Pablo Emilio Juan Pedro Sandoval, Jr. was born on August 11, 1986. That makes him three years my junior, which means he is most definitely not over the proverbial hill. And no, I am not in denial. A thirty-year-old baseball player is not a thirty-year-old running back. And even thirty-year-old running backs aren't obsolete, not with today's advanced treatments/medicines/shamans. The point is, you can't write Sandoval off due to physical decline. He is too young for that. Can you write him off for being overweight or out of shape? Yes, I suppose you could. But there is at least half of a good hitter left in this guy, and perhaps a touch more if he gets a bit lucky.
First off, you have to view Sandoval as two different hitters. Since 2013, the Panda's competency as a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitchers has plummeted. Here is a visual of the last three years:
Sandoval went from tolerable to horrible to hopeless in the span of three years. His career splits back this trend up, too. Sandoval's three slash against southpaws is an unimpressive .259/.306/.368 with an OPS of .673. He has 18 home runs against southpaws for his career. He has never been formidable against southpaws, but the last two years he has been downright intolerable against them.
Now for the opposite side. Sandoval has been productive against right-handed pitchers for the entirety of his MLB career, including last season. Here is the proof:
Sandoval's career slash against right-handers is a robust .299/.352/.485 with an OPS of .837. So, even as his talents against southpaws have come into question over the last two years, Sandoval has continued to produce against right-handed pitchers. Notice the BABIP was a smidge low in 2015 as well. If that number is closer to .300 as it could easily be, a .270 batting average should be pretty attainable for the Panda--in this split at least (lefty versus righty).
Now for the grand finale, at least as far as this set of numbers goes. Last season there was a new wrinkle to Sandoval's game, as he eventually squared off against southpaws as a left-handed bat...thus giving up the idea that he is a switch hitter. Now, like any other professional athlete, I imagine it was tough for Sandoval to acknowledge that he sucked from the right side. Hopefully someone in the Red Sox organization gave it to him pretty straight like I just did. Maybe they forced him to give up the right side. Maybe he chose to do so on his own. Who knows? The cool part is that we have some data. Check it:
Nothing to get all hot and bothered over, is it? Obviously he has zero power as a lefty against a lefty, but at least his three slash is tolerable, despite having a poor on-base percentage. Okay, actually his slash is terrible and the only good part is his batting average--and even that was likely buoyed by the .338 BABIP last season. Still, at least we aren't talking about the horribly awful numbers the Panda produced in the last two years when he still thought he was a switch hitter. If the Red Sox don't find an alternative for the days when they face a southpaw, you will be eager for the Panda to remain on the left side of the plate if you are forced to play him. At least his average will be over the Mendoza line, right?
You guys with me so far? I think we have established that the left side is Sandoval's strong side, with "strong" being a relative term, of course. Now let's take a look at his overall batted ball profile for the last three years:
So, Sandoval made less hard contact and more soft contact in 2015, and each of those percentages were worse than his career averages. His percentage of line drives has dropped each of the last three years, as has his fly-ball percentage. The HR/FB ratio has been below his career average for each of the last three seasons. Finally, his groundball rate spiked all the way to 48.9 percent last season, a large jump from his career average of 43.9 percent. What does all this mean? I suppose it means I am afraid that Sandoval's home run totals are going to be decidedly average in 2016, barring some divine intervention.
Now, could the reason for this "decline" be Sandoval's weight? The mainstream media folks would certainly like for you to believe that is true. At least, it seems that way, since that is the central topic with this guy every offseason. It is a thought that is both comforting and disconcerting, however. Allow me to explain:
It is a comforting thought because we have an identifiable problem that can be corrected. Sandoval could lose weight in the offseason and KEEP IT OFF during the season, and his numbers would improve. Theoretically.
It is also disconcerting if weight is the issue because it is SO DIFFICULT for many people to make the weight-loss changes stick. And if Sandoval has shown us anything over the years, he has definitely shown us that his weight can be a struggle.
What to do, what to do. I think you know. The only silver lining in all of this is that Sandoval is going to be dirt-cheap on draft day. You will have to ignore him if someone takes him on name recognition alone, of course. But for halfway-informed fake gamers, Sandoval is most likely dead to them. As he should be to you, at least as a mixed league starter or corner infield bat. Heck, I don't want Sandoval as my utility bat, either. Would I take him on a bench, though? Totally. He can fill in at the CI or UT spot whenever the Red Sox face a right-handed pitcher. Remember, you have to treat him as if he is two different players. Is there a chance he recaptures some of his torrid form from years past? I do not believe so. But I do think he can be a useful guy to sub in from the bench when the matchup is good.
This brings us to fearless forecast time, courtesy of Steamer and yours truly. Note: For ISO and BABIP I give you my gut feelings. Everything else is calculated to the best of my average mathematical abilities. Shout-out to Fangraphs for their awesome projections system on their site, by the way. Here goes: