Monday, December 31, 2012

Concerns Regarding Jerry Sands

Many fans (and Pirates bloggers) have seen Jerry Sands as a platoon option with Travis Snider for next season, however Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe passes on an account from a General Manager in the America League that would cast doubt on the potential success of this, despite Sands having the ability to hit breaking balls: “He’s one of those guys who could all of a sudden put up a big year if he gets the chance to play every day... Don’t think he’ll be that effective off someone’s bench. He’s got to get into a rhythm at the plate and when he does, he can hit.” This assessment of Sands is concerning, as it reminds me a lot of Steve Pearce

Pearce and Sands have a lot of similarities (other than failing to stick in the majors). Looking at their Triple-A statistics, Sands has the power advantage but then that is likely due to the respective leagues. Pearce’s batting line is .287/.364/.497 over parts of six seasons, while Sands has hit .288/.362/.552 over two seasons. While Sands has the power advantage, Pearce has struck out less (15.6 K% to 20.4 K%). That said Pearce never surpassed 190 plate appearances in a single season with the club while Sands passed that number during his debut season with the Dodgers. Like Pearce, Sands struggled with right handed pitching in 2011. Lessons can be learned from Pearce, as he also struggled in a part-time role, only really seeing consistent playing time sporadically over the five seasons he appeared in the majors with the club (other than the summer of 2009). 

Jerry Sands' Swing
Pearce and the club tried to change his approach to find success, removing the leg kick, bringing it back during Spring Training in 2010 and then removing it again a year later. Like Sands, Pearce has a big swing with a lot of movement in the lower half. He relied on the leg kick for timing, though this required an everyday role for it to be successful. In comparison, Sands’ swing isn’t as extended as Pearce’s but he does have a big step, which can be seen further on this video of a home run he hit for the Dodgers in 2011. While Pearce was never destined for great things in the majors, playing with his swing and approach didn’t help, so hopefully the same will not be done with Sands. 

Cafardo’s report also contradicts Keith Law regarding off-speed stuff, however Law sides with Adam Foster’s scouting report for Project Prospect. When Foster saw Sands, he states that the outfielder got by with his strength, much like Kevin Goldstein’s brief description of Pearce in 2008, and didn’t put himself in a good position to deal with off-speed pitches – or anything that he wasn’t expecting. While I’m not attempting label Sands as the next Steve Pearce, how the club deals with Sands is going to be tough. 

Sands has had a lot of success in the minors and was solid in extended playing time in the majors in 2011, however most of his major league success came against left-handed pitching (his .458 wOBA overshadowed his .268 wOBA when facing right-handers). What benefitted him was that the Dodgers allowed him to play every day when he was with the club in 2011, so he had his rhythm at the plate when he stepped up against a southpaw; however I doubt that he will have that opportunity with the Pirates – at least at the beginning of the season.

With an option remaining Sands is not a lock to begin the year in the majors in any case. If Sands does begin the year in the minor leagues it’s doubtful that the club will have him platoon while he’s at Triple-A, he’s only 25 so it would be giving up on him early. A player that would benefit from this approach is Clint Robinson; and given his age and projected role it’s a worthwhile risk. Nonetheless, it may be the best thing for both Sands and the club; as if he cannot perform in a limited role at Indianapolis then he’ll never do it in Pittsburgh.

My point is not to label Jerry Sands as the next Steve Pearce, it was a risk to acquire him in the Joel Hanrahan trade - but it was a worthwhile one; however their respective track records and approaches at the plate do have similarities. My hope is that the corner outfielders form a loose platoon; having Sands and Starling Marte starting when the Pirates are facing a left-handed starting pitcher and Snider picking up starts against right-handers, with Sands and Marte splitting time. That is at least until one of them warrants being placed in a full time role.