Monday, September 29, 2008

BA on Sandoval

Wanted to note Baseball America's take on Sandoval, that's freely available here. Here are some tidbits on Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval:
  • "Sandoval is equally adept from either side of the plate, and he can pull the ball to hit for power or take pitches the other way. He shows a willingness to take what pitchers give him, and though he swings hard he shows good plate discipline."
  • "Though he has arm strength and threw out 46 percent of basestealers with San Jose, his hands and lack of agility work against him at catcher. San Francisco also played him at both infield corners, but his squat body and limited athleticism don't profile well there either."
  • "The Giants have liked Sandoval's swing for years.... With a strong, compact frame and a powerful, short stroke from both sides of the plate, he produced at all three stops."
  • "He can really, really hit," an AL scout said. "I saw him again at the Futures Game, and he fit right in with the better hitters there."
  • "He has a strong arm, but the scouts contacted for this list who had seen Sandoval catch didn't believe he could play there regularly in the major leagues. Two managers said Sandoval had problems just physically squatting behind the plate, while two AL scouts both used the same cliché: "He can't catch a cold.""
  • "Interestingly, Sandoval is an ambidextrous thrower with nearly as much arm strength throwing lefthanded as he has righthanded. He would profile better defensively at first base if he moved there and focused on throwing with his left hand. He has seen time at both corner infield positions."

Giants Thoughts

This should temper fans expectations on Sandoval, though I should note that BA has to keep a hard line on him, they didn't list him on their Giants prospects list for two years running, even after his good season in 2007, so they had their reasons for not putting him on their Top 30 list (luckily I didn't listen to them and drafted him in my Fantasy League) and are probably still holding to them.

One thing I found odd is the mention that has "limited athleticism" and "lack of agility". Most of the stuff I've heard this year was that he is more athletic than his body would lead people to assume. And anyone who has seen his two scores in the past week, dodging around the catcher to score critical runs, would have to say that his body belies his athleticism, it almost makes me think that whoever saw him saw him in limited play, because I would describe his scoring as almost balletic.

Particularly the one I posted on where he slide perfectly, PERFECTLY, to the foul side of the plate, dodging the catcher and then deftly reaching his hand out to touch home plate. Then again, the one where he scored and injured his quad (which would be understandable if you saw it), he lept in the air to avoid the catcher's tag then scrambled to touch homeplate and score and that was pretty good in itself. I don't say this to be mean, but it reminded me of Disney's Fantasia where there were dancing hippos who were extremely graceful. He was just that good.

There are not a lot of plays in baseball where I would call them a thing of baseball beauty but I would count both of Sandoval's slides among the top in my memory of Giants players, up there with Willie Mays' World Series catch and throw against the Indians, Shinjo's amazing throw (from a blown catch by the RF), much like Mays, he just grabs the ball and hurls it blindly with his back to home plate, to home plate (I still wish I kept the Tivo newscast for that play), any of Vizquel's numerous beauties, Snow's great plays at 1B, plus his score and snatch of Darren Baker. Call me an oddball, but I almost felt a tear coming to my eye watching Sandoval score, he couldn't have made a more perfect slide to score, the margin was that slim, and I was in awe.

Thus, I wonder how apt their suggestion that he stick to 1B is, as perhaps he is athletic enough to still handle 3B. Plus, if he's as good a hitter as he is, we could play him at 3B (though the times he did play there, his range was woefully poor in the majors, 1.42 Range Factor vs. 2.23 Range Factor for the league) in 2009 while the Giants try out Bowker and/or Ishikawa at 1B, then if they don't pan out, he could move to 1B (range factor poor there as well, but much closer to league average) for 2010, or even could be a roving utility player, getting regular starts at C, 1B, and 3B, much like we had envisioned for Velez.

If he's as good a hitter as he has shown, then even if we don't have a regular position for him, as long as we can play him regularly, there will be an AL team willing to trade good talent for Sandoval to be their DH at some point in the future. But I'm more hoping he can settle into one position and play a while for us.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the additional info on Sandoval. I think that you are right when you note that the scouts have perhaps under-estimated Sandoval's athleticism. He caught a few games for the Giants (perhaps 7 or so -- I wish it had been more) and his defense looked adequate to me. Regarding his athleticism, did you see that play where he jumped about 2 1/2 feet straight in the air to knock down an errant throw when he was playing 1B. It was incredibly impressive and the Rockies (or was it D-backs?) broadcasters kept showing it over and over again because they were in disbelief that a guy who looks like a cross between a bowling ball and bull could jump that high. I think Sandoval will be fine at catcher with his natural athleticism despite what the pundits say. I am surprised that there has not been more buzz in Giants circles for Molina to be traded given the Giants emerging depth at catcher (Sandoval, Posey) and urgent needs at 1B and 3B. I still contend that moving Sandoval to 1B is a big mistake since 1B (or 3B) since it creates offensive mediocrity across the board for the Giants. Even if his defense if a bit below average at catcher he should be kept there if adequate. I say trade Molina in order to save money and help sign people at positions the Giants need to fill, give Sandoval the starting job, and if Posey proves ready in the next year or two, trade Sandoval to a non-rival at that time. Sandoval will have hopefully thoroughly established himself by the time Posey is ready, and can you imagine what a young catcher with his kind of offense would fetch in a trade? A lot more than Sandoval could fetch if he was at 1B. What do you think?

