Pablo Sandoval has missed significant time in each of the last two seasons, and in the year before that he was underwhelming to say the least. His 2009 campaign, his first year as a full-time starter, was easily his best as Sandoval put up top-50 numbers, and now all fantasy owners really want is a modicum of stability.
I’ve always thought of Sandoval as a switch-hitting version of Vladimir Guerrero. In his prime Guerrero had more speed and more power than Sandoval does, but they have very similar approaches at the plate. Since 2009, Sandoval has swung at 42.2% of pitches outside the strike zone. Data that’s available for Guerrero says he offered at 43.7% of pitches outside the zone. The league average nowadays is between 28-29%. Over that same span, Sandoval has made contact with 77.9% of these swings versus Guerrero’s rate of 72.4%. The league average is between 63-64%. In fact, since 2009 only A.J. Pierzynski and Sandoval have swung at 40%+ of the pitches they see outside the strike zone and made contact with at least 70% of them.
The point here is this: Sandoval swings at a lot of pitches and puts a lot of balls in play, and as a result he doesn’t always make the best contact. In his four full seasons he’s never had a line drive rate at league average or higher, and his infield fly rate has been worse than the league average in the last three years (last year peaking at an abysmal 15.1%). He’s a raw player, and that raw hitting approach is reflected in his extremely volatile stat line.
When healthy and playing every day, Sandoval has a great chance at putting up a very useful fantasy line, but his unrefined approach will be very frustrating to the average fantasy player, particularly those in H2H leagues.
At a Glance
Strengths: BA, RBI, SLG, OPS
Neutral: R, HR, OBP
Weaknesses: SB, PA
Best-case scenario: Aramis Ramirez (MIL)
Likely scenario: David Freese (STL), Kendrys Morales (SEA), Matt Wieters (BAL)
Worst-case scenario: Delmon Young (PHI)
Pablo Sandoval 2013 Fantasy Projection
Projecting playing time for injured players is never easy, so we went semi-conservative with Sandoval by projecting 134 games and 542 plate appearances. Because he’s able to keep his strikeout rate down, around 13%, he has a good chance to hit for a nice average, but Sandoval has certainly shown the tendency to make poor contact and generate a lot of easy outs. His line drive rate has been on the rise, last year finishing at 20.1%, but again, his approach gives me pause before projecting another year of improvement. Overall, I’d say Sandoval should have a BABIP around .300, and that should yield an average in the .290s. Of course, we’ve seen him do much better (.330) and much worse (.268) in the span of four years.
Last year’s down home run numbers on a per-game basis can primarily be attributed to his infield fly rate. While Sandoval hit fly balls at about the same rate as always (36.6%), his infield fly rate was almost four percentage points higher than usual. I’d expect that 15.1% infield fly rate to fall a little, and I’d also expect his overall fly ball rate to go up a tad. Combined, Sandoval should find himself back at 20+ homers, though health is again the limiting factor there.
Batting third in front of Buster Posey and his .315+ average should provide plenty of protection for Sandoval, and I’m of the opinion that Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro make up one of the game’s most perfect 1-2 pairings atop the lineup. Pagan isn’t the best OBP guy, but he gets on base about 34-35% of the time with plenty of speed, and Scuataro is one of the hardest batters to strike out, which makes him the perfect two-hole option. Sandoval should find himself with plenty of RBI opportunities thanks to their combined efforts.
Like I said in the intro, though, Sandoval’s sporadic play will make him frustrating in H2H leagues, and I’d much rather target him in roto formats.