What’s Killing Pablo?

July 7, 2010

Is it lefty pitching or his not being able to find a Fatburger on the road? You be the judge. After posting a monster 2009, Pablo Sandoval has been a huge disappointment to both the San Francisco Giants and fantasy owners alike in 2010. Keeping him for the cost of 12th round pick, I thought I was getting a steal, only to find that Panda’s kung-fu has looked awfully weak so far. So what on earth is happening that can make even the Giants faithful turn on S.F.’s favorite cartoon-character?

Base-running blunders aside, simply put, since a productive April, Panda has been awful at the plate.

I suppose we have to begin any discussion of Sandoval’s hitting woes with a look at his BABIP, since his biggest asset is his ability to make contact. In ’09, his first full season in the bigs,  Sandoval’s gaudy .350 average on balls in play lead to a .330 batting average, good for second in the league behind Hanley Ramirez. As of today, he’s currently mired with a .266 batting average, due to a BABIP that has fallen to .287. Meanwhile, Sandoval has actually seen an uptick in his contact rate (from 82.6% to 83.2% from ’09 to ’10) and a decrease in swinging strikes (currently 8.9% compared to 9.8% in ’09).

Panda is hitting the ball, he’s just not hitting it well.

Digging a little deeper, we find that Sandoval’s LD% has fallen from 18.6% in ’09 to his current 15.9%. Along with the decrease in liners, we’ve seen an increase in grounders, up to 46.2% now versus 44.9% last season, to go along with a marked increase in infield pop-ups: 10.5% now against only 7.9% in the previous campaign. His fly-ball rate has increased from 36.5% to 37.9%, but that hasn’t helped him get the ball out of the yard, as his HR/FB rate is down dramatically from 14% in ’09 to a paltry 5.7% today. Indicative of that loss of power, his ISO has gone done nearly .100 points, from .226 to a surprisingly anemic .127. For some perspective, that nestles him right between Howie Kendrick and Cliff Pennington in league-wide isolated power ranking. While I didn’t believe Sandoval would reach 25 jacks, like he did last year, I figured he’d blast about 20. Going into play today, Sandoval’s only hit 6 HR and none since June 15th.

The Panda has seen some pretty extreme splits so far this season and a lot has been made of Sandoval’s struggles against left-handed pitching. Batting from the right side, the switch hitter has gone 17-91 with 6 BB, 15 K and no HR, equaling a putrid .205/.253/.277 line. Those numbers are in stark contrast to the .379/.428/.600 marks he set last year, when he ate lefties like bamboo shoots. Against righties, he’s been more effective, going .288/.346/.433. He’s even brought down his K rate against righties by over 4%, from 15.9% in ’09 to his current 11.6% mark. Across the board those BB and K rates haven’t changed very much, in fact he’s actually cut down his K’s (8.2%BB/14.5%K last year compared to 7.8%/13.3% now), surprising when you consider his lack of production. Another interesting split are his home and road numbers. In the city by the bay, the Panda’s hitting .316/.374/.865. On the road however, Sandoval’s been a no-show, going .217/.271/.298.

So what’s my prognosis on the Panda? Well ZiPS says he’ll put together a 9 HR/41 R/48 RBI/.306/.356 line from here on out. I’d be as happy as Pablo at an all-you-can-eat buffet to see that and due to his past success against left-handed pitching, I believe he can exceed those marks. I would wager that those road numbers have to pick up well as the season wears on. He’s still young (he turns 24 next month) and I believe the best is still ahead for the talented hitter. If the Giants add a bat, which they have been discussing, that might give him a little bump as well.

I recently offered up Panda and a choice of Jaime Garcia, Kris Medlen or Jason Hammel to an opponent in my keeper league in exchange for either Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez or Jered Weaver (good move or bad?). I didn’t even get a response – this from a guy who was supposedly interested in the hefty third infielder, with Kevin Kouzmanoff holding down his CI slot. Obviously, I’m not looking to give Sandoval away, but in need of pitching help, I’d move him for the right price.

In the end though, the best trade may be the one not made, since I can see Pablo killing the ball in the second half and going a long way towards helping my playoff push. I have few high average hitters on my keeper squad and his ability to hit for average is something that I’ve been banking on all year. If I didn’t have him and needed CI help, I’d throw some offers out to his frustrated owner and see if he’s done his homework. All signs point to improvement, but that’s hard to believe when a player has looked so lost at the plate for two-plus months.