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  2. I understand your enthusiasm, and it all makes sense IF (and that's a big IF) Sandoval can handle C.

    But most scouting comments I've seen said that he's not made out to be a catcher, making your argument fall apart.

    As a sign of this, notice how Sandoval got most of his starts at C with Zito starting? I am now thinking that observers had it backwards, it was not Zito's preference to use Sandoval, but rather Bochy's preference that an experience pitcher "handles" Sandoval, who probably don't know how to call a game yet and thus Bochy wanted Zito's experience in shaking off pitches.

    Remember, Sandoval was so bad as a catcher that they would rather hold him back in Advance A-ball in SJ so that he could spend more time with the manager, Steve Decker, a former Giants catcher, rather than advance his bat to AA where he should have been to start this season.

    The main advantage of the Giants is our pitching staff and with their youth, we should have an experience catcher guiding them, hence why we should keep Molina at C, and not trade and supplant with Sandoval. You can't manage the team like a Fantasy Baseball team where you look only at the offense of each player, there are consequences to the defense with each move made.

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  3. Thanks for your thoughts. Good comments. I do realize that Sandoval's defense is a concern at catcher, but he has to play somewhere, and he will almost certainly be a below average defender at 1B and well below average at 3B given his body type (his height is especially problematic at 1B, although as I noted above, he is athletic so he would probably do better than some think just looking at his body no matter where he is placed). Obviously C is a more important defensive position, but we can't just assume that putting him at 1B is defensively neutral whereas putting him at C is a big liability. Both will involve a liability and this must be factored in. I really wish the Giants would have given him more time behind the dish because I'll bet he would prove to be adequate given his athleticism. I remember him misplaying a block or two in his starts, which any big league catcher will do upon occasion, but nothing looked terribly suspect with his defense. Are you sure the Giants "held him back" in A ball because he defense was really bad or was it rather just because they wanted him to work with the best catching coach in the organization regardless of the level because they could see Sandoval staying at C? I guess I am saying, maybe his defense was okay/progressing so the Giants wanted to ensure that he continued to receive the best training.

    I guess it all boils down to these points:
    (a) Sandoval will be a defensive liability at C.
    (b) Sandoval will be a slight defensive liability at 1B.
    (c) The whole team would probably be a whole lot better offensively if Sandoval stays at C because the Giants can acquire/use a true 1B, which is the usually the most productive offensive position player and retain Sandoval at C, traditionally the least productive offensive position. You get huge improvement in offense, assuming a 1B can be found.

    Based on what I have observed so far.
    I think that (a) < (b) + (c), that is when looking at overall offense and defense, the advantages of Sandavol at C outweigh the disadvantages.

    Also, I would be surprised if Molina did not decline both offensively and defensively next year. His arm is great, but he looks very questionable blocking balls, often attempting to use his glove rather than his body. He is a clutch hitter but his speed is a huge liability in terms of double plays. Will he duplicate this fine offensive season? Will his attitude be a problem if Sandoval or Posey get starting time at C? These are important factors as well.

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  4. Actually, I've read in some places that because catchers mature later than other position players, the better ones tend to peak around their mid-30's (not the great, but the better) offensively.

    I don't think we're going to get each other to agree, but here is what an analyst book has been saying about Sandoval:

    2008: Defense at C and 3B is below average with low agility, but throws well and have soft hands.

    2007: Began career as C but poor agility prompted move to corner infield where he can be average with his soft hands and arm strength.

    2006: Converted catcher making transition to hot corner. Stocky build and low agility was problem behind plate, but has arm strength and soft hands.

    I agree he has to play somewhere. Personally, despite the defensive problems, I would rather try Sandoval at 3B for 2009 because then 1) we don't have to go out and get a 3B (though perhaps they are saving 3B again for Frandsen, like they did this season before he blew out his Achilles Tendon), 2) I think it's a waste of time to play him at C with Posey coming up possibly by 2010, 3) we have Ishikawa and Bowker ready to try to take 1B. It all just fit better, I think, with the prospects we have.

    Sure, we could play Sandoval at C, but he's most probably going to have a pretty poor season as a C anyway, because if he's struggling just to be OK at A-ball, he's going to be pretty bad in the majors. It is not a position you learn at the major league level. So that leaves you at the end of 2009 with a catcher whose defense is so bad that other teams discount that value anyhow, expecting to have to play him elsewhere. Just because you play him at catcher, if other teams don't see him as catcher, they will value him where they expect to play him.

    And him being a young player, I would worry that he would bring his defensive troubles into his ABs, or concentrate so much on his defense that his offense suffers.

    No, I would rather play him at 1B or 3B, and let him concentrate on his hitting. Sure, I would use him as backup to the backup at C, allowing swaps late in the game more frequently, but otherwise let his hitting, his best value, be undeterred by anything.

