Before he was the Panda, my kids and I were calling Pablo Sandoval, “The Blito”. We took Pablo, made it Pablito, and simply shortened it to Blito, before adding “The” in front of it, sort of how Ohio State University is The Ohio State University. So to us, he’s not The Panda, he’s The Blito.
Pablo is the kind of player you just like giving nicknames to. He’s fun loving and kids enjoy watching someone who just looks like they’re having fun out there on the field. Pablo Sandoval kind of crept up on all of us. He wasn’t a high pick or a super prospect of any kind. And he achieved success at a fast pace. People forget that he’s still just 24 years old. His playful attitude has made him a fan favorite, but the same attitude has given fans some ammunition when he doesn’t play well. I can’t remember when Giants fans previously cared how much someone weighed, but they sure cared this offseason.
They cared so much that it overshadowed a lot of his problems last year that didn’t have anything to do with his weight. Sure, his range at third base seemed so much more limited than the year before. But if you went to some games last year, you’d notice that he was cheating to the left a little bit, and playing off the line. My guess is that he knew that neither Juan Uribe or Edgar Renteria was going to cover a lot of ground to their backhand so he wanted to see if he could get to some of those balls. And of course, he might’ve been cheating left a little bit because he was having trouble getting to his left as well.
But at the plate, I’m not so sure it was all that physical. All the smart ones will say that hitting is a mental game. He may have had trouble getting through the zone on inside pitches because of his size, but Prince Fielder carries a bigger boiler than Pablo did last year and he doesn’t seem to have the same problem. I really think it was mostly mental. Most every Giants fan knows that Pablo was going through a divorce last year. He has a young daughter. Those things can affect anyone in their life. Anyone whose gone through a divorce (raising my hand) knows that it’s such a complete mind f***, you find yourself day dreaming, playing scenarios through your head, thinking about the past, the future, and the people you’ve disappointed.
Something happens to second year hitters, especially those who are targeted as the big bat in the lineup. Pitchers target them. They study them harder. They found that they didn’t really need to throw Pablo strikes. He was such a free swinger that if they were off the plate by an inch or two, it didn’t matter. He was going to swing. In May of 2010, he saw his average drop from .352 to .293. By the end of July it was .264 and he ended the season at .268. I rewound my DVR a few times last year on some of his at-bats to see if pitchers were actually throwing him strikes at all. There were many an occasion where Pablo would strike out and not one pitch was in the zone. In baseball, it’s called, “getting yourself out”. The pitcher’s letting you get yourself out. Nope, I don’t think it was all physical.
Pablo worked hard in the offseason to take away the ammunition of his weight. So far, it’s paid off. His line is a strong .328/.400/.603. In fact, it’s so strong, it reminded me of the time he started this hot … in 2010. Through seventeen games last year, Pablo’s line was .333/.413/.561.
What are the takeaways? I think that mentally, Pablo is in a much stronger place than last season. He showed dedication by taking off the excess weight and becoming a better athlete. But I’d like to see him be much more consistent this year. Last year, along with his batting average, his on base percentage took a huge tumble, which means to me that when he’s hitting good, he’s much more patient than when he’s not. He’s more likely to “get himself out” when he’s struggling. Though, I think that’s very common with big league hitters. But the OBA took a bigger free fall than his batting average did last year.
The better he hits, the more pitchers will stay away from him. If he has the patience this year that he didn’t have last year, I think he has season closer to his 2009 breakout year than last year’s disappointing 2010. But let’s not get caught up in his hot start. The Blito started just as hot and continued to stay hot all through April, last year.