OK, FanGraphers. As you may have surmised from my single digit post count, I’m one of the new guys here, and as a new guy, it’s my responsibility to properly introduce myself and show you what I have to offer. To do that, I’m going to have to take you out of your comfort zone today. And by that, I mean I want you to put down your spreadsheets, drop your calculators, and set aside your usual stacks of number-crunching data. I love stats. I really do. But sometimes, I feel that the human element of baseball is being lost in a sea of statistics and sabermetric primers, and it’s time to acknowledge the need to discuss these ballplayers as the people for which they are. And what better way to start it off then to talk about the comeback of Giants third baseman, Pablo Sandoval?
The big question on everyone’s mind is, “which Panda will show up this season?” Will we get a return of the original version who hit .330 with 25 HR and 90 RBI or will it be a repeat of last season’s .268-13-63 debacle? Will it be Panda 1.0 who seemingly could hit anything and everything no matter where it fell in relation to the strike zone or will it be Panda 2.0, the Windows Vista of ballplayers, who couldn’t hit water if his fat ass fell out of a boat? I’ve looked at all the data, dating back to 2006 when he was just a wee, little bear cub at the Giants Single-A farm team and my colleague, Michael Barr, did an outstanding job analyzing the data in an article he did for RotoHardball. But I’ve looked at some other factors that have nothing to do with statistical analysis and think that we’re all in for a real treat this spring as we get introduced to a much more appealing Panda 3.0.
For starters, there’s the weight loss. The whole off season was like an episode of The Biggest Loser as we were treated to constant updates on Panda’s weight and workout regiment. Last season, he was perpetually badgered about his weight gain and you can’t tell me that wouldn’t affect anyone. I know they’re professional athletes and need to be thick-skinned when it comes to the media, but the kid was just 23 years old at the time and went from being one of the most revered to one of the most ridiculed in just a 4 month span. Now that he’s a svelte 240 and a media darling again, he’s got a smile on his face that makes the Kool-Aid guy look like a grumpy, old man.
And that smile can also be attributed to the fact that he’s finally over and done with what was a very bitter divorce last season. Not too many people outside of the Bay Area were privy to the coverage, but that kind of an off-field distraction can really screw with a person’s head, especially since he’s got a young daughter involved. I’ve seen plenty of friends go through similar occurrences and it’s never pretty. Quite often there is major depression and once the downward spiral starts, things only get worse before they get better. With that added weight (pardon the expression) off his mind, Sandoval can go back to focusing on his game.
Then there was the announcement at the Giants Town Hall meeting just prior to the start of Spring training where Sandoval revealed his extensive off season work with Barry Bonds (cue excessive steroid jokes). While Panda was getting into shape under the guidance of Bonds’ old trainer Greg Oliver, Bonds himself was working with him on pitch selection and improving the young hitter’s batting eye. So while some will cite the weight loss as a possible reduction in power, I think Sandoval will become a better hitter now that he’s learning more about pitchers’ tendencies, release points, and pitch recognition. And with that, the home runs and RBI will come hand in hand with a .300 average.
So there you have it. Maybe it’s not the usual statistical extravaganza that you’re all used to, but it’s solid reasoning as to how and why you’ll see a different and better Pablo Sandoval this season. We can talk about BABIP and ISO til we’re blue in the face, but sometimes, you just have to throw the numbers out the window and understand that these guys are all just people too. Panda 3.0 looks good, sounds good, and feels good. His mind is in a great place right now and he’s got a fantastic support system both personally and professionally.
My final three words for this longer than usual post: Draft with confidence.
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