Red Sox Pablo Sandoval can’t learn from John Lackey
The Boston Red Sox cannot assume that well-paid but disappointing third baseman Pablo Sandoval can take the same path as former pitcher John Lackey did.
Matt Collins of Baseball Prospectus recently published an article that states that Lackey “turned around the perception of himself in 2013,” after being considered “arguably the most hated athlete in Boston. He was viewed as massively overpaid, having been disappointing (but actually not terrible) in 2010 then completely falling on his face in 2011. Obviously, 2012 was a season to forget, but in the eyes of many, there was a silver-lining in not being forced to watch Lackey.”
Collins believes that Sandoval can do the same thing if he learns from Lackey’s example: “Sandoval can bounce back if he regains his old form in one area (a la Lackey’s strikeouts) while reaching new heights in another (the walks).” Collins goes on to suggest that either a resurgence of Sandoval’s solid defense takes place, the one that surprised everyone in San Francisco while playing for the Giants, or he would have to be more successful at the plate on offense.
That doesn’t mean Sandoval has to get more hits.
Collins points out that “Sandoval only hit .270 on balls in play, far and away the worst mark of his career. He was pounding the ball into the ground too often, and he clearly doesn’t have the speed to beat out infield singles.” Either he would have to earn more line drives with his swing or “Sandoval would do well to start drawing more walks,” much like Lackey began to limit his walk rate in 2013.
It’s an interesting premise, but one that doesn’t seem likely.
The biggest hurdle is age. While pitchers seem to naturally change their game as they get older, hitters either gain a keener eye or they fail more quickly because they don’t make any changes to their swing habits.
Lackey is 38 years old and went 11-8 with a 3.35 ERA for the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 regular season, which was better than three members of the Red Sox starting rotation, including big-name signing David Price (3.99 ERA). Lackey’s changes to his game have whittled his opposing batting average from a terrible .308 in 2011 to .247 when he helped Boston win another World Series championship to a fantastic .218 with the Cubs. The best average on the Red Sox starting rotation was Rick Porcello‘s .230.
Lackey’s adjustments on the pitching end seem to have paid off, giving his new team a chance to win a World Series this year; however, at 30 years of age, Sandoval has three World Series championships and an MVP award for his troubles, leaving very little room for extra motivation to improve. It doesn’t hurt that he will have earned $95 million for five years by the end of 2019. Even if he were never to improve or sign another big contract, Sandoval will have a small fortune by the age of 33, an age that tends to be when big MLB hitters start to ride off into the sunset.
Then there’s the timing of the surgeries. While Lackey’s injury was improved by his surgery, thereby making him a better pitcher once healed, Sandoval was absolutely ridiculous offensively and defensively for the Red Sox before he was injured at the start of this season. Sandoval hit .245 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs in 126 games for the Red Sox in 2015, insisting that his health and weight were fine coming into 2016.
At this point, pride would be the only thing motivating Sandoval to make changes to his game. Yet, it’s not like his eyes have gotten better at seeing the ball as much as it’s been him swinging to drive the ball into groundouts. Surgery or no surgery, he hasn’t become some lean, mean, fighting machine playing third base like a nimble wizard of the diamond, all of a sudden. Collins’ suggestions for Sandoval, to adjust his hitting game equivalent to Lackey’s pitching adjustments, would seem to work if only the Venezuelan would heed them.
Next: Boston Red Sox Report Cards: Andrew Benintendi
Presently, there’s nothing to suggest the old panda will learn new Kung Fu any time soon. Anything is possible, though.