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The Chase Is On: Chase Headley And The Hangovers Lead The Pack

April 26, 2010

Over in the Big Ballers League, I’m pretty freakin’ happy to see my Harlem Hangovers on top of the standings. With Nelly Boomstick‘s grand theft in Boston leading the way, The Hangovers have been burning up the base paths and scoring a lot of runs on their way to a +5.5 point week. That makes a total of 105, up 6 on the next best team, The Hillsboro 5 Tooler’. Pretty good for a team that hasn’t heard a peep from Mark Texiera or Gordan Beckham. With The Supernatural‘s call-up looming and a possible return of Brandon Webb, it looks like The Hangovers have a lot of winning to look forward to this year.

One big contributor to my success so far has been Chase Headley. He along with Chris Carpenter came over in a preseason deal for Carlos Lee, Tim Hudson and Brandon Lyons, in what’s looking like the kind of robbery I almost feel bad to have carried out. Carrying a gaudy .371/.421/.500 line coming into play on Monday, Headley’s been on an absolute tear, spearheading The Father’s resurgence out in SD, with 15 Runs scored in 76 PA. Little wonder he’s scoring so much when he’s on base over 42% of the time! While he’s been the beneficiary of a very lucky .417 BABIP, his lifetime BABIP sits at .344 due to his propensity for hitting line drives. In fact Chase is what fielders do a lot of when he’s up at bat, as he’s been hitting liners at a 26.2% clip. What can we attribute his recent success to? It seems like he’s taking a different approach to the plate, as he’s cut down his K rate by an amazing 50% in the early going of 2010. Currently his BB/K rates sit at 7.9%/12.9%, in contrast to his career 9.3%/26% rates. This is particularly noteworthy, since he’s swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone 4.3% more frequently than in the previous year. While he’s swinging more at pitches outside the zone, he’s also making more contact, with an increase in his O-Contact (percentage of contact made on pitches outside the K zone) from 52% to 59.5% between 2009 and 2010. What has been most surprising about Headley’s emergence is his speed. Even the most optimistic fan projections listed on his Fangraphs entry, see Headley with 12 swipes. Headley already has 8, including 3 in a game last week, against the SF battery of Dirty Sanchez and Eli Whiteside. I can easily see Headley knocking on 20 before the season is done.

I knew Carpenter was going to be lights out, little did I know that the $2 Chase Headley would develop into this kind of fantasy baseball stud. I’m not going to say, I thought so, but I did in fact take Chase off of waivers when he returned to the bigs in his second call-up, back in ’08. What’s not to like about a guy who posted a .330/.437/.580 line in AA ball back in ’07? With slick fielding Kevin Kouzmanoff manning the hot corner, Headley spent more time in LF rather than at his natural position of 3B. With Kouz shipped off to Oaktown, Headley seems at home back at third, providing solid defense along to go along with his solid stick. While I don’t believe Headley can sustain this otherworldly pace and I believe that some regression is due to catch up with him, if Headley keeps performing anywhere near as good as this, he’ll be a familiar name among upper tier third basemen for years to come.

Other notable Hangover contributors this week:

Robinson Cano: 9/21 7R/1HR/4RBI/1SB/.538OBP I’m getting tired of talking about how awesome a year he’s having. On second thought, I’m not. Robbie lives to hit baseballs. When he’s on, he makes hitting lasers all over the park look downright easy. He’s streaky, so I imagine he’ll slump at some point but right now he’s the best hitter in the Yankee lineup.

Mike Pelfrey continues to roll goose eggs out there, contributing 12 more this week. That’s 24 innings since he’s given up a run in total now, after his rain shortened victory against Atlanta last night. With 2W/9K/0.00 ERA/1.33 WHIP, The Mets sinkerballer is proving to be a fantastic waiver pickup for me.

Franklin Gutierrez has been anchoring the Mariner lineup as well as my own so far in 2010. With a 6/20 4R/2HR/4RBI/.375 week, he finally got into the HR column. Is there nothing The Big FraGu can’t do?

Added: Pittsburgh 3B Andy LaRoche. 6 for 8 since returning to the lineup, LaRoche Minor’s hot stick will provide a little corner depth.

Dropped: It was nice while it lasted, but I think Brett Myers‘ hot streak will end soon. Let him be on someone else’s roster when it does.