With a bat in his hands these days, Pablo Sandoval is either an All-Star-caliber hitter or barely better than a pitcher standing in the batter's box. The difference depends on which side of the plate he's swinging from.
Sandoval, of course, is a switch-hitter. Part of the 28-year-old third baseman's appeal as a free agent this winter—and perhaps part of why he scored a five-year, $95 million contract with the Boston Red Sox—is because he can swing both right-handed and left-handed.
Problem is, he's really only any good from the latter side.
As a lefty, Sandoval sports a .397/.485/.569 triple-slash line in 68 plate appearances in his first year as a Red Sox.
As a righty? Sure, it's a miniature sample size, but in his 20 trips so far in 2015, Sandoval has gotten on base exactly twice: one hit, one walk. That hit? A low liner through the 5.5 hole off Toronto Blue Jays reliever Aaron Loup on April 28, meaning it took nearly a full month of the season for Sandoval to manage his first knock swinging righty.
Doing the easy math, Sandoval has made an out 18 times, with six coming via strikeout. Add it all up, and here's the triple-slash line: .053/.100/.053.
Again, that could be chalked up to merely 20 times at bat, except this has been a trending problem for Sandoval in recent years. Take a look:
|Pablo Sandoval's Triple-Slash Platoon Splits (2009-2014)|
As you can see, Sandoval hasn't always been bad against left-handed pitching. In fact, he has been quite good at times, including 2009, 2012 and even as recently as 2013. He has, however, showed much less pop as a righty, and his career splits now look like so:
- As a lefty hitter: .306/.360/.495
- As a righty hitter: .266/.314/.385
Sandoval spent the first seven seasons of his career at the San Francisco Giants' pitcher-friendly AT&T Park. The thought—or at least, the hope—was that getting his bat in hitter-friendly Fenway Park would help restore him to being a capable hitter from the right side, especially with the Green Monster as an easy target in left field.
This idea, however, doesn't necessarily hold much merit. Take a look at the lefty-righty splits by all batters at AT&T since 2012:
|Platoon Splits at AT&T Park (2012-14)|
And here are the same stats over the same time frame for Fenway Park:
|Platoon Splits at Fenway Park (2012-14)|
On the whole, although it's a nearly negligible disparity, righty hitters actually fared better than lefties at AT&T the past three seasons (and that's with Sandoval hitting successfully as a lefty). Meanwhile, lefty swingers have had better marks than righties at Fenway.
In other words, the exact opposite of the thesis, which doesn't exactly bode well for Sandoval's chances.
To that point, as much as he's still stinking from the right side in 2015, it's way, way too early to tell much of anything, particularly from his Fenway splits so far. He has but four plate appearances at home versus left-handers so far, and he does have that one hit off Loup under those specific circumstances.
Overall, Sandoval is loving Fenway early on, as he owns a .385/.484/.615 line, but it's only 31 plate appearances over eight home games to date. More data is needed to evaluate Sandoval both at Fenway and at Fenway as a righty hitter.
It's clearly something to keep tabs on, however, given his massive ongoing struggles from that side in general. After all, it's not as if a new home park is going to magically transform him into a good—or even average—hitter from the right side when his recent performance indicates the downward trend is only continuing.
As Scott Lauber writes for the Boston Herald:
Manager John Farrell characterized Sandoval as "a little overaggressive" from his weaker side and described his right-handed swing as "a work in progress."
"Granted, he's an aggressive hitter in general," Farrell said, "but against a left-hander, you can see the body movement a little bit more forward toward the pitcher when compared to a right-hander. So, he's probably trying to go out and get some pitches rather than letting the ball travel deeper in the zone."
How much will the Red Sox's opponents, especially their AL East rivals, try to take advantage of this in his first year in the American League? If the problem persists to these measures as 2015 progresses, it might be worth it for the Sox to suggest Sandoval simply stop swinging right-handed altogether.
No team would want to do that with a player who just signed a nearly nine-figure deal this past offseason. But if Sandoval is going to continue to hit like a pitcher from the right side against southpaws, he really can't do that much worse from the left side of the batter's box.
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