Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pablo Sandoval’s Sophomore Slump

May 09 2010: Giants
Pandamonium has been a rare occurrence at AT&T Park this season and the locals are asking themselves what happened.

Pablo Sandoval who exploded on the scene last season and quickly became a fan favorite has struggled this season. Is this just a sophomore slump or was his 2009 season just a flash in the pan and he is flaming out?

2009: .330/ .387/ .556 with 25 home runs

2010: .274/ .333/ .413 with 6 home runs

The numbers between this season and last season are vastly different. He has lost 50 points on his average and on base percentage and seen his power fade dramatically with his slugging percentage sinking 140 points.

One thing that has changed from this season to last is his batting average on balls in play. Last season he posted a number of .350 and this season he has fallen back toward league average (well actually slightly below) with a number of .296. So maybe he is just going through some bad luck or last season was abnormally lucky.

The rotund and jovial Sandoval doesn't seem to have changed much; he is still the aggressive free swinger from last season. The table below shows his swings and the percentage of strikes that he has seen.

Season
O-Swing%
Z-Swing%
Swing%
O-Cont%
Z-Cont%
Cont%
Zone%
F-Strike%
SwStr%
2009
41.7%
83.0%
58.4%
75.5%
87.8%
82.6%
40.5%
60.5%
9.8%
2010
42.4%
77.6%
56.2%
77.0%
87.5%
82.7%
39.0%
64.5%
9.1%


He is swinging at a few more pitches outside of the strike zone this season then last (O-Swing%) but not a huge difference only 0.5%. He is swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone this season then last (Z-Swing %).

The contact rate is pretty constant from last season with the only difference being that it is slightly higher for pitches outside of the strike zone. The high contact on pitches outside the zone may not be a great thing especially when combined with the high swing rate because generally pitches outside of the zone are more difficult to hit with power. However the difference does not appear to be that large as to be a red flag.

In addition the number of pitches that he has seen in the strike zone is roughly equal to last season and down significantly from his first stint in the big leagues where pitchers threw strikes 46% of the time to him. This is what you expect, as pitchers learnt that he will swing outside of the zone they began to throw less pitches in the strike zone.

Next we will examine his batted ball statistics.

Season
GB/FB
LD%
GB%
FB%
IFFB%
HR/FB
IFH%
BUH%
2009
1.23
18.6 %
44.9 %
36.5 %
7.9 %
14.0 %
7.3 %
50.0 %
2010
1.28
15.1 %
47.6 %
37.3 %
7.4 %
6.4 %
7.5 %
0.0 %


The two biggest things that jump out from this data are that he his hitting home runs at a much lower rate this season than last season. It is hard to say if last season was a fluke but it is possible that his numbers are adjusting down to what is a more sustainable rate for homeruns. I think that in the 8-10% range is probably a better estimate of what should be expected.

The other thing that jumps out is that he is not hitting as many line drives this season as he was last year or for that matter his stint in 2008 where he hit an astronomical 25.9% of his balls for line drives.

The Panda has also had a large platoon split this season. This season as a right handed batter he has been a well below average hitter after last season mashing the ball from the right side.

2009:

SplitGPAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
vs RHP as LHB13947442713430519654068.314.373.541.914
vs LHP as RHB71159145551406251215.379.428.6001.028
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/30/2010.

2010:

SplitGPAABH2B3BHRRBIBBSOBAOBPSLGOPS
vs RHP as LHB72235212631416242025.297.357.458.815
vs LHP as RHB378376164106613.211.265.289.555
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 6/30/2010.

This comes as a surprise and I really am lost to come to an explanation. His numbers are down from the left side but he is still above average and this is within the bounds of normal fluxuation around a player's true talent level.

What is happening from the right side is pure collapse. His batting average is down 168 points, his on base percentage is down 163 points and his slugging percentage is down 311 points! This all should be taken with a grain of salt because we are still in small sample territory with only 83 plate appearances so maybe this is just a run of extremely bad luck and things will bounce back.

All of this taken as a whole suggests that perhaps this is just a down season coming after a career year. There are things that suggest that Sandoval is just going through some bad luck that he was able to avoid last season. His batted balls are finding gloves especially from the right hand side. However there is the worry in the back of the mind that the league has figured out how to attack the beloved Kung Fu Panda and that the numbers from last season will only be a memory if Pablo can not adjust.

I will keep my fingers crossed that Pablo can bounce back.




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