Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Last Giants hurrah for Pablo Sandoval?

I have been sitting here anticipating tonight's contest between the San Francisco Giants and the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild card game in Pittsburgh. And during those random thoughts, Pablo Sandoval crossed my mind. And that led me to start wondering what the future holds for Sandoval and the Giants.
That future could be colored by what happens not only tonight but moving forward should the Giants go on to the NLDS. After all, Sandoval was the star of the 2012 post season as he had one of the most amazing power displays seen anywhere. Should the Giants go past the Pirates and deep into the post season with Sandoval a large part of the successful run, then sentiment could get in the way of reality. And the reality is a bit troubling.
As a person who has fought my own weight challenges, I am sensitive to calling out athletes for their physique. But it is a known fact that the Giants have long been concerned about Sandoval's tendency to put on weight and have made some conditions in the past. Look at these next two pictures, the first one from early in the season and the second from this past month and you'll see where I'm going here.
While the Giants might be alarmed at the trend showing in the pictures, perhaps I am not so much. But it isn't just the size of Sandoval that has me thinking hard about his future with the Giants--it is his performance.
When I look at Sandoval's offensive numbers for the last three seasons, I see a general decline. Looking at his wRC+, his numbers have gone down every year for three years now. They are respectively: 149, 118, 116, 111. As a result his offensive has gone from being worth 23.8 runs in 2011 to 3.4 runs this season. If you just look at the raw OPS numbers, respectively, they go: .909, .789, .758 and .739.
Those numbers show a definite decline over the past three seasons. But all offense in MLB has suffered these past three seasons. So we have to be careful to judge Sandoval's decline by the overall offensive decline in baseball. The wRC+ statistic already does a bit of that for us, but I wanted to look at it another way.
The total offensive production in baseball in 2014 was only 98.0% of what it was in 2013. And 2013 was only 98.6% of where it was in 2012. Those are definite declines. If we d othe same thing for Sandoval the past two seasons, we see that his offense in 2014 was only 97.5% of what it was in 2013 and 96.1% of what it was in 2012. So Sandoval's decline has been more marked than MLB's.
There is difficulty finding any offensive number for Pablo Sandoval that stands up to his career average. So what has caused the decline?
I cannot see the new defensive shifts having much affect on him. His BABIP over the last three years has been remarkably consistent: .301, .301, .300. His batted ball statistics haven't changed all that much with negligible changes in line drive, ground ball and fly ball percentages. His fly ball to homer ratio has gone down some from his earlier career, but have been somewhat consistent his last three seasons. So what is it then?
Sandoval can still do some damage against the fastball, but he is not as successful against sliders as he was in the past and he is even less successful than ever before in his career against the change-up. Sandoval used to score highly against change-ups, but that is no longer the case.
My current theory is that Sandoval's swing first and ask questions later approach is working against him. Sandoval has never been a patient hitter. For his career, Sandoval has swung at 45.7% of pitches out of the strike zone. That is one of the highest figures in baseball. But that figure jumped up to 48% this past season. So Sandoval is hacking indiscriminately at everything he sees. His overall swing percentage of 59.5% led all of baseball and was his highest since his rookie season.
Sandoval's contract ran through 2014.  I cannot find that there is an option involved. I don't think so. So either the Giants let him walk or they give him the $14 million offer to stay for a year. Sandoval supposedly had a good year fielding at third and because of that, came in with a value (depending on the two sites) of somewhere in the 3.2 WAR range. That makes the $14 million offer a fair one.
And that may be the way to go as signing Pablo Sandoval with his declining offensive production and expanding...umm...well, you know...would make a long-term deal a scary proposition. But then again, if Sandoval has another one of those crazy-awesome post seasons again, there might be too many warm fuzzies to see clearly.

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