Red Sox: Pablo Sandoval to return to switch-hitting


Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell revealed third baseman Pablo Sandoval’s plan to return to the switch hitting approach he abandoned last year.

Pablo Sandoval hasn’t even arrived in Fort Myers yet, but already he’s making headlines on the first official spring training day for the Boston Red Sox.

Manager John Farrell touched on several subjects during his first meeting with the media this spring, but one of the more notable nuggets reported by WEEI’s Rob Bradford was that Sandoval will return to the switch-hitting approach at the plate that he has used throughout the bulk of his career.

Sandoval abandoned the switch-hitting approach last May when a knee ailment made batting from the right side problematic. He managed a mere 2 hits in 41 at-bats (.049) against lefties when batting from the right side before the Red Sox pushed him to alter his approach at the plate, which was followed by a respectable .255 average against lefties when batting from the left side.

Now the third baseman believes he is ready to return to switch-hitting, which is an approach his manager supports.

"“He went through some extensive work this past offseason trying to get back to putting himself in a better position,” said Farrell. “He’s revamped his right-handed swing. For those who are familiar with what that looked like last year, I think you’ll see a difference when he gets here.”"

A return to the right side of the plate isn’t necessarily the worst idea. After all, Sandoval is a career .261 hitter against lefties while batting from the right side, which is at least better than the .248 average he’s produced in lefty-on-lefty situations.

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Looking at his career at a glance would suggest the Red Sox should want him to bat right-handed against lefties, but recent history tells us otherwise. We can’t be sure that the discomfort in his knee was the only culprit behind his anemic results from the right side when we saw signs of him slipping in 2014, when he hit .199 right-handed.

The Red Sox should use spring training as a testing ground to determine if the tweaks Sandoval made have fixed his right-handed swing, but they have a viable backup plan on standby that goes by the name of Brock Holt. Boston’s super-utility man hit .312 with an .807 OPS against lefties last year, making him an ideal platoon partner at the hot corner.

Farrell also indicated that he projects Holt to receive between 350-400 at-bats this season. Starting in place of Sandoval at third base when there is a lefty on the hill would account for about a third of the plate appearances the Red Sox are targeting for Holt, while the rest would come filling in at other positions.

"“I think the game is valuing that type of player and the versatility he presents us,” said Farrell. “He’s going to get a high number of at-bats from a high number of positions.”"

The projection Farrell has for Holt falls short of the 451 at-bats he’s averaged over the last two seasons, but if injuries sideline any of the starers for significant lengths of time then Holt would easily surpass that target. It would be wise not to push Holt’s playing time much further anyway given how his production has tapered off late in the season in his first two full-time years in the big leagues. Holt is a .309 hitter in his career before the break, but falls to .241 after. The Red Sox need him strong down the stretch in order to keep him productive through the playoff run they expect to make.

Limiting a guy making $19 million per year to one half of a platoon may not be ideal, but Sandoval needs to be on a short leash when it comes to facing lefties. With the Red Sox expected to bounce back to contention this year they can’t afford to stubbornly stick by him if he struggles as much as last season.

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Getting back to being a competent hitter from the right side would help salvage Sandoval’s sinking value. At this point Red Sox fans are merely hoping that a return to “switch-hitting” means that Sandoval will switch back to being an All-Star caliber hitter instead of the disaster we saw a year ago.