Panda: free-swinger, big eater

Posted By on June 16, 2010 10:41 am

Wrote a story at FanHouse today about Pablo Sandoval, who is still not where the Giants want him to be, with his approach at the plate or with his conditioning. As for the latter, he looks at least as big this year as he ever has in a Giants uniform, despite all that Operation Panda stuff last year.

Trainer Dave Groeschner wouldn’t tell me how much Sandoval weighs, and Panda wouldn’t fess up either, but Groeschner conceeded that he’s too fat.

“I think he’d like to weigh a little less,” Groeschner said. “We’d like him to weigh a little less, but it’s an ongoing challenge. We’re going to keep staying positive. As long as he keeps working, we’ll stay on him.”

As for the plate discipline thing, I’ve got to admit I’m a little confused. As he went into ’09, I asked everyone “How can a guy be successful if he swings at everything?” I was told, by more than one person, that Sandoval is the rare guy who can do it. I was skeptical, but sure enough, he did it. He hit .330 last year.

Now, all of the sudden, he’s not doing as well and the Giants are saying that he’s swinging at too many pitches. He swung at just as many last year and it worked. Pitchers certainly knew before the start of ’09 that they didn’t have to throw him strikes, and he still hit.

So I’m not sure what’s changed, and the answers I got from hitting coach Bam Bam Meulens and Sandoval didn’t really shed much light.

I think it’s possible that Sandoval was just lucky last year or he’s unlucky this year, and that otherwise he’s not doing anything differently. Yes, I hate to attribute what happens after the ball is struck to luck. I don’t think it’s accurate to simply look at batting average on balls in play, but I do think there’s value in looking at line drives.

Sandoval’s line drive percentage is roughly the same from last year (16.2) to this year (15.8). His strikeout percentage is actually lower this year (11.8) than it was last year (13.1). So the overall frequency of him putting the ball in play, and the quality of the contact when he does hit it, is just about the same.

But last year his average on those line drives was .785, and this year it’s .700. (The NL average on line drives is .723.) His overall average on balls in play was .353 last year, and this year it’s .305. (NL avg: .303).

That leads me to believe that maybe Sandoval was just getting away with a poor approach last year because an inordinately high number of the balls he hit were finding holes, and this year he’s coming back more toward the norm.

In any case, getting more disciplined at the plate is never a bad thing, if he can pull it off.

Salads are good too.

Comments

4 Responses to “Panda: free-swinger, big eater”

  1. First, hitters don’t regress to the mean on BABIP, it is pitchers. Just because the average BABIP is .303 has nothing to do with Pablo’s BABIP, each hitter has their own level of BABIP.

    Second, I think to get another view of this, one needs to break Sandoval’s season into parts to try to see what might be happening.

    Sandoval’s OPS was over 1.000 at the end of April, so it is not like pitchers figured out something on him during the off-season. Then he hit the wall in early May, but from mid-May to end-May, he was not Panda-esque, but his numbers were decent, great OBP, but only slightly above average OPS. Basically, he lost his power stroke in May. Then he hit another wall in early June before heating up with his first homer of June.

    Showing this, his BABIP has fallen off the cliff. In 2008, .356, 2009, .350. In April, .382, but in May .269 and June .234.

    Given the sequence of events, this would imply that after spending a whole off-season trying to figure out how to get out Sandoval, then suddenly one pitcher figured it out and then every pitcher in the league could pitch to him exactly how to get him out after that. I don’t think that is plausible.

    To me, it is like something sapped his strength. Like he had the mother of all colds or some soul-sapping intestinal bug in early May and he has been slowly recovering since then, then had a slight relapse (or just back luck with balls being converted into outs) in early June before recovering again.

    Your point about his line drives percentage being the same this season as last supports this scenario. His line drives are basically the same as before, showing that his swing isn’t the problem, but as you noted, his average was down, which makes sense if his strength is weakened, they are then easier to get to and catch for outs. And they go for less extra-base hits: his ISO on line drives in 2010 is 175 but in 2009 it was 366.

    Though too early to say for certain, but I would bet that this article basically came out right when Sandoval finally got healthy or whatever you want to call it, and caught him just after his nadir. In his last four games, he’s hitting .333/.500/.917/1.417, blasting out two homers in four games, after just one homer in 37 games, 153 AB since the start of May.

    His power appears to be back, and thus his line drives should probably start falling in again (because there IS a lot of random luck involved with balls in play) if my theory is right. And soon this blip will be in the rearview mirror and Pandamonium will reign again.

  2. Marvin says:

    Whether his stroke returns again or not, the other issue is his weight. He needs to be in better shape for the long baseball season and as he gets older it is going to be harder and harder, if he does nothing else but keep eating. It is going to have an impact on his play, as well as the rest of his life.

  3. Frank says:

    He is eating himself into playing first base on a full time bases. He looks to be 15 lbs heavier than he was at the same time last year.

  4. Kyle says:

    Jeff,

    Will / are you going to address any of the Fred Lewis related social media controversy on either your professional or personal blog? I’ve pretty much written off any exposure with the so-called mainstream media on this topic.

    Thanks,
    Kyle

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