NL West Report: Whatever Happened to Pablo Sandoval?

Raise your hand if you thought the Giants would lead the division IN SPITE of Pablo Sandoval.

In 2009, the Giants had the best record of any NL team not to make the playoffs. The reason why they missed out was no secret - they had no offense. In fact, only two hitters were above league average in wOBA/wRC+/OPS/etc. One was Juan Uribe (.351 wOBA), and one was Pablo Sandoval (.396).

Going into 2010, the thought was that the Giants could reach the postseason if only they supplemented Sandoval with better hitters in their line-up. Brian Sabean has done a masterful job at doing that, hitting the jackpot with Pat Burrell (.374 wOBA), Aubrey Huff (.383), Jose Guillen (.350), Buster Posey (.380) and Andres Torres (.361).

The only thing missing is Pablo Sandoval, who captured the hearts of Giants fans in 2009 as the Kung Fu Panda. Now, he is more commonly referred to as "Flash in the Panda" and "Pablo Strand-em-all." Sandoval's fall from grace has been so bad, this happened at Wrigley Field last week:

Andrew Baggarly (Sept 22): Mike Fontenot pinch hitting for Pablo Sandoval leading off the eighth. Giants need to get something started.

That's the same Mike Fontenot who has a .275 wOBA with the Giants this year, .308 for the season and .327 for his career. Can you imagine the Rockies pinch-hitting Clint Barmes next year for Carlos Gonzalez? That's how far the Panda has fallen.  He has gone from the only feared player in the lineup to a bench player in favor of Mike Fontenot.  His wOBA has dropped from .396 to .311, plummeting him from a 5+ win player to about a 1-win player (on par with Dexter Fowler).

So what happened?

Sandoval has long had a reputation as a free-swinger, but like Vladimir Guerrero, he has an unnatural ability to make contact with pitches wherever they are thrown. Even in his poor 2010, he is in the top 30 in the league at making contact on pitches out of the zone. It goes deeper.

Year HR/FB K% LD% GB% FB% IFFB% BABIP xBABIP
2009 14.00% 14.50% 18.60% 44.90% 36.50% 7.90% 0.350 0.303
2010 6.70% 14.90% 16.70% 45.10% 38.20% 11.70% 0.289 0.288

The first thing we should notice is a huge drop in power.  Which season is the mirage remains to be seen.  But that doesn't explain everything.  His strikeout , walks and ground balls have been consistent.  He has seen small rises in popups and flyballs, with a small decline in line drives.  That explains some of his decline, but not all.  The real answer is in the right-hand two columns of the table.

Sandoval achieved hits on 35% of batted balls in 2010, which is incredibly effective.  His expected batting average on balls in play (xBABIP) according to The Hardball Times, was just .303, which essentially suggests his 2009 could have been a huge mirage.  Given his .356 BABIP in 2008 and reputation as a player who hits the ball with more authority than average, he seemed to be a candidate to outperform his xBABIP, or to at least have a very high BABIP legitimately.  But in addition to a decline in power and some batted ball issues, much of Sandoval's decline can be attributed to going from very lucky to having average luck.

If Sandoval's profile sounds familiar for Rockies fans, it ought to.  The Rockies have a breakout season from a young player who has a reputation as a free swinger and hits the ball harder than anyone else.  Carlos Gonzalez' xBABIP this season is a very healthy .334.  However, CarGo's BABIP in 2010 is an otherworldly .391, tops in the NL and behind only Austin Jackson and Josh Hamilton in MLB. That number is almost never repeatable.

Gonzalez has room to improve enough in the walks department that he can buffer some of the decrease in luck he will experience in 2011.  He will not go by way of the Panda, at least not to that extent.  But it is something to be aware of.

NL West Report

All playoff chances are taken from Baseball Prospectus.


Arizona (64-92, 5th, W2, 24 GB)

Last Week: 5-1. 3-0 vs. Rockies. 2-1 vs Dodgers. Arizona finished off their home slate with a strong kick, ensuring the 2010 team won't end up with a 100-loss season. They need just two wins now to finish ahead of the 1998 expansion team.

You Should Know:  The sweep of the Rockies was Arizona's fourth sweep since the All-Star Break. They swept the Brewers on the road and swept the Padres and Mets at home...Mark Reynolds is on pace to be the first player in MLB history to have more strikeouts than his batting average.

Divisional Change: Gained one game in the division.

Playoff Chances: Mathematically eliminated.

