San Francisco Giants' third baseman Pablo Sandoval has had a career with enough twists and turns to make you think he's been around for 12 years. How is it that he has only been in the league since 2008?
He arrived on the big stage at AT&T Park on August 14, 2008 with an 0-3, one RBI performance in the Giants' 7-4 loss to Houston. That was one of the few oh-fers that Sandoval would experience in '08. He hit .345 and had an OPS of .847 in 41 games with the big club.
Game on! "Pay your hard earned money for a Panda Hat."
In 2009 it was more of the same, only better. Sandoval hit .330, and the 25 bombs that he set off led to a lusty .943 OPS. The only downside was that the 145 at-bats in '08 were five too many for Pablo to be eligible for Rookie of the Year honors.
"Boo, he was robbed! Pay even more for a Panda hat!"
Then came 2010. The World Series that gave the Giants the keys to The City by the Bay was accomplished in front of roaring, sellout crowds...but with a Panda in strange decline. An average of .268, with 13 HR and 63 RBI led to an OPS of .732.
The major league average OPS hovers around .755. These were not the numbers of a corner infielder on a contending team. Where the always rotund Panda was seen as playful and quirky in 2009, now he was just seen as fat. His roundness was seen as a detriment.
"Buy one get one on Panda hats."
Since 2010, Sandoval's numbers have rebounded to be sure. His two-year average since then is .301. He has homered 35 times in that span and played a credible third base. Yet, he hasn't been close to 500 at-bats since the unfortunate 2010 campaign.
His weight has not found its way under his control. According to baseball-reference.com, he is listed at 240 pounds. The eye test says that the late season Sandoval is closer to 270 pounds.
So what do we imagine for the eminently likable young man who's cat-quick wrists helped him to fillet Justin Verlander last fall? Do we believe that he is going to take conditioning and weight control seriously enough to let his natural abilities shine?
Not if recent quotes are to be believed. In an interview with Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan, Sandoval had this to say.
“I’ve got this year and next year to change all the things,” Sandoval said. “It’s going to take me a while, but I can do it. I know I can do it.
“You need to learn. You need to grow up. You need to step up and know the difference between what you can do and what you can’t.”
Sandoval's free-swinging nature puts strain on his arms, from wrist to elbow. Hamate bone issues in the past and bone spur ailments this spring have been abundant. In fact, according to the San Jose Mercury-News, Sandoval hopes to be throwing by the end of this week after his latest setback from bone spurs in his throwing elbow. That is a concern less than a week before Opening Day.
Sandoval's free-eating nature is perhaps the greater issue, though. We know that Pablo will never look like Michael Phelps. It's not in the cards for his body style. A number closer to 225, though, would make the grind of a baseball season easier on his frame.
This year and next, Pablo? Your organization needs you in good Panda mode. The bet here is .275, 25 HR and 88 RBI, but more importantly, 388 at-bats tops.