Thursday, July 14, 2011

Is Pablo Sandoval the Best Third Baseman in the NL Right Now?

When you look around the National League at who is starting for each team at the hot corner the pickings are slim at a position that usually supplies a good amount of offensive fire power. So that leads me to ask the question is Pablo Sandoval the best player at the position right now?

Even after taking into consideration his relatively horrible 2010 season there is a strong case that he is indeed the best in the league right now and might be for the next few seasons.

Take a look at these numbers.

Stat2011 Rank (min 150 PA)2009-2011 Rank

This season despite missing 6 weeks with a broken bone in his hand, he has amassed numbers that rival what anyone else has done in the National League. Over the last 3 years he has been one of the most productive players even with a Sophomore Slump where he was overweight and turned in a disappointing season.

Looking into the future it seems that his closest competition for the crown of best third basemen is Ryann Zimmerman (you might argue other guys but really this is it). There might be an argument that it is possible that David Wright might be able to regain his crown but at the moment we will focus on Zimmerman.

Let’s break this down into categories and we will see who wins the most at the end. The categories will be fielding, hitting for average, getting on base and finally power.


This one favors Zimmerman but the slimmed down Sandoval certainly looks much better than he did in the past. Zimmerman has been a gold glove caliber third baseman with a career UZR/150 of 11.9 that has been backed up by the Fan’s Scouting Report, the Fielding Bible and Total Zone.

Sandoval hasn’t been nearly as good and in his career outside of this season has been an average to below average defensively. This season he has shown better range with being in better shape which may help him stick at the position for a longer time but this category clearly goes to Zimmerman.

Winner: Zimmerman

Hitting for Average:

Zimmerman is a very good hitter with an excellent approach but I think that it is unlikely that he will be challenging for many batting titles. Sandoval on the other hand excels at making hard contact on just about any ball thrown near the plate. With his career .304 average compared to Zimmerman’s .287 plus this special talent and all field approach give Sandoval the edge in the hitting for average category.

Winner: Sandoval

Getting on Base:

Sandoval may excel at hitting everything near the plate but that also means that he swings at just about everything near the plate too. This translates into less walks for him so when the balls that he puts in play are not finding holes his on base percentage can take a pretty big hit. He isn’t the worst hacker but as we saw in his 2009 season when he was a little more selective (8.2% walk rate) he was a much more dangerous hitter.

Zimmerman does much better in this category; he is in the top half of third basemen in walk rate over the last 3 years with a 10.9% mark which has allowed him to post an on base percentage that is nearly 80 points higher than his batting average. With his above average walk rate he takes this category because even though he doesn’t hit for the same average as Sandoval he does enough with the walks to get on base at a higher rate with more consistency.

Winner: Zimmerman

Hitting for Power:

This one is a little more difficult to evaluate because Sandoval has had his numbers fluctuate so much in his short career. He has 2 seasons of ISO in the .140 range and 2 seasons where he has been in the .200 range. Sandoval has shown that he has power in his swing and I think that going into the future he should consistently post slugging percentages above .500.

Zimmerman on the other hand has been much more consistent. When he hasn’t been injured he has posted an ISO in the .185 to .200 range with a high of .233 in his monster 2009 season. Going forward I think that Sandoval has slightly better power upside but it is a tough call because he has yet to put together 2 full seasons with good power.

Winner: Sandoval but on upside only

Big Finish

After judging all 4 rounds we have a tie but when you take a look I think that Zimmerman wins his categories more decisively which will earn him the nod as the best third baseman in the National League right now. With both in their mid 20’s this has the making of a nice couple years of competition between the 2 for supremacy at the hot corner.

It should be fun to watch.

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