Pablo Sandoval: Panda 3.0

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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Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site,, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at

17 Responses to “Pablo Sandoval: Panda 3.0”

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  1. GT says:

    Great article! I’ve been preaching patience with the Panda all offseason and you’ve put my sentiment into a fine piece. The other mental demons that the Panda had to battle last season were that his mom’s house exploded and Sabean wasn’t the most “nurturing” to his situation.

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    • Brandonkey says:

      Yes, Sabean was not nurturing, but Panda’s mom did not explode. Her house was actually safe, but the City of San Bruno did have an unfortunate explosion of gas pipes. That was a dark, dark day.

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  2. Brandonkey says:

    Thanks for posting this article. This does keep Sandoval alive in drafting. Now that his bumpy roads are behind him, I wonder if his weight loss foretells the amount of work he’s going to put into the regular season.

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  3. ben.marcello says:

    Have there been any players in history that dramatically changed their play approach after their first 2 years in the league? Anytime I have seen Kung Fu Panda bat, I am reminded of his lack of plate discipline. His current plate discipline got him to where he is today, why change it!

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    • Howard Bender says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I’d say enhancing his plate discipline, more than changing it. You’re never going to take the free-swinger out of him completely, but I think he’ll be able to identify pitches better which will allow him to lay off the ones he seems to be unable to hit, i.e. the chin high fast ball. He’ll probably still swing at pitches out of the zone, but atleast he’ll know they’re out of the zone beforehand…

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    • Ree says:

      His lack of plate discipline also is part of what sunk him this last year. Pitchers started throwing balls a smidge further out of the strike zone than they did in his rookie season and he chased. So if he can have a little bit more discipline and lay off those ones just under eye level and instead go for the ones at the shoulders…

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  4. Ratwar says:

    I don’t think that last year was the true Pablo Sandoval. I don’t think 2009 was either. That is to say that I highly doubt that a .350 BABIP is his talent level.

    Also, there is some statistical evidence for a ‘badgering about weight’ effect. Look at his splits. At home he was .330/.382/.520. As a visitor (were he may have faced more heckling) he was .208/.266/.299. Those are some pretty massive splits, especially since he plays in a park which represses offensive numbers (or at least HR/FB).

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  5. Big Jgke says:

    ‘The Windows Vista of Ballplayers’ may be the most insulting thing written about any player anywhere, ever. Excellent.

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  6. Scout Finch says:

    Last years “debacle” was 30 points higher in the average dept (.268-13-63).

    The projections of splitting the difference between the previous 2 seasons seems fair, but as a Giants fan, I’m all for the 3.0 that surpasses the production of 1.0.

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    • Howard Bender says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Whoops! Little typo there. Good catch, Scout, and thanks for bringing it to my attention. All fixed up now.

      And while .268 is certainly better than .238, the drop from .330 is still, in my opinion, a debacle.

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  7. Guggs says:

    I think that pitchers treated him differently last year, but there were many at bats where he was having trouble hitting a fastball right over the plate and a little up in the zone. I would think that some of that is just physical and the weight loss/training should help.

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  8. B N says:

    I have to say, this is probably the funniest article I have read on this site. Kudos. Also, a good article all around. I’m still sort of chuckling.

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  9. Larry Yocum says:

    Also, one other thing that nobody is even mentioning is that he had some vision problems last season. He was only wearing a contact in one eye and said it gave him fits all year long. At one point early in his career he wore goggles and glasses. He has spent some time at the eye doctor this offseason as well and they came up with a new prescription and he will also wear contacts in both eyes next season.

    Even with the weight and vision problems his K% and BB% were almost identical both seasons, so it’s not as if he was all of hte sudden a different hitter in that regard. He may have been incredibly lucky with the BABIP one season and unlucky the next. I would be a lot more worried about him if his K% would have jumped considerably. Good bounceback candidate for sure.

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  10. buck turgidson says:

    240 is not svelt. Unless you are 6’9″.

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