Countdown to Spring Training: No. 10, Panda Watch
With pitchers and catches set to report to spring training in less than 10 days, MoreSplashHits is counting down on 10 things to consider as the Giants move toward their preparation for the 2011 season.
Starting out our countdown is Panda Watch 2011.
MLB.com’s Chris Haft caught up Pablo Sandoval at the Giants Fan Fest, and we learned some things about how the Panda spent his offseason.
To see the full story, click here. But we’ll share the highlights, plus MoreSplashHits’ reaction.
The Panda adopted a strict diet and workout regimen with Olympic decathlete Dan O’Brien.
MORESPLASHHITS: Sandoval wouldn’t say how much he lost in the offseason, just saying it was “a lot.” The final weigh-in will come when he reports to camp on Feb. 19. We’ve heard reports that he’s lost anywhere from 15 to 25 pounds. And he certainly passed the eye test.
Sandoval also worked with Jose Alguacil, the Giants’ roving infield instructor, to improve his defense.
MORESPLASHHITS: This is a key point. When Sandoval spent most of the offseason on the bench, it wasn’t because of his bat. It was his glove. After starting Game 1 of the NLDS, Sandoval was replaced with the more sure-handed Mike Fontenot. Fontenot was eventually replaced with Edgar Renteria, who brought the right mix of defense and offense. So if The Panda can show that he is not a liability in the field, he’ll be in the lineup.
Sandoval also worked with Barry Bonds’ trainer.
MORESPLASHHITS: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Oh wait! It wasn’t THAT trainer. It was Greg Oliver, who (as far as we know) has never spent time in jail.
Oliver put Sandoval in touch with Bonds, who offered simple hitting advice: Look for a pitch that you could hit as if you were throwing a punch. That prompts Sandoval to use his hands.
MORESPLASHHITS: Any hitting advice Sandoval takes from Bonds is a bonus. But we wish Barry would have offered this advice: Look for a pitch … IN THE STRIKE ZONE! Sandoval ranked second in the majors at swinging at pitches out of the strike zone (Vladimir Guerrero was first). And that became a big problem for Sandoval in 2010. Pitchers learned that, so they wouldn’t throw strikes to Sandoval. They threw him high fastballs out of the strike zone, resulting in a higher ratio of fly ball outs and less power. And they threw him off-speed pitches down in the zone, resulting in weak ground balls, a lower batting average and 26 GIDPs. So here’s MoreSplashHits advice to The Panda: Approach the first pitch like you would if you ahead in the count 2-0. You wouldn’t swing at a pitcher’s pitch ahead 2-0. So don’t do it when the count is 0-0. Here’s a telling stat: When Sandoval got ahead of the count 1-0, he hit .312 with a .505 slugging percentage. When Sandoval got behind 0-1, he hit .195 with a .268 slugging pct. Another stat: when he swung at the first pitch and put it in play, he hit .370 with a .580 slugging pct. But he only put the first pitch in play 100 times. The other 146 times, he fell behind on the count 0-1. And we saw what happened then.