Pablo Sandoval burst onto the national scene in 2009, with a .330/.387/.556 slash line and an awesome nickname. In 2010 however, Sandoval has come back to earth with a downright mediocre .269/.328/.397. For frame of reference, Sandoval’s .311 wOBA is worse than that of light hitting infielder Omar Vizquel. The Giants have managed to stay in the race behind strong seasons from Andres Torres, Aubrey Huff, and Buster Posey, but San Francisco was counting on Sandoval to be a solid hitter for years to come. The question we have to ask is if 2010 representative of Sandoval’s true talent level, or is he due for a comeback?
Sandoval’s strikeout and walk rates are almost exactly the same in 2010 as they were in 2009, so the dip in production comes from his BABIP and HR/FB rates. Sandoval’s BABIP dropped from .350 to .295 this season, and he’s currently hitting juts 5.6% of his fly balls for homeruns, down from 14% in 2009. Sandoval’s BABIP drop isn’t only due to regression, but also due in part to his line drive rate falling from 18.6% to 16.2% in 2010. Also, compounding the HR/FB rate issue is the fact that his fly ball rate is actually up this season at 37.6% from 2009’s 36.5%.
I can’t say I’m incredibly surprised by Sandoval’s regression. A .350 BABIP for a player with Sandoval’s lack of speed was going to be nearly impossible to maintain. Sandoval was also due to be exploited considering his poor plate discipline. Sandoval has swung at 43.7% of pitches outside of the strike zone in his short career (his 2010 rate actually matches this exactly, placing him 3rd in the majors in O-Zwing%), and while his contact rate of 83.2% is solid, it’s no surprise that Sandoval isn’t having great success on the balls he puts in play. One trait that most great hitters possess is the patience to get a good pitch to hit. All pitches aren’t created equal, and Sandoval is an example of the importance of patience.