Welcome to BP Boston’s Roster Recap series! Over the next four months, we’ll be breaking down every player on Boston’s 40-man roster and many of their top prospects in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the Red Sox roster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as what we can expect moving forward. There’s no better time than the offseason to review the best (there was some best!) and worst (there was a lot of worst!) of the past year in red and navy. You can see previous editions of Roster Recap here.
Most of you probably expect this recap of Pablo Sandoval’s inaugural season with the Red Sox to be short and upsetting, because really, what do you say when your $95 million star acquisition puts up a season like that? To put it bluntly the Kung-Fu Panda was terrible, and, dating back all the way to February 17 when this infamous photo was taken, he looked a whole lot more capable of sitting in the woods all day and eating than he did attempting Kung-Fu or anything remotely athletic. Despite his poor season, I promise to take a look at the Sandoval we know today with a please-let-the-glass-be-half-full attitude.
Sandoval ended the season quietly, playing his last game on September 20 after being shut down following reported pneumonia. For the first time in his career Sandoval posted a negative mark in WARP at -1.4 as well as a career-worst TAv of .229. To go along with his terrible play with the bat his defense suffered just as much, causing him to put up a -16.9 UZR, the 20th worst rank among qualified third baseman in baseball. With $70 million still owed to him through 2019 the Red Sox will look to get him back in shape and back on track for the upcoming year.
What Went Right?
Umm … guys, help me out here? Alright here it goes: his teammates seemed to like him and he was well paid. He also didn’t seem to complain too much about the Boston media’s jabs at his weight. In all seriousness not too much went right for Sandoval in 2015, but at 29 years old there is still a lot of time for him to get back on track.
Across the board his stats were almost universally down, but two stats that were not career lows were his contact rate of 82.8% and his swinging strike rate of 10.2%. These rates were better than they were in both 2011 and 2012, when he enjoyed much better seasons. Sandoval is never going to be an overly patient hitter or an all-or-nothing power guy so keeping these skills intact is paramount.
Also, this was nice!
What Went Wrong?
Most everything actually, thanks for asking. During 2015 Sandoval was the third-highest-paid player at his position in baseball, behind only the massive contracts of Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera, according to Cot’s Contracts. Unlike these two players he actually played the third base position for most of the year and finished no better than 19th among qualified options in home runs, runs, runs batted in, or batting average. This made him essentially the least effective qualified third base option in baseball while he was being paid like the best.
It is very easy to see how frustration got to both the player and the team throughout a situation like this but no one handled the situation with more class than John Farrell, who dismissed Sandoval’s weight issues in spring training saying, “No, [we’re] not concerned about his weight.” In late July, following a Sandoval base-running blunder, Farrell doubled down, replying, “That’s something Pablo has dealt with his entire career. It continues to be addressed. I can’t say tonight is a direct result of that. There are ongoing efforts to support that, to try to get him in the best shape possible.” Farrell did his best to shield Sandoval from the weight issues while clearly being aware that it was an issue.
But yeah, let’s not beat a dead horse. Here’s a link to Sandoval’s statistics page if you’re into blood and gore. Otherwise, let’s just move on.
Outlook for 2016
As I explained in my recent piece about possible Red Sox first base options there is little that the team can do about the position other than hope Sandoval’s play improves. It is very clear that at the end of the year there was a top-down mandate to both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval that losing weight and coming into spring training more athletic would be high on the priority list. So far in the very early off-season we have seen pictures of the Ramirez’s transformation and heard countless votes of support for his being the team’s first baseman for next year. It has been crickets on the Sandoval front but he is just one good season away from turning this narrative around.
Before 2015 Sandoval was not just a passable fielder but by most metrics was an above average option. It has been noted several times that the San Francisco Giants were very diligent with the weight management regiment they imposed on Sandoval, and it was a source of such contention that he cited it as a contributing factor when choosing to play for Boston. It is fair to assume he now knows he needed those restrictions. For great players pride is an issue, and hearing how bad and out-of-shape you are should add fuel to that fire. We hope. Plus, Sandoval is not about to disappoint Big Papi during his retirement tour, is he?
If I had to bet I would say that Sandoval takes what happened in 2015 and uses it to fuel his transformation back into a positive at third base in 2016. Even if he never lives up to his contract from a WARP standpoint, he’s got enough going for him to still become a positive contributor.
Photo by Denny Medley/USA Today Sports Images