Uribe and Sandoval: Tying the Knot
Most of you probably don't know this but I got my start doing this sort of stuff by writing about the Giants for Fanhome (which then became Scout.com; the Giants section was called SF Dugout back then), which was fed out to Yahoo. Here is a link to my first article, which explained that Jose Uribe helped with Vladimir Guerrero's early development by coming by his neighborhood and donating nine gloves to the kids, which allowed them to play baseball properly. And the rest, as they say, is history, Vlad eventually was signed and became the great player that he is today.
Remembering the kindness of Uribe, Vlad has been paying forward, bringing not only gloves, but clothes and other equipment, as well as building a proper baseball field. As accounted in today's article by the great Andy Baggarly in the San Jose Mercury, one day he donated a bunch of his used footwear to a cousin of his, who happened to be in the Giants farm system, but when it didn't fit his cousin, he passed it on to a fellow player on that short-season team who did have size 11 feet, Pablo Sandoval. Sandoval told Vlad, when they were on the field together in this last series, that Vlad's shoes got him to the big leagues.
And that seems totally appropriate because there have been a lot of comments about how Sandoval's hitting reminds people of how Vlad hits because, while he swings at a lot more pitches than most hitters, particularly out of the strike zone, he's able to position himself so that he gets the barrel on the ball and get hits. After starting out cold to start the season (many new starters appear to get the yips early on before getting their bearings), Sandoval has been bringing things up a notch, little by little, culminating in his recently ended 10 game hitting streak, where he hit .471 including four homers.
He is now hitting .330, good for fifth in the NL, which is bringing talk that perhaps he can be a perenial contender for the batting title. People complain that he doesn't take walks (or balls) but as Bochy noted in Baggarly's article, Tony Gwynn never got a lot of walks either, because players like him and Sandoval usually can put the ball in play when they swing the bat.
Baggarly had a nice discussion on how the Sandoval is adjusting his batting tactics this season, per the Giants suggestions. Not wanting to kill their golden goose, the Giants don't want to discourage his "bad-ball brilliance" but rather, show a more discerning eye at the plate. That would also explain his slow start, as he worked on doing that instead of just swinging and hitting.
The stats Baggarly noted on show that he's improving. His pitches per plate appearance is up 10%, from 3.11 last season to 3.46 so far this season. He is also swinging at the first pitch much less as well, only 45% this year vs. 50% last year. In addition, overall, he is swinging at only 58% of pitches this year vs. 64% last year. The results: he is hitting .330/.373/.536/.909.
That's why walks are overrated by the Giants fanbase and sabermetricians, who parrot the Moneyball line about OBP. Ultimately, if you have the choice between two similar players with the same OBP, you want the one who has the higher batting average, which by definition therefore has a lower walk rate, because the batting average boost both OBP and SLG. That's the ying and yang of offense, you want to both get on base (OBP) and drive in baseruners (SLG). That's a nuance that escapes many: of course, it's better, given the choice, to take a walk rather than make an out, but if a guy can hit well and not strike out much at the same time, a low walk rate is not bad. It didn't hurt Tony Gwynn, nor did it hurt Vlad.
Of course, there are few who can hit like Gwynn or Vlad. But so far in his career (careeer batting line of .336/.367/.518/.885) and only at the tender age of 22 (he'll be 23 in mid-August), Sandoval is doing a pretty good imitation of them.
As noted by Baggarly, one of the fears has been that pitchers would adjust to his aggressive tendencies this season, and he would not hit like he did last season. I didn't think that would happen because teams have known about his aggressive tendencies since he first joined the Giants, and every year, at every level, the pitchers were not able to control Kung Fu Panda. In fact, he figured them out more often than they figured him out:
2006 - A: 17.0% K%
2007 - A+: 13.0% K%
2008 - A+: 14.3% K%
2008 - AA: 11.4% K%
2008 - MLB: 9.7% K%
2009 - MLB: 14.7% K%
And while his K% went up this season, it should be noted that his BB% has gone up too, making his BB/K rise from last year's 0.29 to this season's 0.39, and that a major league hitter who can keep his K% at 15% and lower is among the elite of the league. The batting average of hitters who can keep their K% between 10% and 14% average around .285 batting average.
And with his increase in BB%, he greatly improved his batting average potential. For hitters who strike out as much as Sandoval is right now, those who walk at 5% and under average only a .269 batting average, while those above 5% to 10%, average a .279 batting average. He is also hitting more doubles as well.
