Home > Uncategorized > The Pablo Sandoval flab flap

The Pablo Sandoval flab flap

Annually, this is always a weird time for what’s considered baseball news. Signs of winter thawing into spring come as players begin to show up for spring training. The first official day of pitchers and catchers reporting is one of the most anticipated days on my sports calendar.

But in mid-to-late February, baseball is in that awkward, early prepubescent stage. It looks like something familiar, but it’s not fully formed. It’s still growing, shaping itself into what we know. It’s just guys throwing and jogging and stretching and hitting. But it’s a hell of a lot more than anything we’ve seen over the past four months, so it’s always a big freaking deal. Baseball is back! Even if it’s totally not! That excitement means baseball scribes need to start filling up those column inches and taking up more space on the Internet with increased haste.

That leaves the baseball public hearing about a variety of stories that create a lot of chatter but are really small potatoes in the big picture. And this season seems to have a wealth of such issues thus far.

The Marlins are going with a “no facial hair” policy. No beards, no mustaches and especially no sideburns. The article states that Don Mattingly is enforcing the rule, but I have a hard time believing it is his creation. He’s being good soldier in his first year as the Marlins’ head man, but I’m sure he privately rolls his eyes at this edict from team execs.

Chris Archer stresses the value of being earlier than early, which would be totally worthwhile if Tom Coughlin was managing the Rays. In this case, it reeks of false hustle.

Of course, we’ll be bombarded with tales of wacky spring training injuries. Those are nothing new and can sometimes be major in severity.

Yet, no story in the first week of spring training has led to the expulsion of more electronic ink and hot air than the shocking revelation that Pablo Sandoval is a fat guy.

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The most discussed photo in Boston since that really ugly courtroom sketch of Tom Brady. (credit: Jim Davis/Boston Globe)

You know what that looks like? Some have said that looks like a lazy player who doesn’t take his job seriously.

I think that looks like Pablo Sandoval.

It’s not a great look, but that is exactly what Pablo Sandoval looks like on the field. Portly, plump, pudgy, whatever you want to call him, that is and has been the Panda. He will never have a body that makes you reminisce about Gabe Kapler. While Sandoval has worked hard to lose weight in the past and has succeeded a couple of times, the extra chunk always found its way back onto Sandoval. Love it or hate it, Pablo and his spare tire will be life-long friends.

Obviously, everyone in Boston — the players, the management, the fans, the media — were aware of this fact when Sandoval signed his five-year, $95 million contract prior to last season. And it was cool as long as he hit.

He didn’t hit.

His 76 OPS+ was sixth from the bottom among qualified hitters. Sandoval was somehow even worse in the field, where his -16.9 UZR represented a career low by a mile and followed up a 2014 campaign in which he received fairly positive results on defense. Add it up and Sandoval, at least according to FanGraphs WAR (-2.0), was the worst player in Major League Baseball last season. He could have been even further in the red if he had not missed about 35 games.

If Pablo becomes a productive player again, his weight issues will be diminished. However, even with what you should call a “good” season from Sandoval, I don’t think he can win. To get back into the good graces of Red Sox Nation, Pablo probably needs to play like someone he’s not, someone like 2011 Pablo.

If 2015 represented the deepest that Sandoval’s slash line could sink — .245/.292/.366 with a .270 BAbip — 2011 represented more of what I’m sure Sox fans expected to see out of their third baseman. In that year, Sandoval slashed .315/.357/.552 with an unsustainable BAbip of .320. He hit 23 home runs in 117 games.

But take a look at Sandoval’s slashes from 2012-14, through his age 25-27 seasons:

2012: .283/.342/.447
2013: .278/.341/.417
2014: .279/.324/.415

Sandoval’s greatest home run total during this stretch was 16 HRs in 2014, but that was in 157 games. Excluding 2014, Sandoval hasn’t played in more than 141 games since 2010.

Furthermore, his BAbip in those seasons stabilized at right around .300. Why was he unable to sniff the 20-homer plateau again? Probably because Pablo’s HR/FB rate was 16 percent in 2011, the only season of his career in which that number reached double digits. In 2012-14, his HR/FB rate sat between 8.3 and 9.5 percent. 

His defense should improve — how could it get worse? — but at the plate, it’s pretty clear that Sandoval is a .270-.280 hitter who will contribute about 15 home runs while continuing to show his standard lack of discipline at the plate.

That’s not good enough for what the Red Sox are paying him. That’s not worth an average annual value of $19 million for the next four years. The fans want to see the Sandoval who was an offensive machine during the 2012 and 2014 postseasons.

Alas, beware the dangers of short sample size, because that’s just not who Pablo Sandoval is. He’s an above-average offensive player, but he’s not a great one. He should post better stats in 2016 than 2015, but he isn’t going to repeat his October exploits.

He’s also fat. This should not be news to anyone who’s been paying attention, but if Sandoval doesn’t improve upon last year in a really significant way, he should prepare himself for a season full of fat-shaming and blaming. If he fails to do that, it won’t be because Sandoval is generally overrated and was given a contract more befitting of a better player. Nope, it will be ALL about his conditioning. Because why look for other reasons when you’ve got this built-in narrative that you have been harping on since February? If you are reporting on the Red Sox and looking to explain what’s wrong with Pablo, it makes your job really easy.

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