Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pablo Sandoval and the 2011 Giants Offense

A few weeks ago, the Giants re-signed Guillermo Mota to a minor league deal. Lou Piniella is joining the organization as a consultant. Oh, and Jeff Suppan signed a minor league contract as well. Bruce Bochy and Brian Sabean got their options for 2012 picked up. And just yesterday, the team gave another one of those minor league pacts to Mexican Pacific League star Justin Christian. None of this news has been blogged about on this site because we suck (And really, who cares about Jeff Suppan?). Sorry about the lack of Justin Christian analysis, though. I guess I've gotten caught up in following the pathetic seasons of the 49ers and Kings and put the Giants on the back burner, which is absolutely shameful. But FanFest was yesterday, and while it's a chaotic event that I will never ever attend again, it's pretty cool that it was so crowded with fans that the team had to tell people to STOP coming. So, I'm starting to get pumped up for baseball to start again.

Not to mention that the subject of this post, Pablo Sandoval, has started a Twitter account and it's been great. Whether it's pictures he's posted, tweets explaining his intense workout regimen, or visual accounts from various people, all reports are that Pablo looks great and has lost about 30 pounds of fat while adding lean muscle. This is HUGE news.

Something lost in all of the post-World Series win euphoria has been the fact that the Giants did not have a very good offense in 2010 and haven't really done anything to improve it, which means improvements will have to come from within. Maybe that will come from top prospect Brandon Belt, but he's not likely to start the season with the team and not all rookies can impact a team like Buster Posey did. Speaking of Posey, having him for a full season should help, but there's no guarantee he'll outperform his pretty great 2010 numbers. Miguel Tejada as an improvement over Edgar Renteria/Juan Uribe? It's quite likely that that is the opposite of an upgrade.

Let's consider a few more areas where the Giants may actually regress in 2011. Andres Torres is somewhat of an unknown, as he's really only had 1 full season of playing time. He had a great 2010 and was crucial to the team's success, but he struggled some later in the year, carrying just a .303 OBP over the second half of the season, which is not ideal production from your leadoff hitter. Aubrey Huff was perhaps the Giants' offensive MVP in 2010 and they are expecting that he'll be an extremely valuable part of the offense in 2011, which is a little scary. Huff is another valuable piece from 2010 who we can expect some regression from in 2011. Just one year removed from having an OPS+ of just 81, it's entirely possible his 2011 production won't approach his 138 OPS+ of 2010. After August 1st, Huff batted just .255/.360/.426 for the rest of the season. That's not bad, and maybe it was just a late-season slump, but considering Huff's inconsistency over the last few years, it's still cause for concern. Huff is 34 and if the later part of 2010 represented a true regression, it's not going to be good enough for the middle of the order hitter the Giants are expecting him to be. We also need to remember that despite his postseason heroics, Cody Ross had a regular season OPS+ of just 93 in 2010. Pat Burrell is getting older and his 2010 with the Giants may have been somewhat of a fluke, considering his 2009 and 2010 with the Rays. I've already mentioned how maybe expectations for Buster Posey and Brandon Belt should be tempered. Basically, this offense doesn't seem to have much upside for improvement.

Enter Pablo Sandoval, the Giants' best chance at a significantly improved offense. Fans have been begging Sandoval to lose weight for a long time now and the Giants even threatened him with a demotion to the minors if he didn't get in shape. I've never bought into the idea that losing lots of weight was going to help Pablo's offense. Sure, it'd help with his agility and range, which would improve his defense, but he's always been a big guy and his weight didn't seem to affect him at all in 2009. But losing weight and adding muscle can't HURT his offense and the most exciting part about this is the dedication he seems to be showing. If you believe Sandoval, he's been working out 6 times a week, twice a day for a couple of months now, while laying off the soda and chips. And not only is he working out, but he's been talking to Barry Bonds about improving his plate discipline, which was the real reason for his struggles at the plate. If this news doesn't get you really excited, I don't know what does. So soon people forget that Pablo Sandoval posted an OPS+ of 144 in his first full major league season, at the age of 22. He struggled in 2010, posting an OPS+ of 95 and batting just .268/.323/.409, but that happens to young players. At age 24, Sandoval is still extremely young and has a ton of time to get back to how he was playing a year ago. As a fan, you have to at least appreciate that he looks willing to do whatever he has to do to reach his potential. And most importantly, if all of this offseason work pays dividends on the diamond, the Giants could be adding a legitimate middle of the order bat without even making a transaction.

I guess the post turned into more of a depressing, worst-case-scenario look at the Giants' offense instead of an optimistic Pablo Sandoval commentary. Or maybe it can be both. That's just it, as an objective fan, I look at the team and I worry about that offense a little bit. Remember, the Giants barely got into the playoffs despite GREAT pitching. The offense can't afford to get any worse. So Pablo Sandoval will be huge in 2011. In all likelihood, he won't get back to being one of the league's best hitters in just one year, but his progress and commitment are extremely exciting. And if he does return to form, the Giants could have a very good offense for a long time. Think about a Posey-Sandoval-Belt heart of the order for a second. It's a wonderful thought.