Skip to content

Pablo Provides Punch in a Pinch

May 16, 2021

Hugh Atkins

Pablo Sandoval already has four pinch-hit home runs this season. That matches the Atlanta Braves’ record for pinch homers in a season established by Tommy Greg in 1990 and matched by Evan Gattis in 2013. Butch Nieman holds the franchise record of five, set in 1945. Sandoval has a great shot at not only setting a new seasonal franchise record, but he also could match the mark for career pinch home runs by a Brave; Joe Adcock and Brooks Conrad share that record with seven each.

Sandoval is, in my mind at least, the quintessential pinch hitter. With his prominent waistline, he looks like he should be playing in a slowpitch softball league somewhere. Although he is just 34 years old, his days as an everyday player are most likely behind him, so he has become a pinch-hitting specialist.

© 2021 Atlanta Braves Media Guide

The primary value of a pinch-hitting specialist may be that he lingers on the end of the bench in the late innings, ready to emerge in a tight situation and deliver a big blow to turn around the game. Sandoval certainly has filled that role for the Braves this season as each of his pinch home runs has either tied the game or given the Braves the lead.

Sandoval was a solid player early in his career with the San Francisco Giants. In his first season as a regular in 2009, he hit .330 with 25 home runs and 90 runs batted in. He hit three home runs in Game One of the 2012 World Series and was Most Valuable Player of the Series.

Sandoval signed a big contract with the Boston Red Sox after the 2014 season. He hit just .249 in 2015, missed all but three games of 2016 with an injury, and the Sox cut him loose after 32 games in 2017. That set up a reunion for Sandoval and the Giants.

It was back in San Francisco that Sandoval found his niche as a pinch hitter. He was 8-28 with a home run in the pinch in 2018, and he led the National League in pinch hits with 18 in 2019.

Until the blight of the designated hitter, pinch hitters mostly batted for the pitcher; that still is the case in the National League. But pinch hitting is a specialized skill. Just because someone is a good hitter, doesn’t mean he will be a successful pinch hitter.

Henry Aaron hit just .193 with three home runs as a pinch hitter in his career, although he did draw 38 walks (seven of which were intentional) and had an on base percentage of .393. Willie McCovey, on the other hand, was an excellent pinch hitter. He hit .263 with 16 home runs and 84 RBIs. McCovey also had the added benefit of striking fear into opposing pitchers merely with his emergence from the dugout late in a game.

© THE TOPPS COMPANY, INC

I know the records books show that Matt Stairs is the all-time leader in pinch homers with 23, and Lenny Harris had more hits, 212, than any other pinch hitter. But for me, the best pinch hitter of all time is Manny Mota of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He came off the bench 594 times, looking as if someone just rousted him out of bed, and hit .300 with 149 hits, four home runs, and 115 RBIs.

Pablo Sandoval is off to a great start as a pinch hitter this year. As a Braves fan he provides lightning in a bottle late in the game, and perhaps more importantly, hope that our team still has a chance to win the game.

(Game details are from MLB.com and Retrosheetstatistics are from Baseball Reference and Retrosheet.)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 16, 2021 6:29 pm

    I saw Sandoval play for the Sacramento RiverCats quite a while back and remember thinking he was done. I guess I was wrong. I also met Manny Mota once in Pasadena at the Baseball Reliquary HOF where he signed a few baseball cards for me and my girlfriend. He was a nice man.

    Pinch hit legends.

    Like

    • May 17, 2021 12:34 pm

      Thanks for the comments. I know I was a weird kid, but I aspired to be a pinch hitter. I saw it as a glamourous role, kind of like a superhero showing up in the nick of time to save the day.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: