Pablo Sandoval’s weight has been mentioned plenty of times before. Often the reason is a potential move to first base, given the need for some athleticism at third base. But then there are all the injuries that he’s suffered over the first five years of his career. It’s fair to wonder if the weight affects him most when it comes to staying healthy. Is that fair? What do the careers of other bigger position players tell us?
Thanks to Jeff Zimmerman, we do have an aging curve for heavier players. It’s a couple years old, but the subject of the piece — Prince Fielder — hasn’t disproved any of the findings (if one player could, anyway). Here’s the aging curve for heavier players versus regularly-sized players.
The Giants’ third baseman will turn 28 next year, though. It’s not yet time for the precipitous dropoff you see coming for heavier players over 30, but he’s probably not pre-peak.
Let’s return to the original question, though. Do heavier players also miss more time? Sandoval has only managed to hit the 600 plate appearance mark twice, and those years were in 2009 and 2010. Since, he’s averaged 497 plate appearances a year, or more than a missed month. Since, he’s missed time after suffering a left foot strain, a left hammy strain, bone chips in his left elbow, left wrist surgery, a left shoulder strain, and right wrist surgery.
Even if the hamate surgeries were due to his knob-grabbing ways, and many of these injuries are to his upper body, that seems like a damning list. But it’s damning because he’s hit the DL in the past and nothing predicts future DL stints like past ones. He’ll be injured again because he’s been injured often before.
But does the weight matter?
To answer the question, I queried my database for non-pitchers that were over 240 pounds. Because Pablo Sandoval is listed at 240 pounds… and yet he may be anywhere from 245 to 275 pounds in a given year as Wendy Thurm’s excellent research found. Of the 68 that have played since 2002, 69% are first basemen, catchers or designated hitters. The boat has sailed on Sandoval as a catcher, so that’s out. Scott Rolen and Joel Guzman are the only third basemen. He doesn’t seem like an outfielder or those two guys, and that’s the list. So it seems very likely that he’ll end up at first base soon and maybe DH later.
Back to the link between weight and injuries. Thanks to Zimmerman’s DL database, we know our heavy players averaged 1.5 trips to the disabled list between 2002 and 2012. They averaged 66 days on the DL. Players under 240 pounds averaged .47 trips to the DL. They averaged 53 days on the DL.
The Giants third baseman is only 28. He’s claimed that he’ll confront his weight issues this year or next, but he’s already in the decline portion of his career based on his weight. Even if he does get back down to 240 pounds, he’s among a group of players that are three times more likely to go on the disabled list than slimmer players. And once they get on the DL, the bigger guys stay there longer.
Pablo Sandoval may be a buy low because he’s been great in the past. But he’s not a great long-term bet based on his weight and the risk that weight entails.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.