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Champ or Chump: Patrick Sandoval

Patrick Sandoval exploded onto the national scene when he nearly no-hit the Minnesota Twins, but his name has been whispered in fantasy circles as a potential sleeper for quite a while. He posted a 4.02 xFIP in 39 1/3 IP in 2019 and 4.00 xFIP in 36 2/3 IP in 2020, but actual ERAs of 5.03 and 5.65 kept him off of the fantasy radar and denied him a consistent slot in the Angels rotation.

That's changing in 2021, as Sandoval has pitched to a 3.52 ERA and 3.47 xFIP over 71 2/3 IP with the big league club. Skeptical fantasy managers may be leery of his .254 BABIP and 18.9% HR/FB, especially since the latter mark would be the best mark of his career. He also struggles with control at times, as evidenced by a 9.0 BB% this season. His supporters point to a strong MiLB track record with plenty of strikeouts that supports his current 27.9 K%. He also has three years of successful performance at the big league level if you don't mind looking at xFIP instead of ERA.

The truth likely lies somewhere in between. Sandoval doesn't have a good fastball, making him volatile from start to start. He also has excellent secondary stuff to keep the strikeouts coming in droves, giving him a solid floor. The 24-year-old has untapped upside as well, making him a great choice for fantasy managers who need to take risks to make up ground in the standings. Here is a closer look at his profile.

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2021 Repertoire Changes

Sandoval is outperforming even his decent xFIP marks from 2019-2020, so it's fair to look under the hood and see what changed. His fastball usage is way down, declining from 44.6% in 2020 to 25.6% this year. It has been replaced by a brand new sinker thrown 15.5% of the time and a few more curves (7% last year, 10.5% this). Meanwhile, his changeup usage is up to 31.1% from 23.1% a season ago, making it his most-used offering. The last pitch in his repertoire is a slider that was thrown 25.3% of the time in 2020 but just 17.3% this season.

The spike in changeup rate is likely the driver of his success to date as it is among the best in the game. Its 31.3 SwStr% and 43.7% chase rate make it an elite wipeout pitch, and its 38 Zone% isn't horrible for a put-away offering. Opposing batters don't do much with it if they put it in play either, slashing just .113/.202/.196 on the year. Sandoval's slider is also good enough to pile up the Ks, posting a 21.1 SwStr% and 49.7 Zone% that make up for a lackluster 34% chase rate.

Sandoval's slider is his most-used pitch against LHB. He throws it 38% of the time and they're only hitting .091 against the pitch with 15 strikeouts against 18 batted ball events. At the same time, it's his least-used pitch against RHB with a usage rate of just 9.2%. Its results aren't bad in the small sample though, limiting RHB to a .158 average and .196 xBA. The same is true for 2020, where RHB hit .111 with a .187 xBA, and 2019 with a .333 BA but .155 xBA. Sandoval's slider generates strikeouts and weak contact regardless of batter handedness, and all available evidence suggests that using it more could help him reach the next level.

This column usually advises against adding sinkers, but it's fine in Sandoval's case. His fastball's 55.4 Zone% isn't that different from his sinker's 55.1% mark, and neither the fastball's 6.5 SwStr% nor the sinker's 5.6 SwStr% are any good. The sinker's GB% is also 10 points higher, and batters are only hitting .256 against it as opposed to his fastball's .328 BAA. Sandoval's curve is a third bad fastball with a 56.2 Zone% but 3.3 SwStr%, and batters brutalize it to the tune of a .583 average. Three bad pitches are less predictable than a single one, and Sandoval has to use them to set up the rest of his arsenal.


Spider Tack? Who Needs It?

Much has been made about how "sticky stuff" is the reason why pitchers have become so dominant, but the crackdown has only increased offense by a little more than one percent according to this FanGraphs article. Some pitchers don't want spin, and Sandoval is one of them.

Sandoval's fastball spin of 2,096 RPM is in the 8th percentile of qualified pitchers, which means that it will be bad at strikeouts but should be good for contact management. His sinker only has 1,918 RPM, a number lower than all but eight qualified pitchers. Likewise, changeups thrive on lower spin rates and that's Sandoval's signature pitch. Sandoval's curve has a spin rate in the 86th percentile and it's terrible.

If you're apprehensive about Sandoval's .254 BABIP, you should know that he posted a .260 mark in 2020 and .287 in 2019. His xBA of .206 is virtually identical to his .205 BA allowed, while his actual slugging percentage against of .353 is significantly higher than his xSLG of .321. Evidence suggests that Sandoval has a contact suppression skill that may be somewhat muted by the Angels defense (-21 OAA overall, -4 behind Sandoval). Negative regression is not a foregone conclusion.

Sandoval's inflated HR/FB rates may seem to contradict this idea, but you have to consider how often they're coming into play. Sandoval has never posted a FB% of 30.0 at the MLB level, so his approach to homer mitigation is to keep the ball on the ground. He also has a 16.9 LD% after a 17.5% mark last season, hinting at some skill to mitigate liners. Liners largely fluctuate randomly and we're talking about a hundred innings total, but Sandoval isn't being hit that hard nor should he be expected to be moving forward.



Sandoval is only rostered in 36% of Yahoo! formats and that number feels way too low. Sure, he might be volatile because he doesn't have a high-spin fastball to fall back on when things get tough, but his changeup is elite and his slider is an underutilized weapon. If you're not in first place guarding your pitching ratios, adding this Champ probably improves your roster.


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