This Week: 3 game road series @ Giants. 3 game road series @ Dodgers. Wednesday night baseball on ESPN will feature the Diamondbacks/Giants game. It will be an Ian Kennedy/Madison Bumgarner match-up.

News: The Diamondbacks opted for experience in choosing the favorite, Kevin Towers, to be their general manager. Despite taking over a team with the third worst record in franchise history, Towers has no plans of blowing up the roster, instead choosing to focus on rebuilding the bullpen and bench.

Indications are that Kirk Gibson will return as the team manager in 2011. Gibson has gone 32-44 after replacing AJ Hinch, who was 31-48 with a more veteran roster. It appears Arizona is looking to build stability in the high visibility positions with Gibson and Towers.

Brandon Webb

#17 / Pitcher / Arizona Diamondbacks

6-2

230

R

R

May 09, 1979

Brandon Webb should be able to return this week for a relief appearance, but Webb is meeting with Kevin Towers today to discuss that option as well as Webb's future this offseason. MLB.com's Andrew Pentis reports that Gibson will have a say in whether Webb sees the mound for Arizona this year or not.

Interim GM Jerry DiPoto initially indicated a desire to leave the organization, though Towers might have changed Dipoto's mind.  Tom Krasovic reported Saturday that DiPoto will likely stay in Phoenix, potentially with a position as VP of player scouting and development. It is looking likely that DiPoto will accept that position by the end of the season to further bolster his resume before likely landing a GM job in a few years.

Former GM Josh Byrnes has spoken to six organizations regarding job openings, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

Ryan Church wants to return to Arizona next season, though the likely non-tender candidate is facing long odds of that after a subpar 2010 and Towers' pledge to improve the bench.

Transactions:  None.

Injuries: Justin Upton is likely done for the season with shoulder irritation. He will get a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews today.

Arizona Diamondbacks Injuries

60 Day DL / Out for the season

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Brandon Webb shoulder 03/26/2010
Kris Benson shoulder 04/29/2010
Star-divide

Los Angeles (75-81, 4th, L2, 13.0 GB)

Last Week: 2-4. 1-2 vs. Padres.  1-2 @ Diamondbacks. By completing the cycle of losing consecutive series against all four NL West opponents, the Dodgers are now guaranteed not to have a winning season.

Playoff Chances:  Eliminated

You Should Know: Eric Stephen comes up with some real gems, but this is one especially worth noting:

If the #Dodgers score 10 runs in their last 6 games (they scored 13 runs in 6g this week), they will end the season averaging < 4 runs/gm

Divisional Change: Lost two games in the division.

This Week:  3 game road series @ Rockies. 3 game home series vs. Diamondbacks.

News:  Dylan Hernandez reports no settlement has been made in the McCourt divorce (not that it should be expected after a week). The trial will resume today.

John Ely once appeared to be a steal as a retrun in the Juan Pierre trade, but despite playing for a team with distinct rotation question marks, Ely may be pitching himself out of the organization's plans in the rotation in 2011.

Jay Gibbons has put up a .354 wOBA with Los Angeles this season, joining Andre Ethier, Rod Barajas and Rafael Furcal as the only Dodgers over the league-average line. That seems to be enough to convince Ned Colletti to re-sign Gibbons.

Jay Gibbons

#31 / Left Field / Los Angeles Dodgers

5-11

190

L

L

Mar 02, 1977

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2010 - Jay Gibbons 34 73 11 21 2 0 5 17 4 13 0 1 .288 .321 .521

Soon after being acquired, rumors sprouted everywhere that Ted Lilly and the Dodgers both wanted Lilly back in Los Angeles in 2011. However, Jon Weisman of ESPNLA believes signing Lilly might be a mistake.

The Dodger blog FeelingDodgerBlue believes Tim Wallach should have been named manager, not Don Mattingly. That is not a unique opinion.

Joe Torre said last Thursday that he believed the Rockies would win the NL West.  As a lame duck manager, he must not have seen the Rockies had lost four straight at the time, because he's looking a little foolish for that prediction just three days later.

Chad Billingsley struck out a career high 13 yesterday, but with the help of George Sherrill, who will almost certainly be non-tendered this offseason, the Dodgers lost.

TrueBlueLA notes that with four home runs and 9 RBI this week, James Loney would finish three straight seasons with 13 HR and 90 RBI.

