Is Pablo Sandoval overweight again? According Giants skipper Bruce Bochy he is. If you haven’t yet, please read this article by Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. A great little piece with little nuggets of information for me play detective and read in between the lines.
Is Pablo simply trimming the fat and putting on heavier muscle weight? Is he lying about working out all winter and maybe just started working out two weeks ago? Or is Bruce Bochy’s eyesight just getting bad? Why should the Giants organization and the fans even care? Perhaps we are not even asking the right question. What we should really be asking is whether or not it even matters?
We all witnessed the decline for the Panda from 2009 to 2010 but were the extra pounds completely to blame? I know we all hear about the sophmore slump (see this great Bleacher Report list), that dreaded second year after a young MLB ballplayer has a great first full season. They get a little big headed once the season ends and all the league’s coaches learn the youngster’s tendencies to make them look silly. With rational thought we know this is not a curse as we do see many players continue or improve production (see Albert Pujols). If the player over achieves in a season there will be a natural regression toward the mean (as explained at Wikipedia). I will make the argument that Pablo played above and beyond his years as a 22 year old in 2009 (.943 OPS). I confidently conclude that a combination was to blame for his demise. The league developed a book on his aggressive swing, he had a natural regression, hit in tougher ballparks (Hitting AIR from dropped from 108 AIR in 2009 to 100 AIR ) and the added weight may have all played a part in Pablo’s miserable 2010.
Can we prove that any of Pablo’s 2009 season was directly affected by the extra weight? I think in terms of speed and range perhaps. May seem logical but not in the ways one might think. The speed decrease actually looks minimal even when considering he hit less doubles, triples and stole less bases. Since the percentages against hits or stolen base opportunities went down very little (Doubles/Hits ’09 & ’10 = 23%, Triples/Hits ’09 = 3% and ’10 = 2% with SB/SBO ’09 = 2.2% and ’10 = 1.3%) it shows a relatively small change. When you consider the amount of Double Plays that the Panda hit into between ’09 and ’10 (10 GDP in 2009 versus a Major League leading 26 GDP in 2010) you can see how the weight may have slowed him in getting out of the box on a ground ball with a runner on.
His defense in 2011 was Gold Glove worthy (Tied for 1st amongst all Major League 3B in Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average with 16) which helped to spotlight how poor it was in 2010. First I look at Range Factor per Game to see that Pablo improved from 2.24 RF/G in 2010 to 2.69 RF/G in 2011 (3rd in NL) which one could make a case that a slower person has less range but when you look at his range 2009 at 2.21 RF/G, I believe it had more to do with Pablo’s dedication to defense in the offseason prior to 2011. When you look beyond the more common defensive stats and look at Bunts Fielded and how many he converted into outs, you see how speed affected range. In 2009 he fielded 21 bunts with a 81% out rate compared to a dismal 7 bunts fielded with only a 57% out rate. He went on to field 8 bunts in 2011 (similar to 2010 but he played 37 less games at 3rd in 2011) but with a perfect 100% out rate.
Let’s get real, Pablo may never fit an ideal mold or be at a perfect weight but what is ideal for baseball? I am a big guy myself and I can tell you, it is hard for guys like Prince or Pablo to turn their bodies into something their metabolism is telling them they are not. Let’s not forget that baseball is the sport that let another similar bodied guy in Babe Ruth roam the outfield until he was 40. Now “The Bambino” didn’t have the luxury of the DH to extend his career and although he saw a steady decline to his range, going to mostly a sub 2.00 RF/G from his age 34 season on. His offensive skills at a less defensive position like the corner outfield spots kept him playing until 40. Dince the advent of the DH you can be hefty and play a long time but the question is whether Pablo play third into his 30′s?
