Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Tale of Three Pandas and un Petit du Cain

As people know, Pablo Sandoval has had a struggle of a season, but has come back from the struggles to be on one of his hot streaks.  Here's how I analyze his season so far:  in three parts (and the last part in two segments).  Also, news on Cainer and his regular stand-in.

ogc thoughts


As noted, Sandoval has busted things open, kind of like this:

His season has been characterized as being one of struggle and then production.  I see there being three parts.

Part one of Sandoval's adventures this season was what I would call "Gift of the Miggy."   During the off-season, he was being mentored by Miguel Cabrera, who told him if he is to be a great hitter, he needs to take more walks.  Nothing new to his ears, I'm sure, but I suppose it was the way Miggy said it.  :^)  That characterized his first part of the season, where he hit .186/.284/.322/.606 with 2 HR in 59 AB, and 8 walks vs. 12 strikeouts, which is a great walk rate, exceptional especially for Pablo, who rarely saw a pitch that he didn't want to swing at, for a very good 0.67 BB/K ratio and OK 80% contact rate, but remember, this is probably still small sampling for any stat.  Still, this walk rate has to be so many standard deviations from his regular rate that it was significantly different, and indicative of Pablo trying to take more walks.

Part two of his seasonal adventure was what I would call "Panicking Panda."  He took the advice but while he was walking more, he wasn't hitting (not really surprising, when you are up there trying to learn to do something  new, you lose all your muscle memory and are stating from scratch), so it appears that he tried to switch gears and return to his usual hacking ways, thanks for the noble try to take walks, but we need you to hit like you naturally do.  Hard to mark exactly when he reached part two, given small sample sizing issues, so I took the start of this period to be after the walk in the prior game, plus the start of consecutive games of strikeouts, basically his walks went way down and his strikeouts way up.

His swing is a way of life, very zen, and he needs to work his way back out of the jungle that is his brain pathways, much like he has always had to do every time he returned to MLB pitching from a visit to the DL, he needs to find his swing.  That generally took about 4-6 weeks.  This time he took less time and in this second part, he hit .145/.203/.218/.422 with .205 BABIP, 16 K's in only 55 AB ( 29% contact rate, really bad) plus no walks and no homers, covering 16 games and 3 weeks of time (April 17 to May 6).

Part three, his current sojourn, is what the picture above depicts, "Super Sandoval."  His bat finally started to time MLB pitching and he's squaring the ball.  He's hitting .339/.344/.613/.957 with .321 BABIP (that's actually low for him) with only 6 K's in 62 AB (roughly 90% contact rate, which is great) and 4 homers (15.5 AB/HR rate, roughly 40+ homerun seasonal rate).  Only one walk, but that's classic Panda.

And really, I am stretching his good period a bit, there is actually two parts in that.  I usually count his having a multiple extra-base hit game as the turning point for switching into Panda-mode.  That was actually May 16 (almost exactly a month from April 17).  If you look back at all his down periods, the signal that he's out of the woods is a double tap of extra-base hits.  In that transitional phase, from May 7 to May 15, he had a good contact rate (3 K's in 33 AB, 91% contact rate) but no power, hitting .333/.354/.394/.748, with 0 HR.   From May 16, which is when he got two extra-base hits, he has hit .345/.333/..862/1.195 with 4 homers in 29 AB.

For his power, during his MLB career, has come in spurts.  He didn't do much in 2008 and early (first two months) of 2009, but then he started blasting them.  In 2010, he had spurts of power (like his first month) interspersed with periods of no power, as personal turmoil (divorce, custody battle, mother's near-death situation in San Bruno) played havoc with him, as well as his weight, and he ate his way out of the World Series lineup, pushing Sabean to say it's up to him and the first "Camp Panda", where he worked to lose that weight.  That led to his great 2011, except for the first of his hamate bone breaking, then injuries like his second hamate bone breaking and hamstring issues, put him on the DL, pushing him back to start to regain first his batting stroke in the majors, then his power stroke.

He appears to have come round circle again this season with that cycle of down, recovery, and then up into the air, it's a bird, it's a plane, it's super-Sandoval!

Cain to Skip Start, Petit to Start Instead

As the news notes, Cain will skip his start - again.  This time due to his hamstring injury.  He has already missed two starts this season, for his sandwich making adventure where he survived a knife cut, and his last start was cut short by his hamstring injury, so I would say three starts missed, or at least interfered with.  And, who knows, he could miss the next one too and get DLed briefly.  But that's not the news to me.

The news is Petit will be taking his spot - again.  This will be his fourth emergency start this season, third was for Hudson's hippy hurt.  Much was made about how the Giants don't have much depth in the starting rotation, and some were not sold on Petit.  I'm not sure what they were not sold on.

Petit has been a very good starter with us.  Whatever problems he had before as a prospect and MLB pitcher, either maturity, Giants coaching, or both, has led him to finally capitalize on the skill set he possessed when he was a regular on Top prospect lists when he was coming up.   He has done very well for us in the minors, and then for us in the majors.