Transactions: Los Angeles made a trade that would qualify as the lowest-profile trade imagineable if not for one thing:  they gave up on 2006 1st rounder Preston Mattingly. Yes, that is Don Mattingly's son, meaning Ned Colletti has evened the score by trading the son of both manager hopefuls after dealing Brett Wallach (son of Tim) to Chicago for Ted Lilly. The younger Mattingly (age 23) played at both the rookie level and High-A team in 2010, putting up a shameful .218/.247/.291 line. The return was an equally uninspiring player, Roman Pena, who hit .189/.300/.313 in Cleveland's High-A team at age 24.

Injuries:  Scott Podsednik is out for the season but will not need surgery.

Los Angeles Dodgers Injuries

15-Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Travis Schlichting shoulder 08/22/2010

60 Day DL / Out for the season

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Russell Martin shoulder 08/04/2010

Star-divide

San Diego (87-68, 2nd, L1, 0.5 GB Div, Lead WC)

Last Week: 4-2. 2-1 @ Dodgers. 2-1 vs. Reds. The NL West lead changed hands four times in the last five days, and after getting blown out with Clayton Richard on the hill yesterday, the Padres are back on the outside looking in the NL West.

Playoff Chances:  64.42% playoffs (+26.09% Last 7). 38.19% division (+3.75% Last 7). 26.24% wild card (+22.32% last week).

Divisional Change:  Held to within one half game of first place San Francisco. Lead Atlanta by 0.5 games for wild card lead, though San Diego holds a game advantage in the loss column.

You Should Know: Currently, Mat Latos is scheduled to pitch the final game of the season. It will be interesting to see the Padres' strategy with their young ace. If the Braves are eliminated and San Diego is guaranteed the postseason, they may save his innings for the NLDS, unless it means the difference between facing the Phillies or Reds in the first round.

This Week: 4 game home series vs Cubs. 3 game road series @ Giants.

News: After losing utility man Jerry Hairston Jr. for the season, the Padres attempted to bolster their infield depth for the rest of the season by claiming Felipe Lopez, who was placed on release waivers early last week by the Cardinals. While Lopez would be ineligible for the post-season, the depth could have been useful in the team's final three series. The Padres were indeed awarded the claim. Only one problem - Lopez didn't want to be a Padre.

Felipe Lopez

#3 / Third Base / San Diego Padres

6-0

205

B

R

May 12, 1980

G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS AVG OBP SLG
2010 - Felipe Lopez 109 376 50 1 18 1 7 36 1 0 8 2 .231 .310 .340
As Ken Rosenthal explains in a series of three tweets, Lopez has the right to refuse assignment to any team when being claimed, since he was on release waivers, as opposed to outright waivers. He also didn't want to feel uncomfortable in a team celebration if the Padres made the playoffs, since he had no part in the achievement. 
Lopez was then claimed by the Red Sox, who he agreed to report to. That essentially gives the Red Sox a cheap compensation pick in the 2011 draft if they offer Lopez arbitration.
Kevin Towers looks to be raiding the pantry even after leaving San Diego. In filling his new staff in Arizona, Towers is looking at stealing Padre front office and scout types. The pilfering goes both ways though, as former Arizona manager AJ Hinch has been hired as San Diego's VP of pro scouting.
As the Padres continue to contend with a less-than-inspiring roster, multiple Padres coaches are getting attention as potential managers.
MLBTradeRumors makes a compelling argument for what reliever Mike Adams is worth by comparing him to Oakland Athletics' Michael Wuertz last offseason.
Matt Stairs was serious about retiring last season, but after having so much fun in 2010, Stairs wants to return for one or two more years.
Why does it seem like the biggest Rockie killers are ultimately worthless on the open market? Chad Tracy, Fred Lewis and Pedro Feliz were let go for nothing, and now MLBTR examines non-tender candidate Scott Hairston.

Transactions:   For the second time in September, RHP Cesar Carillo was claimed off waivers from the Padres alone, this time by the Houston Astros.

Injuries:  Jerry Hairston Jr was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right tibia early last week, likely out for the rest of the season.

San Diego Padres Injuries

15-Day

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Kyle Blanks elbow 05/18/2010
Jerry Hairston Jr. leg 09/21/2010

Star-divide

San Francisco (88-68, 1st, W1)

Last Week: 3-3. 2-1 @ Cubs. 2-1 @ Rockies. The premium match-up at Coors over the weekend lost a lot of luster after the Rockies lost four straight coming in, but the Giants took care of business anyway to keep hold of the NL West.

