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2014 Fantasy Baseball: The New Third Baseman In Boston

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Source: Jamie Squire/Getty Images North America

With the long rumored deal finalized, Pablo Sandoval will takeover the third base duties for the Boston Red Sox. The contract comes in at five years, and while the final details are yet to be released, it will apparently be in the range of $100 million. For a few hours Boston’s new third baseman was Hanley Ramirez as he is also joining the Red Sox with his four-year, $88 million deal (with a fifth vesting year for another $22 million).

Already having Xander Bogaerts ready to hold down either third base or shortstop before either of the big free agent signings, the managerial team in Boston now has a lot of talent and a limited number of positions in which to squeeze said talent. Probably the most likely scenario is for Bogaerts to become the everyday shortstop with Sandoval maintaining his solid defense at third base. So no position eligibility changes for next season there, but it is possible Hanley may not see enough time on the left side of the infield to maintain his 3B/SS eligibility in 2016.

Some are assuming HanRam will become the everyday left fielder for the BoSox, thus potentially cramping the style of Yoenis Cespedes, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo, Allen Craig, Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino and Jackie Bradley. Perhaps one or more outfielders will be moved soon — perhaps at the Winter Meetings taking place December 7-11 — but for now it appears as though the outfield situation in Boston is up in the air. Leaving the outfield for another day, Sandoval himself warrants a close inspection.

Operating under the presumption it will in fact be Sandoval at the hot corner, let us take a look at his most recent seasons. His 2014 campaign saw the Panda post a .279/.324/.415 line, good for a 111 wRC+, the 11th highest mark among qualified third baseman. As per wRC+, Sandoval’s 2014 season was his second worst in majors, only ahead of his 2010 campaign. Looking at his most recent four-year stretch, we see the 28-year-old trending downwards in some areas and up in others.

BABIP wRC+ SwStr% Contact% Total Bases BB% K%
2011 .320 149 10.6% 81.2% 235 6.9% 13.5%
2012 .301 118 10.8% 80.5% 177 8.6% 13.3%
2013 .301 116 9.0% 83.8% 219 8.0% 13.5%
2014 .300 111 8.8% 84.6% 244 6.1% 13.3%

With Sandoval’s BABIP largely holding steady, the decline in offensive output requires deeper digging. Curiously we see a decline in his swinging strike rate yet a decline in his walk rate and no change in his strikeouts. Going further down the rabbit hole we can see that Sandoval is hitting his average fly balls shallower than in 2011, but for three straight seasons his fly ball distance has been basically identical.

Year LH-HR RH-HR HR/FB% Avg. FB Dist. (in feet)
2011 3 20 16.00% 198
2012 2 10 9.50% 184
2013 1 13 8.30% 185
2014 5 11 8.60% 185

The gap between his hitting ability from the left side versus the right is clear as well, and probably the biggest reason for his relatively low 2014 offense. Hitting as a left-hander, Sandoval post a great .317/.363/.461 line (136 wRC+)against right-handed pitching and a rather ugly .199/.244/.319 (59 wRC+) as a righty facing southpaws. Delving further into his splits we can see his split BABIP really hurting him this year as a right-handed hitter while he benefited from some good fortune as a lefty hitter. Given his career split is 132/95 wRC+, expect a small bounce back from Sandoval next season. With such a sensitive a rather fluky stat like BABIP — especially when split up by handedness — it is hard to say Sandoval is declining.

Year wRC+ As LHB wRC+ As RHB LHB BABIP RHB BABIP
2011 163 97 0.319 0.324
2012 123 97 0.287 0.33
2013 123 99 0.296 0.315
2014 136 59 0.341 0.21

Factor in his new home park and Sandoval makes for a great fantasy third base option. He’ll never be a walk or on-base machine, but he is showing signs of swinging less frequently, although since 2011 he does have the highest outside of the zone swing rates (minimum 1000 PAs). The power difference from AT&T Park and Fenway Park is significant for his power numbers, as both FanGraphs and StatCorner rate AT&T at or near the bottom of their home run factors.

Factor AT&T Fenway
LHB FG 84 90
RHB FG 88 102
LHB SC 67 66
RHB SC 74 99

Other than an insignificant change in left-handed home run power according to StatCorner, it appears as though the panda will enjoy hitting in Fenway, particularly as a righty, the side where he has been a mostly league average hitter and struggled greatly last season. Draft or acquire Sandoval with comfort, knowing he should not only post a great year on his own, but with the offense around him, look for him to set career highs in a lot of counting stats.

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