After last night’s game – and the Sandoval 0-5 that came with it – I’ve heard many fans voice an opinion that’s becoming more and more prevalent: What do we do with Pablo Sandoval? In 88 games this year, Sandoval is batting an above-average slash-line of .280/.333/.429. If you go with OPS+, he’s about 17 percent better than league average; if you go with wRC+, he’s right around three percent better than the league average batter. Coming off a monster season in 2011 – a year in which he was approximately 40-50 percent better than the league average batter – Sandoval’s season has been a difficult pill to swallow. Expectations were high coming into the year and Sandoval’s main problems have been health related.
He broke his other hamate bone – previously he broke his right hamate bone in 2011 – in his left hand and missed 35 games. On July 24th, while playing first base, Sandoval strained his left hamstring while making a stretch scoop for a ball in the dirt. At first, the Giants had hoped that Sandoval would see minimal DL time with the injury, but that wasn’t the case. Sandoval ended up missing an additional 18 games.
For Sandoval, the results since returning from injury haven’t been good. Since returning from his hamate injury on June 9th, he’s batted a slash of .265/.317/.385 with just two home runs and 15 doubles in 64 games. The contact ability is still there, but the power to drive the ball has been diminished. Hamate injuries are notorious for sapping power. Despite Sandoval’s excellent recovery from a broken hamate in 2011, this year seems a little different. Further compacting matters is the hamstring injury. In 26 games since returning from the hamstring injury, Sandoval has hit just .232/.291/.274 with zero home runs, two doubles, and a triple. Such small samples are often too noisy to draw any type of conclusion from – that’s why we call them small samples – but to the casual observer it seems pretty obvious that Sandoval isn’t driving the ball. Of course, hurting your hand and leg in the same season, in a matter of weeks, will do that to you.
To visually depict Sandoval’s problems with ‘driving the ball’, I’ve graphed Sandoval’s average fly ball distance pre-hamate injury and post-hamate injury. Included in the ‘post-hamate’ injury is the hamstring injury, so keep that in mind.
Pre-hamate injury, Sandoval’s average fly ball distance was 303 feet. (The league average distance is 275 ft). Post-hamate injury, Sandoval’s average fly ball distance is 259 ft.
Here’s data table of Sandoval’s previous averages in the fly ball distance department.
|Year||Count||Avg. Distance (ft)|
I find one thing comforting about these numbers and one thing discomforting. The good news is that Sandoval’s average fly ball distance, even with all his problems, is pretty close to what we’ve seen in previous years and you could argue that he was hitting over his head at the start of the year when his average fly ball distance exceeded 300 ft. The bad news is that his drop off since coming back, in terms of the ability to hit fly balls far, is noticeable. For comparison sake, the following players averaged between 255-260 ft per fly ball this season: Ichiro (255), Alcides Escobar (255), Shane Victorino (257), and Justin Smoak (259). You’ll find not one ‘slugger’ in that grouping.
To circle back to the “What do we do with Sandoval” question that came up at the beginning of this post, the answer is pretty clear – nothing. You do nothing. You do nothing simply because there is no better alternative to Pablo Sandoval on the roster. Joaquin Arias’ season has been a pleasant surprise, but even a struggling, banged-up Sandoval is the better player. I’m not opposed to moving Sandoval down in the order some – moving Posey to the three-spot seems like the way to go, shifting Belt up a spot – but for better or worse, Sandoval needs to play. The Giants, by most accounts, have a pretty fantastic training staff. If the team can get Sandoval healthy enough over the remainder of the year, it could impact the race for the NL West in huge ways. However, everything that I’ve read about hamate injuries indicates that the healing process is something that takes time. So, despite the Giants best efforts, Sandoval’s ability to drive the ball might not return until next season, even so, he’s the best option – really, the only option – for now.