Playoff Chances: 81.10% playoffs (+20.71% Last 7). 61.80% (+19.10% Last 7) division, 19.30% wild card +15.84% Last 7). 

You Should Know:  The Rockies 10-9 10th inning walk-off win Saturday is the only game since September 4 (18 games) that the Giants allowed more than 3 runs. It broke a four week streak where the Giants had not given up 4 ER and lost in a game.

Divisional Change: Held serve with their half game lead in the division. The Rockies fell out of the picture, so it is a dogfight with the Padres.

This Week: 3 game home series vs. Diamondbacks. 3 game home series vs. Padres. Who would have known that Giants/Padres series would set up to be for all the marbles in the NL West?

News: The big Giants news of interest to Rockies fans was the humidor mess this past weekend. It has been discussed ad nauseum, so I'm not leading the article with this. I will address it though.

In their previous 76 home games, the Rockies had never had as few as two base-runners in one game...until Friday. Despite this, Tim Lincecum was caught on camera complaining of "juiced ball bull****" and GM Brian Sabean filed a formal complaint with MLB about the use of the humidor. While it is supposedly unrelated to Lincecum's complaint, we can only imagine what would have happened if Lincecum gave up a home run to Clint Barmes or something, or if he allowed, say, four baserunners.

Tim Lincecum

#55 / Pitcher / San Francisco Giants

5-11

170

L

R

Jun 15, 1984

W-L G GS CG SHO SV BS IP H R ER HR BB K ERA WHIP
2010 - Tim Lincecum 15-10 32 32 1 1 0 0 205.1 188 83 80 17 72 220 3.51 1.27
As discussed on FSN after Jon Miller's radio comments and later documented on Mark Townsend's blog, an MLB-operated camera has been trained on the ball bag all along. If the Rockies were to add dried out balls to the bag or pull out specially marked "juiced" balls, it would be caught on camera, and MLB could review tape following any complaint. Such a cheating method is beyond foolish and could not be any more unlikely.
As a result of Sabean's formal complaint, two more measures will be taken. The ball bag will be in plain view of all umpires during the game. Theoretically, this would prevent the Rockies from messing with the balls in the dugout. Of course, the umpires probably ought to be paying attention to the game on the field. They seem to be having enough difficulty with that this season as it is. This move, in effect, makes zero difference.
Secondly, an umpire would monitor the transport of all game balls from the humidor to the Rockies' dugout before use. This is theoretically where the Rockies "cheating" could occur, if they mixed non-humidor balls in with the humidor batch. If the bat boy could tell the difference in ball texture, he could choose non-humidor and humidor balls as he sees fit to give to the umpire. It's a pretty fantastical conspiracy coming from a dominating pitching staff in playoff position against a team whose season is on life support.
I am certainly happy this has developed. While it is mostly a cosmetic move to supplement the real monitoring tool (the camera), it will no doubt be seen as a long-awaited MLB-controlled situation. This whole conspiracy nonsense will pass by. One main "piece of evidence" for conspiracy theorists is that the Rockies "seem to" get offense when they need it late in games. As Joe Lemire at Sports Illustrated shows, the Rockies get an average if not lower than average run and hit distribution late in games at Coors.
I'll leave this with one more thought. Another "piece of evidence" are random anecdotes of pitchers - Ryan Franklin and Tim Lincecum come to mind this year - complaining about the feel of a ball. Let's think about the process for a moment. Balls leave the humidor well before the game, get rubbed up and placed in a bag that is constantly opened and closed to the Denver atmosphere. Not all balls will retain the humidor effects perfectly equally, and the difference in feel is only magnified when a more-dried-out ball gets to the pitcher after one that might be protected against the atmosphere for several hours by other baseballs. This isn't cheating. It's simple science.
Onward...Jayson Stark believes the Giants are a good fit for Jayson Werth. An addition of Werth would buffer the regression of their veteran performers (Huff/Burrell/Guillen) who will be unlikely to repeat their 2010 performance. Hopefully Sabes is gunshy about paying big for another Philly outfielder.
Edgar Renteria is considering retirement after the season. It seems like it would be about time for retirement, given this is his 15th season and he hasn't been an above average bat since Rocktober was a term only used by classic rock radio stations. But Renteria is only 34.

Transactions:   None.

Injuries:  Andres Torres returned quicker than expected over the weekend and clubbed a home run. That guy....that guy.

San Francisco Giants Injuries

Questionable

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Andres Torres other-excused 09/26/2010
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