So You’re About to Pitch to Pablo Sandoval by Jeff Sullivan October 21, 2014 Hello there, Royals pitchers! Congratulations on reaching this point — you’ve done many proud. No matter what happens, your 2014 season has been a screaming success. The Royals are back on the baseball map nationally and, more importantly, locally. But of course you’re not done yet, as there’s one remaining step in the staircase: Looming in front of you are the San Francisco Giants. You’ll face many different Giants hitters; among them will be Pablo Sandoval. In case you’ve never seen him before, you’re in for an experience. I’d like to show you something. Actually, I’d like to show you two somethings. Here’s one of them: Pablo Sandoval: 45% out-of-zone swing rate Matt Carpenter: 46.8% in-zone swing rate You’re going to face Sandoval; it could’ve been you would’ve faced Carpenter. Sandoval swings at about as many balls as Carpenter does strikes. For the sake of some perspective: Pablo Sandoval: 45% out-of-zone swing rate Salvador Perez: 44.1% out-of-zone swing rate So that’s how aggressive this Sandoval character is. Now, you might be wondering, “Does that mean he’s as easy to get out sometimes as Salvy?” No, this Sandoval guy is a unique sort of challenge. To prepare you for the challenge to come, I’m going to provide you with some strategy tips. How should you pitch to Pablo Sandoval, if you want to get him out? Pay careful attention to my advice. Be careful with pitches in the zone This should be pretty obvious. You should always be careful with pitches in the zone, to everyone. Sandoval likes to swing at balls, so that means he also likes to swing at strikes. When he does that, he makes contact 86% of the time. As Baseball Savant tells us, Sandoval has slugged .564 against pitches within the PITCHf/x strike zone during his career. That’s a very good slugging percentage, so this isn’t a guy to groove many pitches against. The Giants like to hit him in the middle. Careful with strikes against guys who hit in the middle. Be careful with pitches out of the zone So Sandoval likes to chase. For him, it’s not really chasing — he just operates with a big personal strike zone. When Sandoval’s gone out of the PITCHf/x strike zone, he’s made contact nearly 80% of the time, which is more often than a guy like Chris Davis hits strikes. And it’s not just weak, empty contact. During the PITCHf/x era, Sandoval’s slugged .425 against pitches out of the zone, which is the highest mark in baseball. You know how most of you are right-handed? Sandoval’s a switch-hitter, too, and he’s better from the left side. From the left side, he’s slugged .452 against pitches out of the zone. On contact, that goes up to .544. The strike zone’s supposed to capture the hittable area. It doesn’t quite capture Sandoval’s. Be careful with pitches down We can break this into more detailed areas. It’s not like all pitches out of the zone or near the border are created alike. Want to pitch Sandoval down? Be careful. He will swing, often, but he’s slugged .439 against pitches down as a lefty, which is fourth-best in baseball. He can punish pitches that aren’t far off the ground: According to Brooks Baseball, Sandoval’s made contact 80% of the time he’s gone below the zone. He can stretch those arms. Be careful with pitches in the middle Duh. Sandoval swings at these pitches. He doesn’t miss these pitches. Against these pitches as a lefty he’s slugged .554. Other batters have slugged better, but any slugging percentage that begins with the number five indicates that it’s a tricky area for pitchers to navigate. Lots of normal guys are dangerous thigh-high. Sandoval is abnormal, but not in that way. Be careful with pitches up Some guys who excel at hitting the low ball can be exposed up top. Sandoval’s not really one of them. As a lefty, against pitches up, he’s slugged .495, which is the 10th-best mark in baseball. I mean: There’s an area up there where Sandoval becomes likely to swing and miss. Out of the zone, up, Sandoval’s missed with one out of every three attempts. But he still packs a wallop, and to get him to miss you have to really climb the ladder. If you miss at all below the target you could be whipping around in a hurry. The safe spot is surrounded by dangerous spots, which makes the whole area a dangerous spot. Be careful with pitches in Not a lot of pitchers work Sandoval inside when he bats as a lefty, and there’s a good reason for that. Sandoval doesn’t often whiff when he swings inside. As a lefty, he’s slugged .530 against inside pitches, as he’s blessed with quick wrists that let him get the bat head out in front. This, of course, applies to both inside strikes and inside balls. The pitch you see above was an inside ball. If you’re trying to pitch him right under the hands, good luck. Those hands move around. Be careful with pitches away Here’s a fun fact: As a lefty, Sandoval’s slugged .472 against pitches away. That’s 22nd-best in baseball, even with one Prince Fielder. Pitchers routinely target areas away, as they tend to do against mostly opposite-handed hitters. Just as Sandoval can turn on a pitch in, he can smack a pitch away to the opposite field, seemingly without any problem. Sandoval’s least likely to swing at pitches out of the zone, away, but he’ll still chase and he’s still made contact with those pitches 80% of the time. If you’re pitching to Sandoval, all your defenders need to be paying attention, because he can cover the entire field. Be careful with fastballs Against fastballs and cutters, Sandoval has been 57 runs better than average for his career. To put that in more familiar terms: He’s hit .302 and slugged .502, with both marks even better left-handed. He’s made contact better than 80% of the time. Sandoval can slap fastballs, and he can also turn on them, depending on the location. Be careful with off-speed pitches Against off-speed pitches, Sandoval has been 20 runs better than average for his career. To put that in more familiar terms: He’s hit .319 and slugged .473, with both marks similar left-handed. He’s made contact 84% of the time, which is even better than his fastball contact rate. That’s the hallmark of someone who’s able to make an on-the-fly adjustment. Be careful with breaking balls Against breaking balls, Sandoval has been four runs better than average for his career. To put that in more familiar terms: He’s hit .272 and slugged .419, with both marks better left-handed. He’s made contact 82% of the time, which is also better than his fastball contact rate. While Sandoval has been worse against breaking balls than against other pitch types, he’s one of the relatively few players to be better than average against all three types. If you’re not careful with your slider or curve, Sandoval’s more than capable of drilling it. Be careful with two strikes With some players, when you get them into a two-strike count, you all but already have them beat. With Sandoval, it’s not so. Since he debuted, the average player has hit .182 and slugged .274 with two strikes. Sandoval has hit .221 and slugged .338, and this year he hit six home runs. Players are at their most aggressive when they’re a strike away from a whiff. For some, that’s a departure from their comfort zone, but Sandoval is naturally so aggressive anyway that two strikes don’t seem to bother him, relatively speaking. You could say he’s always hitting like he has a two-strike count. ========== So what do we have here? Some kind of impossible player to get out? Not really. Sandoval’s career OBP is .346. This year it was .324. Most of the time, Sandoval will not reach base, meaning the pitcher was successful. His true talent as a hitter is probably about 15% to 20% better than the league average. That’s not Barry Bonds. Pablo Sandoval isn’t annoying because he’s unstoppable; he’s annoying because he’s kind of strategy-proof. He doesn’t have a clear weakness. The best advice I can give is to just pitch him without pitching him stupid, and then whatever happens happens. He’s going to hit pitches he has no business hitting. It’s obnoxious. But there’s nothing you can do about that, so you just have to not let it bother you. You’re pitching to Pablo Sandoval in the World Series? Pitch however you usually pitch. Maybe see if you can pitch left-handed, if you don’t already do that. That’s the one thing, so maybe that’s the key. Pitch to Pablo Sandoval left-handed. If you can’t use that advice, there is no other advice.