A few days ago, I wrote a piece at Baseball Prospectus about Pablo Sandoval's Pablo Sandovaliest at-bats. Did you know Pablo Sandoval swings at a lot of pitches? Did you know that some of those pitches aren't strikes? Did you know Pablo Sandoval is a baseball player? Then how did you even get here? Are you just a snooping mother searching through her son's browser history looking for porn? Get out of here snooping moms!
You've seen enough Sandoval at-bats that I'm not telling you anything new. And yet you know that highlighting the bad outcomes -- each of the at-bats highlighted in that BP piece ended in an out -- doesn't get to the whole story. Sometimes you swear Sandoval can hit anything. Sometimes you think he's better on pitches out of the zone, and the way to get him out is to throw something down the middle. Space and time seem irrelevant; Sandoval is merely theory, not physical. And I've got a spreadsheet here in front of me that says you're absolutely almost correct.
This spreadsheet shows every pitch Sandoval has swung at since the Giants called him up in 2008, and it also tells me whether each pitch was in or out of the strike zone. This is the precise strike zone, not the fuzzy grey box on Gameday. This strike zone (thanks to my smarter colleagues at Baseball Prospectus) is normalized to reflect the zone that umpires actually call. It's also adjusted for different ballparks' PITCHf/x calibrations. This spreadsheet lists the nearly 2,000 balls that Sandoval put in play over that period of time.
Of those, 42 percent came on pitches outside the zone. And here is how often those batted balls led to all the important outcomes:
|Outs (excluding DPs)||60%||60%|
|Reached on error||1%||2%|
The difference in home runs is significant -- just 31 percent of Sandoval's home runs have come on pitches outside the strike zone, which, incidentally, 31 percent of Sandoval's home runs have come on pitches outside the strike zone!!! But otherwise, there is virtually no difference: Whether Sandoval is swinging at this pitch ...
... or this pitch ...
... the outcome is about the same. He's not more likely to hit into a double play when he chases, and he's not more likely to bang a double when he stays in the strike zone. Sandoval has slugged around .520 on pitches outside the strike zone. Sandoval has a .322 BABIP on pitches outside the strike zone. He's almost exactly the same!
Well, not completely. There's the home runs, like I said. But he's also less likely to put the ball in play when he swings at a pitch out of the zone. Of the 2,528 pitches he has swung at that were in the zone, Sandoval put 43 percent in play. Of the 2,103 pitches he has swung at that weren't in the zone, Sandoval put 38 percent in play. All those strikes matter, though it's notable that the difference is so low. A 5 percent difference is hard to spot with the naked eye. It's smaller than the difference between Brandon Crawford and Joaquin Arias, and it wouldn't surprise me if you didn't know instinctively which of those two guys is higher. And, of course, this isn't an endorsement of Sandoval's approach. Taking pitches for balls is best. It's just an endorsement of acknowledging once and forever Sandoval's husky wonder and saying in a loud voice, "hell yeah, that there, that's what I'm about."
What I really wanted to get to was the wildest pitches on which Sandoval has homered in his career, and so let's do that. The pitches are interesting; Sandoval is interesting; the pitchers, though, are my favorite part, with their assorted tics of exasperation. Understandably so. You follow a recipe and you don't necessarily expect the meal to turn out perfect, but you also don't expect the meal to kill you, or hit a home run off you.
5. Sept. 4, 2009. Slider, 2.4 feet from center of the strike zone, off Wesley Wright
Opposing announcers' disgust at Sandoval, on a scale of 1 to 5: 1. "He went down and got a breaking ball, about [cut off]"
4. Sept. 20, 2012. Slider, 2.5 feet from center of the strike zone, off Edgmer Escalona.
Opposing announcers' disgust at Sandoval: 4. "If he misses it, it probably hits him on the back foot."
3. June 27, 2009. Changeup, 2.5 feet from center of the strike zone, off Chris Smith.
Opposing announcers' disgust at Sandoval: 3. "Boy this guy's something else."
2. Aug. 24, 2010. Slider, 2.6 feet from center of the strike zone, off Sam LeCure.
Opposing announcers' disgust: 4. "Waaaay down around the ankles. ... A breaking ball down and in and that's exactly where Hernandez called it."
1. Sept. 19, 2012. Slider, 2.8 feet from center of the strike zone, off Tyler Chatwood.
Opposing announcers' disgust: 5. "You know, you just don't think this ball is gonna get hit out of the ballpark. You made the pitch you want to make. If you're Tyler Chatwood, you put the ball EXACTLY where you wanted to put it. Look where this pitch is contacted!"