San Francisco Giants: What Exactly has been Impressive About Sandoval?

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Pablo Sandoval
PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 25: Pablo Sandoval /

San Francisco Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy says he’s been impressed with Pablo Sandoval, so what exactly has he been watching?

Before Monday’s series opener with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the final road series of the season, San Francisco Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy offered some comments about his infielder Pablo Sandoval. Bochy told Kerry Crowley of KNBR that Sandoval has “been playing good baseball”, and that he’s “been swinging the bat well. He had the one home run in LA but if you look at his last couple of weeks, it’s really picked up with the bat and his approach at the plate has been so much better”.

Sandoval is now in his second stint with the Giants after controversially foregoing the team’s offer in the 2014-2015 offseason and signing with the Boston Red Sox instead. There hasn’t seemed to be any personal issues between Sandoval and the teammates he insulted after the move. Instead, the problems are on the field.

In a season that has been downright painful to watch, Sandoval has been one of the main culprits of unwatchability since returning to the team on August 5th. It started well enough, as Sandoval posted a .288 average and .723 OPS in his first 18 games with the team, but it has gone downhill, and fast, since.

In 23 games since that acceptable start, Sandoval’s numbers have cratered. He’s hitting an abysmal .137 with a .465 OPS, and set a Giants’ record for futility. He went hitless in 39 consecutive at-bats, marking the worst hitless streak in Giants’ franchise history.

That doesn’t include Monday’s game, where Sandoval was once again in the lineup. In three at-bats, Sandoval grounded into a double play, struck out with no one out and two runners on, and reached on an error when first baseman Christian Walker couldn’t handle a groundball hit right at him. In his final plate appearance, he worked a walk before being lifted for a pinch runner.

On the other side of the ball, Sandoval’s defense has improved from his Boston days, but hasn’t been great enough to ignore the lack of offensive output.

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Overall in his return to the Giants, Sandoval owns a .204/.248/.331 slash-line and a 55 OPS+. That’s far worse than he played at any point during his first tenure as a Giant. The Red Sox deemed it necessary to rid themselves of Sandoval after he posted a .212/.269/.354 with a 62 OPS+ in 32 games this year.

That makes Bochy’s comments simply head-scratching. In this season, is that what passes for impressive? The nostalgia machine that is Sandoval is “impressive” because he has a good attitude and is available to play?

San Francisco has a lot to improve if they want to get back to being competitive in 2018, something about which the front office is adamant. Third base should be seen as one of the areas that can be improved upon, but those comments don’t bring about a lot of optimism that it will get done. Sandoval hasn’t done enough to earn at-bats for a team that has been out of the playoff race for months, and there shouldn’t be much of a belief that things will magically turn around next season.

The Giants and Bochy already have a problem with sitting down veterans to allow young guys play and develop. Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson both get sporadic at-bats because Hunter Pence, Denard Span, and even Gorkys Hernandez are deemed more important.

Ryder Jones has lost at-bats because Sandoval is normally at third base and Buster Posey is normally at first base. It’s understandable to have Posey at first in a season like this. The team shouldn’t want to risk losing their franchise player to injury in a lost season, and Posey’s understudy, Nick Hundley, has done well in his stead.

Jones hasn’t played particularly well either, with a .175/.247/.285 slash-line in 48 games, but the biggest difference between him and Sandoval is that Jones is a 23-year-old rookie. Every at-bat is a learning experience for a player like Jones in his first taste of big league action, and will help him improve moving forward.

When next year rolls around and a young player (Christian Arroyo, anyone?) is knocking on the door, will Sandoval take at-bats away from him as well? Will Sandoval’s continued playing time be deemed more important than the continued development of a younger player? If recent history is any indicator, that wouldn’t be a bad bet to take.

Next: 3 Up, 3 Down: Last Series with LA

Sandoval should be considered for nothing more than a bench role, and even that shouldn’t be a guarantee. Nothing he has done so far with San Francisco has been impressive.