Pablo Sandoval has had a lot on his mind recently. At the conclusion of the 2013 season, the San Francisco Giants told Sandoval that he had to lose weight and keep it off if he wanted to get consistent playing time in 2014 and possibly get a contract extension. Sandoval took this seriously and lost at least 30 pounds in the offseason.
In addition to his weight loss program, Sandoval had to deal with the weight of a potential contract extension hanging over his head. The Giants and Sandoval weren’t able to come to an agreement on an extension before Opening Day. Sandoval turned down a three-year, $40 million offer, and the conversation between the Giants and Sandoval about a possible extension has stalled.
So far this season, with all this extra “weight” hanging over him, Sandoval is hitting .165 with a .258 OBP, .278 slugging percentage, two home runs, six RBI, and 18 strikeouts in 21 games and 79 at-bats.
For a career .294 hitter, these numbers are extremely baffling and disappointing, especially given his weight loss in the offseason. So what can his poor offensive numbers be attributed to? Is he pressing? Is he hiding an injury? Is he lacking confidence? Are the contract negotiations weighing too heavily on him?
When discussing his recent struggles with Steve Corkran of the Bay Area News Group, Sandoval insisted that none of these things have affected his performance at the plate this season.
“You got good games, you got bad games, so you have to keep humble and keep your head up,” Sandoval said. “Try to do the best that you can out there, try to do all the things you can do, keep working hard. Good things are going to come.”
Bruce Bochy has employed several different strategies in order to break Sandoval out of this uncharacteristically long slump.
After hitting .171 on the season and going hitless against the San Diego Padres on April 19, Bochy told Alex Pavlovic of the Bay Area News Group that he was going to give Sandoval a day off on the 20th.
“He needs a mental break,” Bochy said. “Tonight I thought he was pressing more than any other game.”
The day off didn’t seem to help Sandoval that much though. On the first day of a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies on the 21st, the day after his day off, he struck out once and went hitless in four at-bats. On the 22nd, also against the Rockies, he had one hit (a double) and one walk in three at-bats. On the 23rd, he had no hits, a walk, and one strikeout, in two at-bats.
Bochy also tried dropping him in the lineup. Bochy only dropped him from the third spot to the fourth spot, so it wasn’t a drastic change. However, Bochy was hoping this type of change would ease some pressure off of Sandoval. This didn’t help either.
Whether Sandoval is pressing at the plate or not, Bochy might have to find some new ways to get the Panda going. One option is dropping him further down in the lineup, maybe down to sixth. For example, Bochy could have a batting order like this: Angel Pagan, Brandon Belt, Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Michael Morse, Sandoval, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Hicks, and the pitcher.
It’s impossible to predict if this would reignite Sandoval offensively, but this sort of a “wake-up call” could perhaps give Sandoval a fresh start.
Another option is to give him two or even three days off in a row, which would give him a mental break and would allow him to re-focus. Bochy has used this strategy in the past with struggling players, and it usually works.
One last option is for Bochy to keep playing Sandoval as he normally would and hope that he will find a way out of it soon by himself. Bochy is a players’ manager. He believes in his players, and he won’t criticize them or punish them for poor play.
The clubhouse has been very loose, despite the struggles of the offense recently (besides yesterday’s win in Colorado). It doesn’t look like any of the Giants, including Sandoval, are pressing, and that’s why Bochy has been patient with them.
There are many benefits to a team with great team chemistry like the Giants, but one of the drawbacks is that if one person starts to struggle, others start to struggle too. This might be Sandoval’s problem. Other Giants such as Gregor Blanco and Posey are in their own slumps right now, so Sandoval might be unintentionally feeding off of that.
There isn’t a clear answer to how Sandoval can break out of this slump, but Bochy has a few options on how to try to wake up Sandoval offensively. Hopefully for the Giant, one of these options will work.