When the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez for a combined $183 million last winter, I was actually excited. At the outset, those acquisitions signaled an intent on the part of ownership to spend big on marquee superstars once again, which is something I love. However, following a dismal season from the two new sluggers, it’s strange to think that Red Sox Nation was once enthralled by these enigmatic signings, who crashed and burned into the most overpaid, under-performing albatrosses in baseball.
Ramirez hit just .249, got on base at a .291 clip, and hit just 19 home runs in 105 injury-besmirched games. Furthermore, he was the worst fielder currently employed by a Major League team, and displayed an attitude of indifference that rankled many fans. Even with three years still remaining on his contact, Ramirez is pretty much a lost cause at this point; his lack of a defensive position coupled with a staggering loss of agility making him essentially valueless in a roster-building sense.
However, with Sandoval, I at least feel a small sense of distant optimism that he can rebound into a serviceable big league ballplayer, even though he is paid more than Ramirez and was arguably even more of a disaster in 2015. Sandoval had a .245/.292/.366 slash line this season, with 10 home runs and 47 RBI. His defensive WAR was -15.1, with the next-worst third baseman at -8.7. Such an awful performance was made worse by Sandoval’s chronic inability to manage his weight, and the scandal which saw him using Instagram during a game. Essentially, it was difficult to find a worse everyday player in all of Major League Baseball this year than the Kung Fu Panda.
So, can anything be salvaged from Sandoval, who is under contract through 2019? Well, the cynical answer would be a flat no. Yet, I feel that, if Pablo can solve some of his external problems, his performance on the field could be greatly improved. Firstly, he must maintain a decent weight, to aid agility and health. Secondly, he must get accustomed to playing in Boston for the Red Sox, which can be a great experience for superstars who deliver. Thirdly, he must return to switch-hitting, to take greater advantage of Fenway’s left field wall. And finally, he must keep a low profile, work hard, and do the job he is paid to do: play solid baseball for the Red Sox.
On the field this year, Sandoval had a 22% Line Drive rate, which was down 4% on 2014, but right in line with his career average. However, his Batting Average on Balls in Play was just .270, compared with .300 in 2014 and a career mark of .307. This may be illustrative of more aggressive shifting, but Sandoval hit the ball to the opposite field 30% of the time in 2015, which was 17th best in baseball. Accordingly, we may conclude that Pablo encountered some misfortune and that, while his general approach is fairly good, his execution of that approach is often awry, as judged by him swinging at 48.6% of balls outside the strike zone.
So, ultimately, I think that, beneath the surface, there is still plenty to work with here. If I was the Red Sox manager, I would have Sandoval commit to a new diet and work ethic; and if I was the Red Sox hitting instructor, I would have him be a little more selective at the plate to accentuate the positive of his willingness to hit the ball to all fields.
Those sound like solutions in theory, but whether Pablo Sandoval has the discipline and desire to cooperate remains to be seen. We can only hope that he wakes up to the greatness of his opportunity before it’s too late.