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The case of Pablo Sandoval and the NL All-Star team

The Adventures of Pablo Sandoval and His Bubblegum
Image by acordova via Flickr

The starting National League third baseman in this month’s mid summer classic will be the Mets David Wright. His numbers, even beyond his inflated New York aided vote total warrant the selection, especially when compared to the other top two vote getters; Chipper Jones and Ryan Zimmerman. Not to mention Pedro Feliz and Bill Hall who round out the top five vote-getters.

But when you factor in a far less popular candidate you may be hard pressed to argue that Wright is the undisputed choice for the NL at the hot corner.

Pablo Sandoval has carved out a nice little first half for himself in one of the Pacific Time zone’s cooler parts; San Francisco. The 22 year old Venezuelan, who wasn’t on any body’s radar a year ago, is beginning to garner some much deserved attention.

As of July 1st, Sandoval is hitting .338, second best in the NL only to Wright’s .345. The “Kung-Fu Panda,” as his teammates affectionately call him, has belted an unexpected 11 homers, driven in 40 RBI, and is first among MLB third baseman with a .567 slugging percentage, and an OPS of .955 (OPS+148).

Pablo Sandoval conjures a similar feeling in a pitcher as Vladimir Guerrero would, with a swing that could cover a pitch on either shore of the Mississippi. He’s swung at 45.3% of the pitches that were thrown to him out of the strike zone.  But while he’s uber-aggressive he’s also shown an extraordinary ability to square up those pitches, and make hard contact, with a batting average on balls in play of .360; an important key to his success as teams try to make him chase “bad” pitches. This season less than 40% of the pitches thrown to Sandoval (39%) have been strikes.

Beyond his uncanny knack to poke a 90 mph slider the other way, or get fooled on a big slow curve, only keep his strong hands back and pull into the corner, Sandoval has become a bit picky at the plate. After drawing just four walks in 145 plate appearances in his ’08 call up, Sandoval was tagged as a free swinger; not a good indication that he could maintain his high average over a full season. Then came 2009, and it seemed to be more of the same. The entirety of his April and May at bats (169) saw the ‘round mound of pound’ walk only 8 times.  But then, Sandoval matured into a patient hitter seemingly right in front of our very eyes.  Since June 1st, Sandoval has drawn 13 walks in 94 at-bats, all while keeping his productivity high, and his strikeouts low; 8 HR, 20 RBI in June to just 16 strikeouts.

Most impressively, Sandoval is doing all of this while playing a position he learned, for the most part, just this past spring. The former catcher/first baseman has handled third base with aplomb; making just two errors in 125 total chances, good for a .984 fielding percentage. He won’t win a gold glove (even I won’t argue that), as he needs to improve on fielding the balls he’s forced to charge (bunts, slow rollers, etc.), and making the glove to bare-hand exchange with greater efficiency. Still, with three positions in his repertoire he would be an invaluable piece on Charlie Manuel’s roster.

It’s hard to define Sandoval solely by the numbers he puts up. To watch him play is like watching a yellow lab chasing a tennis ball in Golden Gate Park; pure joy, energy, and hustle. His hitting philosophy would cause Ted Williams to turn down the thermostat in his cryogenic chamber, but it’s simple enough for Pablo to explain in his improving English; “see ball, swing.”

Were the rest of baseball as familiar with him as the faithful in China Basin are, Sandoval would have received a bit more support on the ballot. As it stood on June 29th, Wright, Jones, Zimmerman, Feliz and Hall combined to earn more than 6 million more votes than Pablo. The commissioner’s office announced on July 1st that the rosters for the All-Star game would be expanded to 33. But, this was designed to give teams an extra pitcher. No worries for Pablo, the naturally left handed thrower has a filthy curve ball, he just taught himself to ply right handed so he could play more positions.

There you have it, Charlie. Who else could play first, third, or catch, hit for power, and average off of either Tim Wakefield or Roy Halladay, and even throw a couple innings on the bump if the situation called for it? This Panda is not your average bear.

Top 5 vote getters amongst NL Third baseman

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BB

IBB

SO

SB

CS

Avg

Obp

Slg

Ops

Wright

49

98

23

3

5

42

43

3

76

20

8

.345

.432

.500

.932

Jones

37

66

12

2

9

33

45

10

37

1

1

.288

.404

.476

.880

Zimmerman

52

92

22

0

13

44

36

5

64

0

0

.301

.371

.500

.871

Feliz

30

77

17

1

5

39

20

1

32

0

0

.295

.340

.425

.766

Hall

18

37

10

0

5

18

15

0

58

1

0

.203

.263

.341

.603

Sandoval        35     89 23 2      11      40       21     4        40     2       2       .338   .391    .567 .958

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7 Comments

  1. David Allan

    July 6, 2009 at 8:15 am

    Easy to be under the radar on the West Coast. I’ve been hearing rumblings about what kind of year this guy us having.

    Great article.
    David

  2. Pingback: Bay Area Sports Blog » Panda leads the way

  3. All Star Sandoval

    July 6, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    Being a baseball fan, leaving Sandoval off the team is a crime. This kid can PLAY BALL!!! For a big guy, he hustles on every play, gives 100+% and oh, bye the way, he can hit the cover off the ball and plays solid defense at each position (1B, 3B, C).
    Voting for players that haven’t played much of season due to injuries (i.e. Josh Hamilton)is simply not right. I vote for the players that I feel are performing at a All-Star level at his point in the season.
    I hate the popularity contest the fans All-Star players voting has become.

  4. Pingback: Fique por dentro Baseball » Blog Archive » The case of Pablo Sandoval and the NL All-Star team. | Baseball …

  5. Pierre Relation

    July 16, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    I hear Sandoval is being drafted in most leagues, but I think an early season trade for him might be smart, for his potential seems immense.

  6. Beverly Pim

    April 12, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I am a huge fan of your blog and I read it regularly. Keep up the good work!

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