You heard me. The case for Kung Fu Panda’s breakout season.
Pablo Sandoval entered the 2012 season as one of the top options at the hot corner, coming off a 2011 campaign in which he put up a line of .315 AVG / 23 HR / 70 RBI in a mere 426 at bats. What really made Sandoval enticing, however, was the fact that the Round Mound of Pound raked in the second half, posting a line of .326 AVG / 17 HR / 52 RBI after the all-star break.
Why is this significant? Well, Sandoval's first half was derailed by a broken hamate bone, which required surgery and kept him out for several weeks. Full disclosure, I'm not a doctor, and I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn last night, but I can tell you with confidence that hamate bone injuries are kryptonite to power hitters. Typically these injuries linger for several weeks before a player is back to full strength, and Kung Fu Panda's second half numbers supported this notion. With that in mind, I broke the bank to acquire his services in a 16 team mixed league last season, and I got about as much of a return on my investment as Mark Cuban did on his Facebook stock. Sandoval finished 2012 with a pedestrian line of .283 AVG / 12 HR / 59 RBI, leaving much to be desired.
So what happened? Well, Sandoval broke the hamate bone in his other hand. Fortunately you only have two such bones (one in each hand), so this won't be an issue going forward as Sandoval is now hamate-less. Excluding the power outage, which we'll come back to in a bit, if we look at some of the underlying numbers, you'll see that Sandoval set a career high in BB% (8.6%), and has improved his line drive percentage (LD%) for a third consecutive year (17.1%, 19.5%, 20.3%).
Sandoval's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .301, so one might make the mistake and assume that he didn't have much in the way of bad luck (league average is typically .300). However, prior to 2012 Sandoval's career BABIP was .324, so I wouldn't come to a similar conclusion myself due to the fact that batters typically establish their own BABIP, which stabilizes over time.
While it took a bit longer than it did in 2011, Sandoval's power returned in a super-sized way during the Giants World Series run. In 66 playoff at bats Sandoval batted a Ruthian .364 while slugging a robust .712. Take a minute to let that marinate. Go ahead. I'll wait. Small sample size? Absolutely, but Sandoval posted a triple slash of .298/.383/.468 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in 94 September at bats, while posting comparable numbers at the start of the season (.311/.361/.500 in 90 April at bats before injury).
Sandoval lived up to expectations, but due to injury, failed to do so for the duration of the season. The casual fantasy player will look at Sandoval's year end numbers and have a tough time justifying his selection within the top ten players at the position. The savvy fantasy player will look to the underlying numbers, see a 26 year old slugger just entering his prime, and will take advantage of this buy-low situation come draft day.
Adrian Beltre finished second on ESPN's Player Rater at the position in 2012 behind MVP Miguel Cabrera. Beltre posted a line of .321 AVG / 36 HR / 102 RBI / 95 R / 1 SB, and assuming a healthy campaign, I think Sandoval can reach those numbers in 2013. I expect regression from the likes of Chase Headley, Aramis Ramirez, David Wright, and Ryan Zimmerman, all of who finished 4th through 7th at the position respectively.
As Ron Schandler consistently preaches, once a player displays a skill, he owns it. Sandoval has proven he has an elite skill set when healthy. I think he dodges the injury bug in 2013, making him one of the better draft day bargains out there.
Sources www.fangraphs.com www.espn.com www.baseballreference.com