The “hot corner” is next up on the list in my series of the three worst players at each position in Red Sox history. There is one man who stands above all the rest at third base. In fact, he really does take up a lot more room when standing than the rest.
Pablo Sandoval – The Signing
I remember my Grammy switching over to a Giants game one day when I was visiting her. The year would have been 2014, because the announcers mentioned that Pablo Sandoval would be a free agent that coming offseason. I laughed and said to my Grammy, “some idiot team will give him a big contract and he will eat his way out of baseball.” Little did I know that team would be the Red Sox.
Sandoval wasn’t even that good. After his first three seasons he was a .307 career hitter. However, the league had adjusted to him. Sandoval swung at practically any pitch, so why throw him one over the plate? Therefore, he rarely walked, which, coupled with limited power for a corner infielder made him somewhat mediocre. Over his final three seasons he batted .280 in San Francisco. Solid, but with a somewhat average .335/.424/.759 slash line. His 14 home runs per year left something to be desired. He had also batted under .280 in three of the previous four seasons. He was a third baseman who hit under .280, rarely walked and had limited power. That doesn’t even start to talk about his body, which anyone could tell wasn’t suited to last long in the Majors let alone at third base.
I think I went on a multi-hour rant in a chat group with my brothers and a couple of friends when it became clear the Sox would sign “Panda.” I figured he would last two years tops at third base before having to move to DH. His bat might be alright for third base, but a .750 OPS at designated hitter? There was also the fact his weight would probably make him less effective as he pushed past the age of 30.
Pablo Sandoval’s First Season in Boston
Sandoval was a disaster from the start. The “Kung Fu Panda” marketing ownership wanted predictably didn’t work, because the whole city hated him. Playing in 126 games, Sandoval only hit 10 home runs and drove in 47 runners. On top of driving in only 47, Panda only scored 43 times himself. Despite playing in the fourth most games on the team, he combined for fewer runs scored and driven in than David Ortiz drove in and Mookie Betts scored himself.
Beyond his run production, Sandoval batted only .245. His .292 on-base percentage placed him just outside the bottom 10 in the league. Coupled with his limited power, Sandoval’s .658 OPS placed him fourth worst in the American League. It wasn’t easy for him to be much more useless, but he might have managed that in the field. Panda had very limited range as one could imagine. When he did get to the ball, it was still an adventure. According to Fangraphs, out of 20 eligible third basemen, Sandoval was the least valuable defensively that season. He scored a -15.1 rating from them. His fielding percentage of .949 placed him 18th among the 20.
In other words, Sandoval’s first season in Boston was about what I expected from him by year three or four of his contract, and I thought he was one of the worst signings ever. He already wasn’t good enough to man the hot corner, and his bat wasn’t good enough for third base, let alone first or DH. The feature picture for this article actually shows Pablo Sandoval swinging and missing at a pitch that hit him. He got hit by a pitch, but struck out and had to leave the game injured.
Pablo Sandoval’s Final Two Seasons
Sandoval only made seven plate appearances in 2016. In those seven plate appearances he failed to get a hit, walking once and striking out four times. He also managed to break his belt swinging at a pitch, in just seven appearances at the plate!
Boy, is that embarrassing. Starting one game at third base that season, Sandoval managed to make an error. He was disabled for the rest of the season. Out of sight, out of mind, but unfortunately eating up a large chunk of the payroll. Sandoval made 17.6 million dollars that season.
Heading into 2017 there were reports of Sandoval working out a lot and having slimmed down. It didn’t do him any good. Sandoval batted .212 over 99 at-bats for the Red Sox. He struck out three times as much as he walked, a common occurrence for his days in Boston. He struck out 101 times versus just 34 walks for his entire Boston career. Sandoval made 25 starts at third base for the Sox and made five errors, coming to a .914 fielding percentage.
In parts of three seasons for Boston, Sandoval batted .237 with 14 home runs and 59 runs batted in. He had an OPS of .646 and an OPS+, which adjusts for ballpark and league factors, of just 71; the league average is 100. His total WAR during this time was -2.1, and that seems to be kind to him. For all of that, the Red Sox are still paying Sandoval millions. When all is said and done the Red Sox will have paid Panda nearly $95M to be one of the worst players in baseball for parts of three seasons.
Yes, that is it for the top three spots. Pablo Sandoval was so extraordinarily bad that he occupies all three spots in my list of the worst Red Sox third basemen of all time. As for other poor third basemen who warrant a mention…
Will Middlebrooks, Rip Russell, Red Morgan, Aaron Hill
Feature pic courtesy of cbssports.com