Pablo Sandoval

Leave Pablo Sandoval Alone

I think it’s fair to describe this past offseason’s signing of Pablo Sandoval as a controversial one. It’s not the most divisive decision the team has ever made — hell, the decision around whether to bring back Jon Lester was probably more divisive — but there were strong opinions on both sides of the argument.

Three months into his contract, he’s been fine. The problem, of course, is that he’s being paid to be more than “fine.” As these things tend to go, with the Red Sox struggling all year, he is the easy scapegoat. Sure, there are other guys involved with the organization who are seeing the dark side of the fan base, but Sandoval is receiving more than his share of the blame. In fact, the dreaded Carl Crawford label has even been thrown around. Say what you will about Sandoval’s performance relative to his expectations, but comparing him to one of the worst acquisitions in team history is beyond unfair.

The strangest part about all of this is that the third baseman has been far from a disaster. The problem for him has that he’s looked completely lost at times, which hurts the perception of his play. Specifically, he suffered through a miserable May in which he hit .200/.242/.311. Unfortunately for him, that coincided with an atrocious stretch for the entire team, making his poor play even more glaring. However, this is far from an anomaly for him. While with the Giants, Sandoval was a notoriously streaky player. In his six full seasons in San Francisco, he had six months in which he hit for an OPS below .600 and ten months in which his OPS was greater than .900. It’s not an ideal style, but in the end, his numbers always ended up solidly above average.

Although they’re not up to his typical standards, Sandoval’s overall numbers are once again good enough. To wit, he’s hitting .279/.329/.416 with a .266 TAv, essentially making him an average hitter. Is that the kind of hitter they paid $18 million a year for? Of course not. With that being said, comparing that kind of performance to that of Crawford’s is asinine. It’s slightly disappointing, but not mind-numbing.

Arguably the most surprisingly disappointing part of Sandoval’s season has been his defense. Despite his body-type, he’s always been a plus defensive player at third base. He’s had a rough stretch this year, though, and is actually costing the team runs with his glove. Of course, all it’s been is a stretch. Back in April he looked like the surprisingly adept fielder we all expected. I think it’s fair to expect him to get back to that form sooner rather than later. Possibly due to the lack of a truly reliable defensive statistic, slumps on that side of the ball seem to be brushed away. While good hitters go through rough stretches regularly and people typically brush it off as an abnormality, rough patches with the glove always bring panic. Intuitively, however, defensive slumps should be possible as well. That’s not to say that Sandoval will definitely get back to his former defensive prowess, but we’re dealing with far too of a sample to determine that he and his weight are no longer cut out for the hot corner.

When we talk about Crawford’s time in Boston, there are really two key components to that entire experience, and it’s especially unfair to drag Sandoval into either of these conversations. The first is simply the commitment. Crawford was given seven years prior to the 2011 season, two more than Sandoval. Not only did the former receive two more years, he was a full year older than the latter is now. In addition to that, Sandoval is receiving a smaller average annual value at a time where TV money has increased the average contract monstrously since even 2011.

While the commitment may have been the biggest sin of the Crawford acquisition, the worst result may have been the player’s fit with the city of Boston. If there’s one thing we can learn from the whole ordeal, it’s that this phenomenon isn’t some dumb narrative, and there are truly players who aren’t a good fit for this environment. That issue hasn’t been nearly as stark with Sandoval. In fact, there have been multiple times that he’s actively disputed the notion to the media. The whole Instagram situation is the one moment a critic could point to, but that was a different kind of situation. He broke a rule and deserved a small punishment for it, but it’s certainly not indicative of a poor fit with the city.

The Red Sox are undoubtedly having a poor season, and there are plenty of reasons for fans to be legitimately upset. The easy scapegoat is always the new and expensive acquisition, with Sandoval being the target in this case. While his play has deserved that kind of criticism for parts of this season, his overall numbers are actually far from this team’s issue. Even if you want to throw some of the blame on his shoulders, the comparisons to Crawford are far too much. Sandoval’s a good player who had a bad month, not a bad player who needed to be traded as soon as possible. There’s a massive difference between those types of assets.

Photo by Denny Medley/USA Today Sports Images

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