I would also note that his cartoon-ish high .367 BABIP last year - each hitter's BABIP is individual - is being repeated this year, as his BABIP is currently .361. If this is his normal level of production, he would be one of the highest in the majors right now and, as noted, a perenial contender for the batting title.
Mike Scioscia was quoted in Baggarly's article:
"I tell you, he's a special talent at the plate. On video, we saw him hit some balls a really long way. The thing I notice is he's got good balance at the plate. There are some things you can try to do, but you don't have the margin of error you might have with other hitters wh ohave soft zones. He's too strong and his bat is too quick. You can try to get under his swing, and we've done it a couple of times. But if you don't get it there, you've seen what can happen."I think I'll end with Vlad's comment to Baggerly:
"Leave him alone. If he's hitting the ball like that, hey, let him hit."Yoda Unit and Luke Sanchez
In a nice article by Andrew Pentis, it discusses how The Big Unit, Randy Johnson, is actively mentoring Jonathan Sanchez. That is one of the benefits that was discussed about adding Johnson to the team. I won't go through all the details - and there is a lot of great detail, so I recommend going there if you want that - but would note that Johnson is giving a ship-load of advice to Sanchez and being a hard taskmaster.
Not that there's anything wrong with that, but that would explain to me how Sanchez has been so up and down (mostly down) this season. He is thinking too much on the mound, and so he reverts back to his learning mode, which as Malcolm Gladwell noted in his article about choking and the art of failure. And that's not a bad thing in the long run, but has been pretty bad in the short run.
He is being driven by lofty goals. He wants to be like his fellow rotation mates - and that's a tall order with the current Cy Young winner, three Cy Young winners in total, and one (Cain) looking to be in the hunt for the Cy Young this season. He also wants to pitch 7 innings every time, but has rarely made the 7th, let alone pitch through it. And, so these goals could also be affecting him as well, making him think too much.
A player, including particularly a pitcher, need to be able to do everything that they do reflexively and subconsciously, using muscle memory, or they will get what people call "the yips". That is demonstrated when a catcher suddenly cannot throw the ball to the pitcher, launching towards secondbase, or an infielder who suddenly cannot throw to a base without throwing it over the fielder's head. I think this explains Sanchez's regression this year.
I think it will all pay off eventually, but "when" is the operative word. The team cannot wait much longer for him to start putting it all together. We have been good enough to still be over .500 even with him sucking so badly, but now that we are so close to the prize - a playoff spot, as they are only 1 game behind St Louis - the Giants are trying to shore up the weak points on the team. That's why Burriss was sent down to AAA so quickly, without waiting for Frandsen to be available to call up, and that is why Fred Lewis has become the 4th OF and Schierholtz has been seeing regular starts now - he has started in 6 of his and the Giants last 7 games.
I think that the Giants will skip at least one of his starts, that has been Bochy's M.O., and if he doesn't make enough progress, perhaps another one, and just let him relieve and get his mind back into order by giving it a rest. Hopefully that will be enough, but perhaps Johnson should also skip on his lectures for now until after the All-Star break, to give his pupil a mental break. Sometimes you are getting so many instructions that you feel overwhelmed.
That's what happened when I learned how to drive a stick shift. My friend, bless his heart, taught me how to drive, but was constantly in my face about everything that I needed a break and ended the lesson. I drove home and then just leisurely drove around my quiet neighborhood and, once the pressure was off, I was soon shifting very well (though once I burned some rubber and revved the engine, catching the attention of a couple of cute girls, who appeared to think I was doing that to impress them).
I think that Sanchez after the break will be more like the dominant pitcher he was last season, than the lost pitcher he has been this season. He has been pitching scared and thinking too much to let his abilities show, and the break will do him well. But I think that Johnson will have to be less of the stern teacher and more the supportive buddy to help with that.
Still, overall, based on the great reportage by Pentis, I would have to say that the Randy Johnson Experiment has been a great success. The details of how he has been tutoring Sanchez has been amazing. I was leaning towards letting him go and getting a draft pick for him, maybe, but now I think we have to resign him and let him work on helping our young prospects in the minors during the September call-ups (you have to think that Bumgarner and Alderson will be up here) and spring training next year. He, himself, hasn't been that great overall, but has been OK enough that we are winning games with him pitching and is worth the tradeoff in terms of him helping Sanchez reach his potential. I hope we keep him.