Thursday, May 3, 2012
Giants suffer big loss with Sandoval
By David Schoenfield
A season ago, San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval fractured his right hamate bone in late April, an injury that cost him 41 games. Almost one year later, he's fractured his left hamate bone and will presumably miss a similar number of games.
It's a crushing injury to the Giants, a team without an obvious replacement at third base, let alone one who can come close to matching Kung Fu Panda's production.
We're talking about one of the 10 best hitters in the National League. Sandoval didn't quite have enough plate appearances in 2011 to qualify for the leaderboards, but among those with 450 PAs, he ranked sixth in the NL in OPS+, 14th in wOBA and 11th in wRC+. Considering some of those ahead of him left the league (Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols) or were expected to regress (Lance Berkman, Michael Morse, Jose Reyes), Sandoval is one of the most valuable players in the NL. He was off to a .316/.375/.537 (AVG/OBP/SLG) start, with five home runs and 15 RBIs. The Giants' offense, last in the NL in runs scored in 2011, is ninth this season.
But there's the problem: Once you get past Sandoval and Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera, it thins out in a hurry. Brandon Belt hasn't homered in 44 at-bats, Angel Pagan has a .279 on-base percentage, Brandon Crawford is hitting .215 with a .234 OBP, and Ryan Theriot and Emmanuel Burriss have combined for one extra-base hit in 88 at-bats.
As for third base, Wednesday night the Giants inserted Theriot at second and moved Joaquin Arias from second to third. Burriss also played there later in the game. Arias is a 27-year-old infielder who last played in the majors in 2010. He hit a robust .232/.272/.353 at Triple-A Omaha last season. The fact that he's even on the big league roster tells how thin the Giants are; in fact, why a team would want four light-hitting middle infielders on their roster in Crawford, Theriot, Burriss and Arias is a bit confounding. Yes, blame the injury to Freddy Sanchez if you want, but it's still poor roster management.
So if Arias is the guy who gets more playing time, you're talking about a player who is probably below replacement-level. Sandoval's WAR a year ago was 6.1 -- in 117 games. (That total was helped by some excellent defensive metrics, which he wasn't replicating so far this year.) Still, if we consider him a six-win player and he misses a quarter of the season, we're talking about two to three wins in lost value, considering the likely production from Arias & Co. Aside from that, the complicating factor is how Sandoval returns from the injury. Last season, he did fine, hitting .315 after coming back. But there is no guarantee he won't have some minor ill effects this year.
I see this as a bigger blow than Evan Longoria's injury; at least the Rays could turn to a won't-kill-you platoon of Elliot Johnson and Jeff Keppinger. The Giants have a guy who couldn't hit Triple-A pitching a year ago.