SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 27: Pablo Sandoval #48 of the San Francisco Giants hits a single in the third inning of their game against the San Diego Padres to extend his hitting streak to 20 games at AT&T Park on April 27, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Following last night's game, the Giants got some horrible news about their best hitter: Pablo Sandoval has fractured his left hamate bone, and will be out for the next several weeks of the season. Sandoval suffered the same fate last season when he fractured his right hamate bone, missing 41 games. Miraculously, he slugged .557 across 375 plate appearances upon his return -- which is abnormal for this type of injury. Typically, it takes months after recovery for a player to fully regain his power. The Giants can only hope for the same for Sandoval this season.
As for their current situation, this hurts. Badly. On the surface, the Giants' run production hasn't been terrible. After all, they have a team wRC+ of 95 -- and that was good enough to bring them a championship a couple years ago. However, they've proven incompetent with runners in scoring position. As a team, they have a .258 wOBA in such situations, which puts them 29th among the 30 major-league teams. While part of it is bad luck -- they're hitting .208 on balls in play with runners in scoring position -- this is a continuation of struggles the team had last year. In 2011, the Giants ranked 30th in wOBA with runners in scoring position.
Some regression seems inevitable -- they've been quite unlucky -- but it seems apparent that there's an underlying flaw here. Their struggles, in other words, seem to extend beyond mere luck and randomness. As such, the 95 wRC+ -- as decent as it is -- probably overstates the quality of this offense. Make no mistake -- this isn't a nearly-average offensive team losing its best hitter. Rather, this is an already offensively-challenged team losing its best hitter.
The Giants have a short-term solution in third base prospect Conor Gillaspie -- that's the most likely replacement. The 24-year-old, a former 1st round pick (2008), has steadily put up decent numbers in the minors. Last season, he hit .297/.389/.453 in 503 plate appearances at Triple-A Fresno, and he's gotten off to a hot start in 2012, hitting .356/.414/.489 out of the gate. Of course, he's been playing the extremely hitter-friendly environment that is the PCL, so his stats should be taken with a grain of salt. His .842 OPS last season was only good for a 109 wRC+ -- and that's without park adjustments.
ZiPS projects Gillaspie to post a .306 wOBA over a full season in the majors. Sandoval had a .392 wOBA through a month or so of play. The drop-off is rather steep -- and that's not even accounting for defense. Sandoval had a pretty strong case for the NL Gold Glove last season, whereas Gillaspie has a pretty weak defensive reputation.
Things could get ugly for the Giants over these next several weeks. They probably will get ugly. The team is already four and a half games out of first in the NL West, and this hurts them a lot. But it's still early in the season; they'll just have to tread water and hope for the best until Sandoval returns.