to think that he won’t blow by 79 runs. He’s certainly not a fast runner, so he may end up stranded at third a few more times than he’d like, but a projection of somewhere around 90-95 runs is not excessive at all.
Homers (2009 Total — 25)
If he beats 25 homers, it won’t be by a heck of a lot. In 2012, he averaged one home run for every 33 at bats. His career mark is just better than one homer for every 28 at bats. So, if he gets 620 at bats (not likely where he bats in the order, even for a free swinger) and goes at that rate, he’ll still fall short of 25 dingers.
You can maybe make a case that freak injuries in 2011 and 2012, along with an abnormally bad season in 2010 contributed to such a low ratio, but look at it this way. If he has the same AB/HR ratio in 2013 that he had in 2009 and gets 620 at bats (again, unlikely), he’s only at 27 homers. I will grant that in 2011, he hit homers at a rate that would be over 30 in a full year, but that year is more of an anomaly. Even at that, he wouldn’t be much over 30.
So, I’ll say again, if he beats 25 homers, it won’t be by a heck of a lot. It’s not for a lack of power, either.
Obviously, a switch hitter is going to take most of his at bats from the left side. I’ve pointed out before that AT&T Park is the best pitcher’s park in the league, and right field is a big reason why. Down the line, it’s only 309 feet, but it’s nearly impossible to hit a home run down the line in the air. Line drives are possible, but the 21-foot wall will block those balls.
The wind pushes everything to right-center field, and that wind never stops. So, even balls that are crushed often fall well short of the 421-foot marker in right-center. Barry Bonds is the only lefty to consistently produce big power numbers from the left side at that park. He was maybe the most skilled hitter of all time, who was, well, aided throughout his career at AT&T Park.
Sandoval has good all-field power and does bat sometimes as a righty. But while I’ve been impressed with him as an overall hitter and specific power displays, I’ve never once looked at the Panda as a guy who can push 35 homers. I’d max him out at 30 and in reality, wouldn’t look for anything more than about 25.
RBI (2009 Total — 90)
This one’s more or less a push, with a slight nod towards taking the under.
It’s partially another category where you just have to compare the players around him. In 2009, guys like Lewis and Rowand were shuffled around a lot, so they factor in here as well, as do players like Randy Winn and Edgar Renteria. I won’t tell you that Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan can’t regress a little bit, but the guys in front of Sandoval in 2013 are much better than they were in 2009.
On the other hand, I’m not looking for a huge home run upgrade, if he upgrades at all, and those are obviously often go hand-in-hand with RBI. The bottom line is that 90 is a big RBI total. I won’t tell you that he can’t eclipse it, but in my wildest dreams, I wouldn’t imagine anything more than about 105.
In reality, I am expecting a drop, even if it’s only slight. Sandoval’s two best power years were 2009 and 2011. The one thing that those years have in common is that if he wasn’t driving in the runs, they probably weren’t going to be driven in. The 2009 team had a winning record, but really struggled on offense, as that was before Buster Posey was called up (excluding September roster expansion). The 2011 team was similar, as Posey was hurt before Memorial Day and the rest of the team battled age, injuries, and overall inconsistent hitting. So, despite a winning record, the team was outscored.
I think he was swinging for the fences a lot there, which produced great power numbers. That’s not a huge concern this year with better overall talent around him. While Sandoval will always be a free swinger, I’d look for him to try to find more gaps than fences. In the end, I see slightly fewer than 90 RBI from the Panda.
Batting Average (2009 Total — .330)
This is a really fun category to look at, because you don’t really know what kind of hitter he is. In four full seasons, he’s hit .330, .268, .315, and .283. It’s just too hard to find a trend there.
One thing I will say is that I don’t think he’ll be at either extreme. It seems like .330 is an excessive projection, but he appears to be much better than .268.
Sandoval swings at a lot of pitches and unlike a lot of people who fall in the same category, he doesn’t strike out a lot at all. Sandoval has never approached 100 strikeouts in a season and even with his injuries, the rate he was at in those years would still have him well short of 90 Ks.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t walk much, either. So, he can hit anything but remember, the odds are against the hitter in baseball. When you swing at everything, you’re going to rack up more outs than hits, and your batting average will suffer.
Ultimately, I see Sandoval as somewhere between a .290 and .300 hitter. He can be better or worse, but put your expectations in that range.
In the End
Just to recap, the question was this: Can Sandoval get back to what he did in 2009?
I just don’t see it, although *spoiler alert* I am looking for similar numbers, as you’ll see in a moment and again in the Giants’ team preview in a few weeks.
Again, the injuries aren’t a huge worry for me yet, nor is his weight. So, I am looking for more than 79 runs, but I don’t see .330, even in a best case scenario. While I think he’ll be close in the power numbers to 2009, I expect a slight drop in both categories. Let’s have a look.
Dixon’s Projection Range for Pablo Sandoval