Diamond Duels: Pablo Sandoval vs. Pedro Alvarez

by Nicholas Minnix and Matt Trueblood on March 2, 2011 @ 03:22:12 PDT


Pablo Sandoval, 3B, San Francisco Giants

Nicholas Minnix

Sandoval's fantasy baseball player profile

  • The Pittsburgh Pirates' mighty talent will be damn good. But his peripherals and limited Class AAA exposure (278 plate appearances) signify the likelihood of significant ups and downs. Pedro Alvarez, 23, has exploitable weaknesses. Sandoval, 24, has two-plus seasons of major league experience under his belt and a reality check that most ballplayers need in order to avoid taking their opportunity for granted. It won't show up in his final 2010 line, but in the second half the Panda showed serious signs of the hitter hidden inside.
  • San Francisco Giants 3B Pablo Sandoval
    Less bamboo for Panda
    Alvarez's advantage in the power department is no greater than the Panda's is in the BA department. The former struck out more than a quarter of the time on the farm and more than one-third in the bigs; his MLB contact rate was 69.7 percent. He should improve versus southpaws with time, but that weakness makes him a target. He'll depend on results greater than above-average on balls in play. Mediocre plate discipline has been a knock on Sandoval, but he has gradually improved his walk rate (7.3 percent in bigs) and has whiffed half as often. In the offseason, the switch-hitter picked up some tips from Barry Bonds. He's a .305 hitter (and .303 in the minors). Until last season, a .300-plus BABIP was the norm.
  • Because BSOML stories have become so stale, few people give credit to a player who has worked his tail off to change his approach. Sandoval lost 38 pounds and reduced his percentage of body fat from 30 to 19. Observers - both in the organization and outside it - have witnessed a dramatic turnaround in his ability and demeanor. The physical fitness of each is relative; Sandoval has improved his immensely, while Alvarez's is at best the same. The former crafted a high-end fantasy performance before his conditioning evolution, which also laid the foundation for improved defense. He has also become comfortable with his contact lenses, which irritated him last year.
  • Initially, Alvarez will bat cleanup - for the Pirates. Neither team burns barns, but at least San Fran has a bonfire going. When Sandoval bounces back, he's a candidate for a better batting order position - like, third, where he has spent the large majority of his brief career and opened last season. That would allow him to approach 90 RBIs, like he produced in 2009. Last year, the Giants had the flexibility to bench Sandoval. Pittsburgh might be reluctant to sit Alvarez, but if he struggles, they'll likely move him down.
  • Sandoval's "injury problems" amount to some nagging, day-to-day ailments, and his enhanced bodily state lessens any concerns about them. If the Panda took a 2-mile walk every day, it would lessen any concerns about them. By the way, you can usually draft Sandoval a couple of rounds later because most are Sandoval skeptics and Alvarez advocates. The Big Panda should provide production that's just as valuable and well-rounded.

Closing argument: Both players come with risk. The only difference: We've seen the downside that results from Sandoval's flaws. If Alvarez hits his downside, it will look at least as bad as Sandoval's 2010. The Giants' hot corner man owns better batting average components, 20-homer power and a little more of a track record. He learned his lesson and took steps to correct his shortcomings. Has Alvarez? There are reasons to doubt.

Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

Matt Trueblood

Alvarez's fantasy baseball player profile

  • Pittsburgh Pirates 3B Pedro Alvarez
    Vote for Pedro
    His power is so real. He hit 27 and 29 homers, respectively, in his two seasons of professional baseball, and since he has an everyday spot in the heart of the Pirates' order sewn up in 2011, 30 is not at all out of the question.
  • There's no question Alvarez has gotten bigger this winter, but even if he gained 20 pounds and Pablo Sandoval lost 30, Alvarez would be in better shape. Sandoval is not merely fat: He is irrevocably fat. If his offseason training and diet were as intense as they say, he would still have a ceiling of being only moderately fat. Sandoval is older, has had nagging injury problems already and hasn't shown Alvarez's raw strength. Physically, it isn't close.
  • Vladimir Guerrero would've hit 50 homers in a season if he would just wait for a pitch that didn't hit something else first. Now for Guerrero, that was not such a big deal, because in his prime, and to a certain extent now, he's gifted with an ability to hit baseballs hard and instinctively. Few players in history have shared that skill, and Sandoval is no exception. He doesn't take many pitches, and because of that, he makes a lot of unnecessary outs. He can sting the ball with the best of them, but he won't until he markedly improves his plate discipline.
  • Alvarez, meanwhile, has had an above-average walk rate for his league at three of his four professional stops. He tees up good pitches because he actually waits for them. He will strike out more and hit for a lower average, but that trade-off for more power still makes Alvarez much more valuable than Sandoval.
  • If not fifth, Sandoval might hit sixth all season for San Francisco. That is if he stays healthy and productive. If he falters even a little, someone like Mark DeRosa will try to steal his job and he will be relegated to either the dreaded NL eighth spot or the bench.
  • Alvarez has a much more favorable environment in which to operate: He is in little danger of being bumped from the cleanup spot in Pittsburgh's order, and the guys in front of him are the best top third of a batting order in Pittsburgh since Jason Kendall's prime years. Sandoval could luck into 75 runs and 75 RBIs, but Alvarez could score 90 times and drive in 100 runs pretty easily.

Closing argument: Alvarez is just 24, has already demonstrated elite power (much easier to sustain than elite batting average) and has every chance to be Aramis Ramirez. Sandoval, if his conditioning and general clumsiness do not cost him his job again, should be a steady producer in the mold of Casey McGehee. I'll take the higher upside and lower risk, thank you, especially when I can get it around the same time as the shakier commodity in many drafts.

KFFL staff verdict

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Fantasy Baseball Diamond Duels


About Nicholas Minnix

Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.

The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.

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