Pablo Sandoval And Approximating The Unique

Flushing, NY, USA; San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) singles to left during the fifth inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Pablo Sandoval is not exactly the same hitter as Vladimir Guerrero used to be. He's close enough, though, which is something few ever thought possible.

I find there are three steps to the writing process. First, you need to come up with something interesting to write about. Second, you need to check to see if anything else has already been written about your idea. Third is content generation. Any of the three steps can get to be discouraging sometimes, and this is a screenshot of a discouraging experience I just had a few minutes ago:


Okay, so I'm not the first to go to the Pablo Sandoval vs. Vladimir Guerrero well. I'm probably not the thousandth. There are obvious parallels to be drawn, and I'm covering mapped territory. But I'm stubborn, and hopefully you can take something away from the words that follow.

Vladimir Guerrero isn't yet retired, but he's the closest he's ever been to being retired, which is to say he's old and he doesn't have a job. You can't count him out - Johnny Damon recently got a job, after all, and Hideki Matsui is apparently about to get a job as well. Someone could call Guerrero or his agent on the phone. But even if Guerrero does come back to play, he probably wouldn't play consistently, and he probably wouldn't play all that well. Guerrero isn't the guy that he was.

But the guy that Guerrero was - people will never forget the guy that Guerrero was. People might forget that Guerrero once stole 40 bases, preferring to remember him as the gimpier sort he was after leaving his mobility in Canada, but his batting approach was unforgettable. Guerrero's presence in the batter's box was absolutely terrifying, and it wasn't just because he was a threat to punish strikes; it was because he was a threat to punish anything, regardless of what the pitcher threw. Guerrero would swing at anything, and Guerrero could hit most anything. I'm not sure that anybody ever attempted an unintentional intentional walk of Vladimir Guerrero. Maybe somebody attempted it once.

The thing about watching Guerrero was that it felt so unique. I'm not sure there's ever been a hitter quite like him. There's no shortage of hitters who will swing at anything, and as it happens I'm watching Miguel Olivo bat on television right this second. There are hitters who have an aggressive approach and still make a lot of contact, and batting in the same lineup as Olivo is Ichiro. But Guerrero had an aggressive approach, he made a lot of contact, and he hit for a lot of power. Ichiro doesn't hit for a lot of power, during games.

Guerrero's offensive skillset was just the oddest blend. It didn't seem like he should be able to have success doing what he did, and that's what made him a freak. There is no freak quite like him now, anywhere in the game. But there is one guy who's sort of close, and he spends his time with San Francisco.

I'm talking of course about Pablo Sandoval, and while Sandoval has less than 500 games of big-league experience - Guerrero has well over 2,000 - the statistical similarities are hard to ignore. They're impossible to ignore, once you're aware of them. Go ahead and try to ignore these similarities after you're done reading this post. You won't be able to do it. They'll haunt your dreams and make them nightmares.

We'll start with this: for his career, Vladimir Guerrero drew unintentional walks in 5.5 percent of his plate appearances. For his career, Pablo Sandoval has drawn unintentional walks in 5.5 percent of his plate appearances.

For his career, Vladimir Guerrero made contact with the ball 80 percent of the time that he swung, and he swung at 47 percent of first pitches. For his career, Pablo Sandoval has made contract with the ball 81 percent of the time that he's swung, and he's swung at 44 percent of first pitches.

For his career, 10 percent of Vladimir Guerrero's strikeouts were called. For his career, 11 percent of Pablo Sandoval's strikeouts have been called.

Now let's go to some plate-discipline data. We have PITCHfx plate-discipline data only from 2007 on, so we're catching the end of Guerrero's career, but it's the best we can do, and chances are he never significantly changed his approach. After 2007, Vladimir Guerrero swung at 44 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, and 78 percent of pitches in the strike zone. Since 2007, Pablo Sandoval has swung at 43 percent of pitches out of the strike zone, and 77 percent of pitches in the strike zone. Of all pitches thrown to Guerrero, 39 percent were in the zone. Of all pitches thrown to Sandoval, 40 percent have been in the zone.

You're seeing it. I'm beating you over the head with numbers, and for that I apologize, but you're seeing it. Maybe these images will help:



That's the sort of thing that Pablo Sandoval can do. That's a pitch from Carl Pavano that ends up barely off the ground, and Sandoval swats it for a line-drive single. Sandoval does this sort of thing a lot, and Guerrero did this sort of thing a lot.

For his efforts, Pablo Sandoval has earned the nickname Fat Ichiro and posted a career 131 OPS+. Vladimir Guerrero posted a career 140 OPS+, and that includes his late-career decline. This is why Sandoval is only an approximation of Guerrero at this point - he needs to prove that he can be consistently superb. He might be getting there, though. He's generated a 156 OPS+ since the start of last season. He's slugged .551, while calling home a pitcher-friendly ballpark. Pablo Sandoval might indeed be the new Vladimir Guerrero.

But if it turns out that Pablo Sandoval's just the new Almost Vladimir Guerrero, well, that's incredible enough. Think about how it felt to watch Vladimir Guerrero in his prime. Think about how different that feeling was from the way you felt about most any other hitter. Now think about the fact that there's a young guy quite like him, a guy you can't pitch around because he can hit almost literally anything. I can wrap my head around the existence of one Vladimir Guerrero, I think. I understand the extent of the universe and I get probability. I have trouble wrapping my head around the existence of one Vladimir Guerrero, and the existence of a guy a lot like Vladimir Guerrero. That seems almost too far-fetched.


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