Red Sox: What has happened to Sandoval’s defense?


It’s far too early to be making any definite judgements about the Pablo Sandoval contract. However, it’s impossible to argue that the early results of his 5 year/$95M contract have been positive. Still, he has historically been a streaky hitter, so it’s not hugely concerning to see his slash line sitting at .256/.314/.389– in fact, he’s already beginning to bail himself out from a terrible May that saw him hit .200/.242/.311 with a decent June. The real concern for Sandoval this season has been his defense, an area where he has never really struggled in the past.

Sandoval has never been a truly elite, Gold Glove caliber defensive player. In the past, he’s generally been a solid and reliable third baseman, though, and that has simply not been the case this season. Through his career, Sandoval has been worth 1.2 UZR/150, a defensive metric which measures how many runs a player’s range would save over the course of 150 games. That’s not elite by any means but it’s around average and that’s useful. His defensive performance in 2015 has hardly been that.

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Baseball statisticians always say not to trust defensive metrics in small sample sizes. And just over two months into the season, we’re certainly still in the realm of small sample sizes. However, Sandoval hasn’t passed the “eye test” either. He has been making errors at the highest rate of his career (his fielding percentage is only .929 versus a career .958 mark) and, though errors only tell a small part of a player’s defensive profile, his fielding percentage is far too low. Plus, Sandoval has made other defensive mistakes which may not have counted as errors and, as UZR backs up, his range has looked atrocious.

Granted, Sandoval probably hasn’t been quite as bad as the numbers state. Some of this can likely be attributed to statistical noise from small sample sizes, even though he certainly hasn’t been good. One factor that has likely limited Sandoval on the defensive side is a knee injury which forced him to miss a few games back in May, which appeared to throw off his rhythm at the plate as well.

Sandoval is now beginning to turn around from that slump at the plate, going 10-27 with a home run in his last seven games. Will his defense follow suit and return to being, if not great, at least adequate? There’s a pretty solid chance that it will. Sure, it could be Sandoval’s weight finally catching up with him, but at just 28 years old, that seems a bit unlikely. Realistically, his defensive performance has been a result of small sample sizes and that nagging knee injury.

Regardless of his performance thus far, though, it’s too early to place a lasting judgement on the Sandoval contract. Though the Red Sox committed a good deal of money to the Panda, reasonable people never expected him to be a star. Sandoval has always been a reliable, solid third baseman and, at a shallow position in the Red Sox organization, he would bring stability to the hot corner. So far, he has not done that, but you’re looking at just over two months of a streaky player. As his knee injury subsides and the sample size grows larger, expect his defensive stats to regress to his career totals. If they don’t after a year, then it’s time to worry.