One of the Game's Stranger Hitters
One of the things that I, and I assume most of us, love about baseball are its peculiarities and oddities. The historical oddities, like when was the last time a pitcher gave up two triples in the first inning of his first major league start. Strange park dimensions like the Green Monster. And players who succeed in atypical manners. One such player is Pablo Sandoval.
He seemingly takes a horrible approach at the plate, swinging at tons of pitches out of the zone, but he is a very productive hitter. He is not particularly fast or hit that many line drives, but he has sustained a high BABIP over his major league and minor league career. He has two great nicknames. In this post I want to highlight what makes Sandoval such a stranger hitter.
The most remarkable fact is that he swings at almost 45% of pitches out of the strike zone, second only by his teammate Bengie Molina. I wanted to show just how extreme this is. So below I have his 50% swing contour compared to the average hitter. What I mean by this is a plotted all the pitches he swung at and took. Then I had the computer draw a smooth line so that pitches inside the line are more likely to be swung at and those outside are more likely to be taken. I discuss the methodology more specifically in the comments section of this post. Sandoval is a switch hitter so I broke it up for his at-bats as a lefty and righty. Sandoval is in orange and the average hitter is in gray.
There is a drastic difference between his and the average. Remember that the images are the catcher's perspective so as a RHB he stands to the left of the zone and as a LHB to the right. So it seems he is particularly fond of the low and inside pitches. The only place where he is close to league average is away when batting as a righty, he lays off those pitches. But everywhere else he swing zone is much larger than the average batter. It looks like he swings at more pitches batting lefty than righty.
He can get away with this because, somehow, he can make contact while swinging at these pitches far out of the zone. He makes contact on out of zone swings 76% of the time, solidly above league average of 62% for out of zone swings. And not only can he just make contact he makes good contact out of the zone. Check out the location of his extra base hits.
If you compare that to my HR heat-chart and the locations of other specific hitters HRs you will see this is a very strange pattern. He is hitting lots of HRs out of the zone, below the zone, above it and in from it. Batting lefty he has a large number of doubles off pitches off the zone away, opposite field doubles I would guess. Sandoval is leading the league in out-of-zone HRs and out-of-zone extra base hits. Not surprising, I guess since he swings at some many pitches out of the zone. It all shows that he can swing at pitches way out of the zone regularly, and not only make contact, but make very solid contact.
A batter's job is to score runs, to do that you need some combination of hitting for power and not making outs. Sandoval goes about that in one of the stranger ways possible. He hits for power even when swinging at pitches way out of the zone. He can avoid outs because he rarely strikes out, he has good contact skills even when swinging at pitches way out of the zone, and it seems he can sustain a high BABIP. All of this in some one who just celebrated his 23rd birthday. San Francisco fans, and baseball fans, have lots more of Sandoval's strange ways to enjoy.