First off, while many claimed Sandoval had leaned out some last spring training, our eyes were telling us something different entirely. Perhaps, instead of admitting then and there that “Camp Panda” was a failure, the Giants figured they could get a handle on him once again considering they’d have their hands on him (figuratively speaking, folks) all day, every day… or most of it anyway.
But here’s the portion I’m interested in:
It’s important, though, to remain reasonable. Sandoval may bounce back in a big way at the plate. He may improve in the field, too. Being in better shape can’t possibly hurt him. But the last time he lost a lot of weight he went on to struggle, and that’s something people have to keep in mind. That Pablo Sandoval’s eating wheat bread now doesn’t automatically mean his numbers are going to go up, because while his weight was probably an issue, it was never his biggest problem. Sandoval’s biggest problem has always been that he’s way too aggressive, and unless he’s suddenly able to deduce more proficiently what’s a ball and what’s a strike, he’s unlikely to re-establish himself as a star.I can sympathize where Jeff is going, but I don’t necessarily agree. No, I can’t because I don’t think Sandoval’s ability to re-emerge as a young star in the National League weighs on his plate discipline any more than Carlos Gonzalez’s plate discipline (or complete lack there of) weighs on his ability to remain one.
In 2009, Sandoval’s unintentional walk rate was 8.21 percent. In 2010, it was 7.63 percent. If you want to know exactly how many walks the difference was, I’ll tell you (I’ve looked it up): five. That’s right, Sandoval walked just five fewer times in 2010 than he did in 2009 (and in 17 fewer plate appearances).
We might also take a look at his pitches per plate appearance. In 2008, he saw just 3.10 pitches per plate appearance. He did improve that in 2009 to 3.44, and perhaps that’s why he was so successful. But if he really was being too aggressive in 2010, wouldn’t the data tell us that? In 2010, he saw 3.43 or virtually exactly the same number as he had in his breakout 2009 campaign.
To be fair, I think a question worth asking is, given that he was seeing roughly the same number of pitches in both seasons, whether or not Sandoval was swinging at the right pitches. Unfortunately, that’s a very difficult one to answer. And if what I’ve been reading about pitch location data is true, it’s far from reliable. In fact, it’s probably nearer to worthless.
So, with the limited data I have at my disposal, I’m leaning towards this: the real difference in the outstanding, chubby version of Sandoval and the crummy, chubbier iteration from 2010 was more likely his average on balls and play and power.
2008 was the season Sandoval actually broke out in professional baseball. He’d been extremely young for each league coming up through the Giants’ system, but in 2008 he was no longer showing it. He started the season in Advanced Single-A and hit .359 with 12 home runs and 98 hits in just 301 plate appearances. That earned him a promotion to Double-A, where he hit .337 with another eight home runs in 184 plate appearances. In those stops, his batting average on balls in play (BABiP) was .384 and .345, his isolated power (ISO) .238 and .211.
Those auditions earned him a cup of coffee in the show. While his ISO dipped, his BABiP kept steady at .356, allowing him to hit .345 in 154 plate appearances. That cemented Pablo as a mainstay in a lineup that previously contained basically zero upside.
The following season, 2009, Sandoval just kept on lighting up the league and finished with a line of .330/.387/.556 (batting average/ on-base percentage/ slugging). His BABiP remained very high at .350 and his ISO spiked to .226 as he hit 25 home runs, 44 doubles and five triples. That was good for an outstanding weight on-base average (wOBA) of .396 and some deserving MVP votes.
In 2010, the hits stopped falling and the fly balls were no longer leaving the yard. His average on balls in play plummeted to a pedestrian .291 and his ISO fell to .140. This could have been the result of a few things. One of them could be that he simply was lucky in 2009 and the law of averages was returning him to neutral luck. Another is that he was very unlucky in 2010. My last guess would have to be that he had a decline in skill, that his ability to sting the ball all over the yard and drive it over the padded fences had diminished. Maybe that had to do with him being too heavy and his bat too lethargic, maybe it didn’t.
But Sandoval was a really good hitter in 2009 without tremendous plate discipline. What’s more, his 8.21 percent walk rate was actually pretty decent. In 2010, his rate of 7.63 percent was still decent. It was all of those balls that were landing in gloves and not a) rolling around in the outfield grass or b) landing in lucky fans’ gloves (or the drink at McCovey Cove).
I suspect his future will hinge on his ability (or inability) to make hard contact to all fields and do a lot better on balls in play, which is a skill we know hitters have a heck of a lot more control of than do pitchers. Also: whether or not he can start driving the ball to the tune of a 200+ isolated power.
The plate discipline will help some, sure, but hitters don’t tend to make significant strides in that area and it’s not the be all and end all -- my apologies to those that misinterpreted Moneyball. It certainly won’t be what I’ll be paying close attention to.
Lastly, the papers are telling us (again) that Sandoval lost a lot of weight, but this time our eyes are too.
Stats used are from FanGraphs