I was worried about this. I was afraid that without any real stories to discuss at camp, people would just start making things up. That’s exactly what happened.
First, people were all over Pablo Sandoval because he wasn’t as early to camp as some other players. He wasn’t late, of course. He just wasn’t as early as some others. But, he wasn’t as late as some players. (Like Dustin Pedroia, for instance.) So, because he wasn’t as late to camp as the person who apparently sets the tone for the club for hard work and work ethic, Panda was trashed for it.
But, once he did show up to camp, people found a new thing to whine about. He looked heavy.
Really? Is this the first picture they’ve seen of Panda? For crying out loud, there’s a reason his nickname isn’t “Kung Fu Meerkat.” He’s not a trim guy. He’s never been a trim guy. He’s always looked like a panda. What’s your point?
But, the Red Sox told him to lose weight during the offseason, and he blew them off! We don’t need that sort of attitude! Well, actually, they didn’t tell him to lose weight. They told him to be better conditioned. There’s a difference, of course. The Sox are satisfied with his conditioning, so why shouldn’t we be?
Because he had an off year last year! He got his contract, so now he’s just a big fat slug! He’s supposed to have dropped 100 pounds this offseason and come to camp with fire in his eyes and something to prove.
Let’s look at last season. Yes, his numbers were down. But, he was never Mike Trout. He’s not a 30 HR guy. He doesn’t hit .330. He’s a solid player who hits like the dickens in the postseason. That was his claim to fame, and why the Sox needed him.
So, last season he was down. His OBP was down about 30 points from his last season in San Francisco. His batting average was also down about 30 points. His slugging dropped about 50. But, here’s the interesting thing.
He didn’t play in as many games as he did in 2014. But if you account for that, he had about the same number of walks in 2015 as 2014. Same with strikeouts. He also had about the same number of homeruns, and even had a few more doubles in 2015 compared to 2014.
So, he was putting roughly the same number of balls in play. He just wasn’t getting as many hits. Haven’t we all pretty much decided by now that once you put the ball in play, unless you’re hitting it over the fence, there’s not a lot you can do to get yourself a hit. It’s up to the defense. So, without a drop in homeruns, the only other explanation is either dumb luck, or the change to Fenway Park. (Well, I suppose it could be a drop in infield hits…but I’m guessing Panda didn’t beat out 20 more of those in 2014.)
So, which of those factors was a result of Panda’s attitude or work ethic? Was he unlucky last season because his attitude was poor?
If you want to be concerned because you think Fenway was the reason, I’ll let you be concerned. But, I don’t know what Pablo is supposed to do about it. He can’t change Fenway’s dimensions. He can’t work harder to move the wall back 20 feet. It’s just the way it is.
So, it’s time we stop jumping at the low hanging fruit. Pudgy guy with history of success has bad year, and is still pudgy. Just because he doesn’t look like Mookie Betts doesn’t mean he can’t play baseball. He’s shown that he can do it over and over.
No reason to think he won’t do it again.