He has had 6 quality-level starts out of 11 starts for the Giants.  I would give him at least one or two more, for while he didn't pitch the requisite 5 IP necessary for PQS dominance, he was pretty close in terms of performance, just didn't make the required IP, which he might have made but Bochy took him out, partly because emergency starters are not usually prepared to go so many innings, so many pitches, you usually need to work up to that.  Petit appears to have a bit of a rubber arm, like Lincecum, and can just come into a game cold and start pitching well.

So depth or no depth (given how poorly our crop of minor league starters are doing this season, including our supposedly next starting pitcher in line, Escobar, we have little depth in the minors), Petit has made that "flaw" of our minor league system a non-question by taking the ball whenever needed and not only eating innings for us, but throwing good quality games as well.  The Giants the last two seasons have been 8-2 in his starts for us.


  1. I love this take on the team, and especially the Panda analysis. Good stuff OGC. I'm happy for Panda, to be back on the horse. Still don't know if I'd like the Giants to commit long term to him, but that has been tabled anyways.

    1. I go back and forth on that, but mostly my stance is the same: say good bye if he's gunning for Pence Plus, but I'm OK with $13-15M per season, and no more than 4 guaranteed seasons, 5th only if option that vests upon PAs over seasons 3 and 4 plus 4, at least 550 PA in 4, 1000 over 3&4. That fits in with what other 3B have been getting in his performance level and given his lack of health over time. If it is over 4 years or over $15M, I think it's time to say good-bye to Panda, if he had kept up his fitness AND not said that lovely "I got two years to get thin" statement, i.e., I'm all about da money, honey, I might have been OK with going waaay above market to sign him, but what he's done hasn't earned such a history making contract outside of A-Rod. His only superlative was his 3 homers in World Series. He was very good early on and had he continued that, could have earned that big a payday, but what he's done this season is too little, too late.

      And as our first month showed, we survived very well thank you with Pablo not even hitting at Neifi levels, we probably could survive with Arias or Adrianza there, but probably Sabean will find 2015's version of The Beast at 3B and sign him. In any case, our lineup is pretty strong without Pablo.

      Sidenote: been wanting to mention that Krukow noted one morning that Pagan has learned to not try to pull outside pitches, that instead he's going the other way instead and that's a strong reason why he's hitting so much better this season. And if true, from my take, a reason why he won't regress, as some might think based on his history, plus this is not outside of his best years, and he has been up and down all season, but mostly up.

      Personally, I like Adrianza enough to let him battle Arias for the spot, and in any case, give him a lot of starts because I don't expect Arias to hold the job full-time. As noted, we survived Pablo's face plant in April. I would like to see what Ehire can do with regular starts, and then I'm ready to label him utility infielder if he fails. For I expect the Giants to start seriously thinking of Posey starting at 3B starting in 2016, by then we should know whether Hanchez or Susac are ready to start (or at least platoon) at C, so we don't need anything long-term at 3B.

      And if we do keep Pablo, then we shift him to 1B and Belt to LF at that time.

      There are a lot of ways things can go, that is the beauty of having a lot of options with the players you got on your roster who can play multiple positions.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. Your conjecture about Pablo's season is very feasible. However, during the first few weeks when he was taking walks, he actually hit quite a few really hard line drives, driving the ball to the outfield, and he was robbed several times. It seems as if some if his frustration started to show. His post looking for walks phase should even be skewed more, as I think at least two of his walks after his walk phase, were intentional. I still think it is a good idea for him to be selective at the plate, but still ready to keep his hitting balance and drive the ball. I think he is under rated by many fans. He is an exceptional athlete, and switch hitter of extra ordinary caliber. I want him as my third baseman unless I can get the 1994 version of Matt Williams.

    1. Just to be clear, I wasn't saying that he wasn't hitting during that "walk" phase. I did hear some about him not being lucky with line drives being caught, to corroborate what you said.

      My main point is that most fans saw there being two periods: bad then good. I wanted to point out that he was trying to implement the patient hitter mentality first, as characterized by all those walks, then switched gears and went back to Panda hacking, which led to his wild stretch of striking out a lot, before he found his batting stroke.

      It would be great if he could do that switch, but I'm more than happy with him being the way he can be at his best. I mean, when he's hitting, it don't matter that he don't walk much, he still has a high OBP.

      He is a very exceptional athlete. How many athletes can learn to be a great fielder using their opposite natural throwing hand (right)? I was sold in his first year with the Giants, when I saw, not once, but twice score on a close play at home, both times dodging the tag, once with a slide of great beauty that most guys considered athletic can only dream of sliding like that, and the other time with a deft move to jump over the swipe tag to score, very balletic. I totally agree with your point.

      I want him as my 3B also, hence why I have pretty much steadfastly stood in his corner in terms of wanting him to stay on the team the past few years, even as others want to trade him away, either for nothing or for a lot. However, no way I want him at a Pence Plus contract, that is way out of whack with the current market, if he think he can get that elsewhere, good luck, but as the saying goes, be careful of what you wish for. Aurillia learned that one too late, Cody Ross too.



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