What to Expect: Pablo Sandoval
It’s hard to know what to expect from a team like the Giants in the coming season. This is part one of a four part series detailing some of the biggest question marks on the roster. The goal is to shed some much-needed light on some question marks going into the season, as well as providing some insight into the mystery surrounding key players. Part one is covering Pablo Sandoval.
Before he burst onto the scene in the last two years, Sandoval wasn’t on any top-100 prospect lists. From John Sickels to Baseball America, he was largely ignored as a minor leaguer. To be fair, he hadn’t done much up until ‘08 to deserve recognition; he was an undrafted free agent signee who had problems taking walks and hadn’t demonstrating any above average skills at any level. Then came 2008, and the floodgates opened. Suddenly he was hitting for power and average and taking walks, all while playing catcher. He received a September call-up where he promptly hit .345 in 145 AB’s, giving Giants fans everywhere some tempered optimism for 2009.
Going into 2009, there were still some doubts about the Kung Fu Panda’s ability. His defense at third base while iffy at best, he didn’t demonstrate anything that resembled plate discipline in his cup of coffee in the bigs in 2008, and there were doubts about his ability to adjust to Major League pitching over the course of a long season. After 2009, these doubts were officially put to rest. Sandoval took huge steps forward, quickly becoming the most valuable player on the team not named Lincecum, all at the age of 22.
2010 still brings some doubts though. Many pundits doubt his ability to hit the long ball and think his 25 homers from 2009 are his ceiling. To this I say nay. His total from last season was a direct result of hitting just three home runs in April and May combined, which I’m willing to bet was a product of him adjusting to the league. For the final four months of the season, he averaged 5.5 homers a month. Multiply that over the course of a full six months and that’s 33 dingers. Of course this could be a complete anomaly, but the point I’m making is that Sandoval has yet to reach his full power potential. Line him up against other prominent power-hitters in the NL and the similarities become more evident. The following graph is a measure of ISO (Isolated-Power) of Sandoval measured up against Chase Utley and Ryan Braun, two guys who hit 30+ homers in 2009:
Bay City Ball provides a handy definition of ISO to give you a better understanding of what’s being compared:
ISO is a measure for how much “true” power a player hit for. Because batting average treats every hit as a single, ISO removes BA from SLG to give you an idea of how much power a player hit for. The formula for ISO is (SLG-AVG). League average ISO tends to be around .150. For example: Barry Bonds’ a career ISO is .309.
In 2009, these three players’ “true” power was almost identical. It’s easy to assume that I poured through players until I found two that matched. But what I actually did was arbitrarily choose just two players who hit over 30 long balls in 2009, and see how they measured up. No other names were plugged in and no other comparisons were made. The whole goal of this exercise is to show that Sandoval is on par with guys who are universally recognized to be sure bets for big-time power numbers on a yearly basis.
Both Utley and Braun are guys who consistently hit 30-35 home runs, while Sandoval has “reached his ceiling” at 25: something about this just doesn’t compute. Based on pure power, it’s clear that the Kung Fu Panda has yet to even graze his potential. Call it cherry picking, but the raw numbers demonstrate that the doubts about him are premature. The one conclusion that can be drawn from this is that there’s still room for improvement in the world of Pablo Sandoval. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not too much of a stretch to expect a season much like last year’s with 5-8 more long balls and a better slugging percentage to boot. Think a chubbier Matt Williams who can switch hit.
Photo used with express permission of Joseph Pun and AZGiants.com. Graph is courtesy of Fangraphs.