One big guy Prince Fielder, is forcing another big guy in Miguel Cabrera to go back to playing the hot corner in 2012. Cabrera was never a Gold Glove caliber third baseman with a -6 Rtot (or Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average) in 2006 and then a -11 Rtot in 2007. He did show decent range in his age 23 season (2006) by sporting a 2.42 RF/G but only a .957 Fielding % (2.68 league RF/G and .954 Fielding % that year). The Cabrera experiment at third should be watched closely as a barometer for a similar sized player to Pablo. It will also allow us to see how many Runs Created Miguel Cabrera will have, versus how many Total Zone Fielding Runs he will be at above or below league average (which I expect to be below). If he becomes a major liability at third and starts surrendering lot’s of runs, it will not only lower his total value to the Tigers but it will make them consider making a switch to put him or Prince into the DH spot. If Pablo ever starts becoming a defensive liability we can use a ratio similar to what Detroit will look at when considering to stop or continue playing Cabrera at third. This will give us a general idea of at least what kind of offense/defense ratio Pablo must maintain to continue playing as the everyday third baseman for an American League team like the Tigers . Then we can surmise what a National League club like the Giants might look for out of Pablo as he ages.
Now according to Pablo he is adding muscle but is that the right thing for him offensively, defensively or for extending his career? Guys like Albert Pujols or Mike Stanton are probably what some general managers dream of but will those muscle bound bodies extend their careers or meet the same fate as any player with extra girth? Remember Frank Thomas? A former football player at Auburn, “The Big Hurt” was showing what big muscles and a bat in hand could do to a tiny baseball. He was already logging quite a few games as a DH at a fairly young age (101 games as DH in his age 23 season) and then started logging most of his games at DH from age 30 on. I would attribute a lot of games as DH in helping him play so long over his career, more so than his physical build. Plus that body type is not the most conducive for playing 3rd. Albert Pujols was only able to decently play third for 96 games over his first two seasons (decent range at 2.52 RF/G and a below average Fielding % at .938) and then rather unsuccessfully 7 times last year with a .824 Fielding % over 17 defensive chances.
For the first time last year I heard the term “old player skills” by Matt Klaassen at Fangraphs (great read!) and it was referenced quite a bit with Prince Fielder in regards to his size and his deal with Detroit. A good example of a player developing old player skills over time is Jim Thome. He played 3B through his age 25 season. As age, less range, more weight, less speed and the ability to really only play 1st or DH coupled with continued offensive power and production, he transitioned into having an “old player skill set” (also see Mickey Mantle and his final 2 seasons playing first base). By being proficient offensively but no longer capable of playing a “young player position” teams had to accept that trade off. Players who can be productive at 3rd over a longer period of time are worth more than a similar hitting player at an “old player position” like 1b or DH . Players who catch, play SS or CF are worth even more than a 3B and those positional adjustments are factored into a players WAR as shown by Tom Tango.
As previously noted the Panda showed he could play Gold Glove like defense at third while weighing 240 – 250 lbs (approximately 19% body fat) because speed as a skill set pales in comparison to the other requirements of a great third baseman like reflexes, soft hands, nimbleness, positioning and strength of arm. As long as Pablo can maintain this weight, continue to work on defense throughout the year and not lose any of the more needed third baseman skills by bulking up, then he stands a strong chance of playing at third for a long time.
This is why it is so important for the Giants organization to get the great offensive value from Pablo or Buster Posey while playing defensive positions and playing them well. That is exactly why the Giants would want to keep them both in their respective positions (not move either one to play the “old player position” first) for as long as they can without losing them to an injury. I think it is for this reason that Bochy and Sabean should be more concerned about Pablo’s weight in regards to longevity and great defense as opposed to how extra weight impacts him offensively. We have seen that heavy guys can hit for a long time and we have no way of knowing for sure whether Pablo’s dismal 2010 was due to weight because frankly, we lack a sufficient data load to make that assessment right now.
Being heavy can negatively impact a ballplayers overall value by diminishing certain facets of their game and limiting the positions but how much is too much? Perhaps we will learn this year watching Detroit games but regardless of all the negativity surrounding an overweight ballplayer, have you ever seen old footage of Babe Ruth? What about the fun Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder have on the field? Seems like a trend because Giant fans will tell you that no one has more fun on the field and in the dugout than Pablo Sandoval and whether he be thin, heavy or muscle bound, watching the G-men play would be a lot less fun without a smiling Panda.
by Raul Rekow Jr.