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In 2009, Pablo Sandoval emerged as an offensive force for the Giants. For a team that sorely lacked any kind of hitter that you could qualify as ‘good’ or ‘non-terrible’ Sandoval’s wOBA in ’09 of .396 was one of the best things about the year. He hit for power, walked at a league average rate (for a guy that swings from head-to-toe, it was encouraging) and all at the young age of 22-years-old. Sandoval’s future seemed bright. Unfortunately for the Giants, 2010 has not been so kind to the one called Panda. At the All-Star break, Sandoval’s current slash-line stands at: .263/.322/.382 and by any advanced offensive metric (wOBA: .304, OPS+: 85, Batting Runs: -6.3 runs) his reversal of good fortunes has been shocking.
Today’s graph highlights 6 key statistics of what should be important to Sandoval’s success as a hitter. Our components are: BB% (walk rate), K% (strikeout rate), O-Swing% (found on FanGraphs.com, swings taken outside of the standard strike zone), O-Contact% (also at FanGraphs, contact made outside of the zone), ISO (Isolated Power), and BABIP (batting average on balls in ball). You’ll also notice empty outlined black boxes, those are the league averages for each season.
The weird thing about Sandoval’s 2 seasons is that outside of 2 statistics (ISO, BABIP) a lot of his numbers are very similar. He’s walking at nearly the same rate, striking out at nearly the same rate, and he still swings outside of the zone a lot — as well as making contact outside of the zone a lot. Sandoval’s ability to hit for power as determined by ISO has plummeted from a robust .226 in ’09 to a below average .119 in ’10. Even if you’re more of a traditional fan, I think you’ll agree that Sandoval hasn’t squared many balls up this year. The other key Sandoval category is BABIP. Because of Sandoval’s style — high contact — his BABIP is going to determine how useful he is. Coming into this year (and during his time in the minors) he has consistently put up above average BABIPs.*
* I’ll take a second here to state that hitters do have more influence over their BABIP than their pitching counterparts. I’ve set the league averages at .300 for our graph, even though some hitters can routinely put up .300+ BABIPs and some far below.
I’ve always feared that Sandoval could have a bad BABIP year and look worse than he actually is. Having a bad BABIP year while losing all of his power has really sapped Sandoval’s offensive game this season. It’s possible that Sandoval could be suffering from some bad luck, but his loss of power most concerns me. If Sandoval’s BABIP dips closer to the average .300 and he’s still hitting for above-average power, he’s a useful if not a very good player. Whether or not Sandoval needs to make an adjustment to the league or it’s a vision related problem or something else, the Giants drastically need him to bounce back in the second half. If he doesn’t, it’s going to be a hard climb to make.