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The Giants Rapp: What Really Happened to Pablo Sandoval?

Before the 2009 season, an ESPN article quietly named Pablo Sandoval as the next break out player in the Giants clubhouse and future fan favorite. His batting earned him the respect of the fans and his nickname coined by Barry Zito launched him into their hearts and wallets. Kung Fu Panda’s final stat sheet for the season read 90 RBI’s, 25 home runs, and a .330-387-.-.556 slash line. His demeanor in the clubhouse made him even more of a fan favorite; the jolly youngster was always joking and establishing relationships with everyone on the squad.

This season has fared differently for the Venezuelan slugger.

It started with an off-season debacle called operation panda, an attempt to combat his increasing body weight. Ultimately the attempt would only draw more attention to his failure to drop weight. Sandoval opened the season batting fourth and by April he was consistently hitting, or rather striking out in the six and seventh spots in the order.

Announcers called it the sophomore slump. Many were careful to explain that the sophomore slump isn’t really a slump at all it just means the league has figured out your weaknesses and learned to exploit them. Before Pablo’s rise to popularity, the writers did note that he had a tendency to swing freely. This was true all along, as the little big man loved to swing at anything no matter where it landed in relation to the strike zone.

There’s not much to figure out. He swings anyway, so put it where he can’t get it and watch him whiff.

Another thing I notice this year is the amount of one pitch at bats he has. It is an incredibly unsatisfying and hollow experience to watch a one pitch pop up. I imagine it feels like the pitcher just stole your wallet when in reality you left it on home plate and walked away.

Even his bubble looks sad.

So the 2010 Sandoval boasts a bigger waistline, a slower step and a .263 average with only 6 home runs in nearly 400 at bats. He also leads the major’s in double plays. It hurts to say this about such a loveable guy but calling him a disappointment this season is fitting compared to last season and his expectations.One angry blogger wrote a bashing article in which he proclaimed Pablo was a fluke and he would never reach his previous success again. I just can’t imagine how it’s possible for a guy to hit 25 fluke home runs in a season in the majors.

Divorce rumors surfaced and were validated when Sandoval skipped two games to attend to “personal matters” in his native Venezuela. Various outlets have since confirmed that he indeed is going through a messy divorce but KNBR and his teammates are quick to confirm that he’s still unfazed and his jolly old self.

However, at times he does look like a different man. His body language is different from the jolly panda of last year. When he gets on base and points skyward to thank the big guy upstairs, the sense of relief and anxiety in his demeanor are glaringly visible.

He will take whatever he can get.

Another quiet point is that Sandoval was discovered to have a slight astigmatism in an eye exam in the off-season. He has tooled around with glasses and contacts despite insisting his vision of the ball is normal. Also, Bochy assures that this type of tweaking is normal for all slumping hitters.

Many fans and broadcasters comment on Pablo as if he will come out of his funk this season and propel the team to the post-season. However, the story of the slumping panda has faded slightly as the team is making splashes all over the league. At one game out of first place in the N.L. West, a monstrous July and the surge of Torres, Huff, and Posey, it appears as if the commentators are happy to just assume that Pablo’s woes are not as much of a problem right now.

So what really is the matter with Pablo Sandoval? The pressures of being asked to carry a team, a divorce, lack of discipline at the plate, the rest of the league having his number?

It’s puzzling. Did he descend? Or was he never on top at all?

Of course more discipline at the plate would help and I find it inconceivable that a professional ball player would be unable to adapt. But truthfully plate discipline is not that simple, and some even believe it can’t be taught.

Trying to predict what will happen with Pablo is difficult. My feeling is he will regain his old form. Although, mine is a gut feeling, grounded more in emotion and desire than facts or statistics.

However…so is baseball.

It’s a strange and finicky game, and even the hottest and the coldest can flip their own scripts. Pablo is now on the hottest team in the game and some of the pressure will be gone. I think the team is electric and its energy is bound to flow throughout the clubhouse.

I think we are going to see that man again, I just hope its soon.

1 comment:

  1. Keep Pablo the "Rally Killer" on the bench!