Does Pablo Sandoval Have Any Fantasy Baseball Value Left?
After a last-place finish in 2014, the Boston Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to big contracts in an effort to revamp their offense and push them back into contention in the American League.
As we enter the 2017 season, Boston can say that at least one of those deal has worked out just fine. Sure, the outfield experience with Ramirez in 2015 was a disaster, but he bounced back with a solid campaign last year, hitting .286/.361/.505 with 30 home runs and 111 RBI while transitioning smoothly to first base.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said about Sandoval, who missed virtually all of 2016 after an incredibly disappointing 2015 season of his own.
Not What We Expected
During his time with the San Francisco Giants, Sandoval put up some very good numbers (122 wRC+ average over 7 seasons) and was a key part of three championship teams. His postseason stats — including being named World Series MVP in 2012 and posting a triple slash line of .429/.467/.536 in the 2014 World Series — are what really helped secure him a five-year, $95 million deal that sent him from the Bay Area to the Bay State.
His first year in new surroundings went terrible, leading to a .245/.292/.366 triple slash in 505 plate appearances. Compared to what he did with the Giants throughout his career, the difference was stark.
Even Sandoval’s defensive numbers bottomed out (-11 Defensive Runs Saved, -16.9 Ultimate Zone Rating), making the remaining four years on his contract look unbearable. Instead of getting into better shape over that next winter, it looked like more of the same in spring training ahead of the 2016 season.
He eventually lost out on the starting third base job to Travis Shaw and his season was over after just seven plate appearances due to needing surgery on his left shoulder last May. But is the third time (or year) the charm for Sandoval in Beantown?
Reasons for Optimism
Sandoval did admit to getting complacent after signing with Boston, but committed to returning in better condition for this season. He moved to Fort Myers, Florida to work out at the team's facilities during the offseason and reportedly lost a significant amount of weight. This is somewhat familiar territory for Sandoval, and his ability to rebound in the past is encouraging with 2017 on the horizon.
After a mediocre 2010 campaign, Sandoval lost a bunch of weight and came back in 2011 with a career year, hitting .315/.357/.552 with 23 home runs in an All-Star campaign and finished with a career-high OPS+ of 155 in 117 games. Most notably, his defensive metrics peaked with 14 Defensive Runs Saved and a 13.2 UZR while playing third base.
Coming into the 2014 season, Sandoval again found himself needing to get in better shape. Spurred on by teammates and impending free agency, Sandoval slimmed down and put together another solid offensive campaign (.279/.324/.415, 16 home runs) while once again posting positive defensive metrics at the hot corner (4 Defensive Runs Saved, 3.5 UZR).
In retrospect, his offensive splits from 2014 foreshadowed some other necessary adjustments -- the switch-hitter posted an .824 OPS against right-handers, but just .563 against southpaws. While he hasn't officially given up on hitting from both sides of the plate, some metrics suggest it could be a good idea.
The below table shows how he's performed in each scenario, including his triple slash and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). We'll also compare his tOPS+ from each side, which shows how well the player did for that split compared with his own overall performance (average is 100).
It's pretty clear that Sandoval's strength is on the left side of the plate. The gap is so noticeable that the Red Sox have also have some right-handed corner infield depth in Josh Rutledge and Brock Holt.
The 2011 season is still his high-water mark, but it's interesting to see his all-around numbers improve significantly when he was motivated to lose weight. With the way Boston's offense is constructed, President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski noted that Sandoval doesn't have to carry the team. The front office executive threw out hypothetical stats of a .270-.275 batting average with 12-15 homers and 70-75 RBI being plenty.
Sure, his defensive metrics don't mean much for fantasy baseball, but if he trends back up with his glove like he does in the past, he'll stay on the field more often. That will obviously give him more plate appearances and more opportunity to pile up counting stats, and if he comes somewhere close to the numbers Dombrowski threw out, it'd be a great year.
Sandoval's results as a right-handed hitter haven't been pretty, but it's another thing he's been working on. He reportedly spent time with Miguel Cabrera over the winter to improve his swing from that side of the plate. Even if he does improve, the Red Sox just want him to be productive at this point. If that means he spends most of his time as part of a platoon, then so be it.
He has enjoyed a solid spring, where he's produced a .339/.349/.677 triple slash with 5 homers, 6 doubles and 20 RBI in 63 plate appearances. We take those stats with a grain of salt, and while drawing just one walk isn't the best thing in the world, his strikeout rate is currently under 20%, which is encouraging.
According to numberFire's projections, we're expecting him to hit .259 with 8 homers, 41 RBI and 38 runs scored in 395 plate appearances, which would lead to an nF score of -5.08. Obviously, that doesn't bring much fantasy value to anyone's squad, but it's worth keeping an eye on him when he's in the best possible situation to succeed -- which would be when he's hitting left-handed. He's proven to be productive in the past and could be helpful if you're in a pinch and need to grab someone off the waiver wire.
But at this point, he still needs to prove himself at the bottom of Boston's order before he becomes anything more than that.