Pablo Sandoval isn’t hitting. What makes things worse is that he’s average at best on defense and has all the speed of a water buffalo. His defense and lack of speed was acceptable because he hit baseballs like they were trying to steal his dinner, but this year he’s sporting an Aaron Rowand-like wOBA of just .303 and an OPS of .701.
Now before you go all Mel Gibson on me and start screaming obscenities that, while hilarious, are also quite disturbing, I’m not saying that the Giants should DFA Sandoval or send him down to Richmond, just that he has ceased to be an everyday player—for this season at least.
There has already been a lot made of Sandoval’s “slump” or, rather, lack of production since April when he had an OPS of 1.008. Some seem to believe that it’s due to his personal issues, or his eyesight, or even the vaunted sophomore jinx, but it has a whole lot more to do with his appetite than his ability.
This winter, Sandoval was coming off a break-out campaign in which he posted an OPS of .943 with 25 HR’s. However, the Giants rightly identified that the Kung Fu Panda would have a difficult time going all Daniel-san on opposing pitchers with any consistency at his then listed weight of 240 lbs. The Giants instituted “Operation Panda” in which Sandoval, along with his older brother Michael, stayed in San Francisco during the off-season and attended daily workout sessions, while also being educated on proper nutrition and eating habits. At first, “Operation Panda” seemed to be a huge success; Sandoval shed weight and seemed to be on a path to better fitness, health, and hopefully prolonged production.
At the end of “Operation Panda” Sandoval returned home to finish the winter ball season in Venezuela, but ran in to Mom’s cooking and put all the weight he’d lost back on.
Initially, this didn’t seem to effect Sandoval much and he had a great April, even though he struggled a bit from the right side. Since a torrid April Sandoval seems to be imposing a lot more fear in to the hearts of all-you-can-eat buffet owners than opposing pitchers. Instead of getting better, he’s getting worse. His 1.008 OPS in April, was followed by a .617 OPS in May, .645 in June and a .597 OPS in July.
Most of Sandoval’s decline in OPS can be measured in the D.B. Cooper-like disappearance of power that he’s suffered through so far this season. His ISO (Isolated Power or SLG-AVG) decline this year: April - .207, May - .108, June - .106 and July - .063. Just as a frame of reference, the great slugger Brett Butler averaged an ISO of .086 over his career, while Barry Bonds averaged an ISO of .309.
As Andrew Baggerly recently pointed out in his blog, “The Braves’ three-run rally in the second inning began when Brooks Conrad’s poorly hit roller down the third-base line got past Pablo Sandoval for a double. Sandoval wasn’t playing off the line, either—the latest alarming evidence that the 23-year-old is slowing down.” It appears that Sandoval’s weight is slowing him down, and this was before he allowed the weakly hit ground ball off the bat of Alfonso Soriano to turn in to a double yesterday.
The problem is the Giants don’t have a better option, even with Sandoval’s meager production it’s more likely that he’ll suddenly snap out of his slump then for the Giants to get better production from Manny Burriss. However, much of Sandoval’s struggles this year have come from the right side, while he’s posted an OPS of just .604 from the right side, he’s posted a more respectable OPS of .736 from the left side; conversely, Edgar Renteria has a lifetime OPS of .912 against left-handed pitchers and would most likely pick up playing time if Sandoval sat.
While, the only real long-term solution for Sandoval is to call in Jenny Craig and Jillian Michaels of The Biggest Loser fame to tag-team the Kung Fu Panda this off-season and do something to make his body resemble a professional athlete outside of Bowling and Sumo wrestling, the short-term solution is to platoon Sandoval until he either picks it up or forces his way to the bench.