    Our best bet for getting maximum value in trade for him, if we go that route, is for him to hit very well, well enough to justify playing him at 1B or as DH. With his versatility playing the corner infield and C, plus his potent bat, he should still fetch as much value, if not more, than if you stuck him at catcher and let other teams get turned off by his poor defensive play there.

    I can buy the getting a top 1B hitter angle, but the only one who profiles like that is Teixiera and he's from the Baltimore area and wants to go back, so I'm afraid of another Carlos Lee situation where they use you to push up the bidding until he's satisfied (and remember Boras is his agent, it takes a lot to satisfy him) and he tells you to stop bidding, even though you are willing to go higher.

    But Sabean has already said that he's even willing to get another outfielder to get that potent middle of lineup bat, so there's nothing that says that if he's able to sign Teixiera somehow, he then trades Molina and move Sandoval into the catching position, everyone's position is fluid once again, much like last off-season.

    I just don't think it would happen, Sabean values defense a lot and most consider catching a key defensive position. But if teams could tolerate Piazza at C, perhaps somebody could tolerate Sandoval. But in this case, you are hoping that someone will, whereas I am pretty sure that if he hits at either corner position, he will definitely be valued by teams.

    And personally, I prefer to keep the team defense leaning towards the good side of the ledger because of how much that would affect pitchers, both in terms of hits allowed and errors made. So perhaps I'm biased in that way.

    FYI, SS is traditionally the least productive offensively position, if I remember right, catching a close second.

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  5. Thanks again for your well thought out response. However, I guess you are right, we will just have to agree to disagree. Nonetheless, I thought of a great way to settle the dispute. Let's dial up Matt Cain and give him the tie-breaking vote. Let's ask him if he would:
    (1) Rather have Sandoval (C) + "League average offensive/defensive" (1B/3B) (acquired through trade or FA... hopefully better than league average, but let's use league average to be fair) on offense and be required to shake off a few more pitches per game and perhaps have a slightly enhanced risk for a past ball with Sandoval catching but with a better 1B defender... or if he would
    (2) Rather have Sandoval (1B/3B) + Molina (C) on offense and have a presumably stronger defender in Molina at C but the again slight defensive risk of Sandoval at 1B/3B.

    Which plan do you think Matt Cain would vote for? Defense is great, but you have to score at least a few to win. Your right, Piazza was a great example of a bad defensive catcher whose bat could make up for it. However, we don't yet know that Sandoval would actually be bad at C given more time... granted next year he would surely be well below league average.

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  6. Well, since we can make up conversations, lets ask him this:

    Would you feel better losing by pitching a well-pitched game but not scoring enough, or by having a key ball get by Sandoval (which based on Range Factor, is once a game because any ball getting by him is probably a double) and ruining your otherwise well-pitched game?

    I guess, to put this in Giants terms, its the Bob Brenly connundrum: you play Brenly at 3B to get his bat into the lineup, which wins the game for you when he hits a game-winning homerun, but meanwhile he set a new defensive "record" by making four errors at 3B.

    Now, I can see your reaction: see, they won.

    No, the point is that when you compromise, it goes both ways, you may win on offense, but lose on defense, and greatly. And errors is only part of the equation, the balls he doesn't get to can become extra-base hits down the line. That will show up on the pitchers line as an additional hit plus all the runs that would generate.

    To give a rough estimate of that impact, linear weights rate a double as approximately 0.79 runs and a single as 0.49 runs. Thus if Sandoval's range factor is about 1 less than the average, then he's probably missing about one ball a game. Lets call that down the line, half the time its a double, half a single. That adds up to roughly 104 runs per season. That's roughly 10 extra losses per season.

    Lets say the SS is good and is able to get to half of them. That's still 5 extra losses.

    The best hitters gain you 5-10 extra wins, so even if Sandoval was one of the best hitters around in 2009, his defense would negate most of that value, if not all.

    And per the Piazza example, teams did believe that his bat makes up for it, but I think it's debatable whether he did or not, we don't know what his affect on the team's pitching staff is, with his poor throwing out of basestealers, maybe increase in WP or PB (not sure if either is true, throwing out there), whether he recommended fastball and the batter hit a home-run out.

    So I can recraft that question to Cain as how would you feel if Sandoval got you an extra run with his hitting, but then costed you two runs by asking for a fastball that gets hit out of the park? Or started a rally with two outs by hitting it past Sandoval? Or a 5-4-3 double play ball goes by and instead the other team scores a run or two? Would Cain be happy knowing that his pitching line will look crappier with Sandoval catching, but hey, he's getting an extra hit here and there now and the team is scoring more runs.

    We do know that he is bad at defense at C, scouts say he's bad, the team felt it was bad enough that they held back his bat by keeping him at San Jose instead of promoting him, the question is when if ever will he figure things out at C. Piazza never did, others never did, and we have no backup plan if Sandoval sucked so bad at defense, it would be like SS in 2008, when Bocock was brought up, though I suppose the call could be made mid-season to rush Posey to the majors if Sandoval was that sucky defensively.

    Pitching and defense are the keys to winning it all. Focus on that first, then work on the details of how to score runs.

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