Braves: What to expect from Pablo Sandoval

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Despite currently ranking dead-last in the majors in third base WAR (per FanGraphs), it wouldn’t be entirely fair to call 2020 a total disaster at the position. Don’t get me wrong, the results have collectively been awful, though a lot of the despair has come via Johan Camargo’s .200/.244/.367 slash-line and the fact that, despite showing solid strides with his strikeout rate, Austin Riley is currently maintaining an 87 wRC+ for the year plus a rough rating on defense (-3.6 Def / -2.7 UZR). 

A combined -0.4 WAR to go along with a .220 AVG and 74 wRC+ — those aren’t exactly numbers indicative of a position-group currently killing it at the plate.

Therefore, on Monday evening, the Braves decided to make an addition, signing a former Giants’ third baseman and World Series MVP, 34-year-old Pablo Sandoval. The deal is of the minor league variety and will require him to report to the team’s alternate site in Gwinnett, though the hope is that eventually, he could perhaps become a bench bat for the Braves come playoff time (the deadline for postseason-eligible players to join the roster is Tuesday, Sept. 15). Although, considering Sandoval has amassed all of 223 games since the start of the 2018 season, which has featured numerous injuries and continued issues with his weight, it’s probably wise to remain quite skeptical about him donning a Braves’ uniform anytime soon. 

In terms of what Sandoval can provide for the present, the benefits are obviously small; however, the right-handed hitter has a reputation for producing when it matters most. Sandoval has been part of ten different playoff series with the Giants throughout his 13-year career. His most memorable coming in 2012’s Fall Classic versus the Tigers — during that four-game stretch, Sandoval went 8 for 16 (.500 AVG) with three home runs on his way to a series MVP award. Overall, in 39 playoff games, the burly third baseman carries a .344/.389/.545 slash-line for his career, including six homers and 20 RBI. Sandoval’s knack for making contact has only intensified when the stage is the biggest as he has a .426 AVG (1.162 OPS) in 12 total World Series games. 

Sandoval wasn’t unemployed long. The Giants DFA’d him just days ago when the team needed to create space for newly-acquired first baseman Justin Smoak. 

However, Sandoval’s performance during the 2020 season has been pretty uncharacteristic so far, considering he’s currently hitting just .220 (.546 OPS) with two extra-base hits in 90 total plate appearances (33 games) with San Francisco. According to his Statcast numbers, Sandoval has dealt with some bad luck, though. As it stands, his hard-hit rate (50.8%) is currently at its highest of his career, and his expected batting average is a decent .258, suggesting that with enough of a sample size, his stats could perhaps level out a bit. Sandoval’s current 91.7 mph average exit velocity (a career-best as well) also shows that he isn’t having any issues making solid contact. 

All-in-all, this is a rather insignificant signing for the Braves and might not materialize by the time the 2020 campaign is over. But given how poor the team has performed at third base, it’s certainly a reasonable low-risk addition that could potentially bring a solid return if Sandoval suddenly found his groove from almost a decade ago. 

Signing the Kung Fu Panda probably won’t make the Braves any better at the hot corner during the 2020 regular season, but if he makes them even slightly better in the playoffs, it’s a massive win. 

Photo: Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire

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