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A risk that paid off

The Giants aren't an organization that likes taking risks. They'll do things like acquire and play Orlando Cabrera because they think he's proven. No surprises. In one way, they're right -- is anyone surprised that Cabrera didn't go Joe Carter for the Giants? -- but it can be frustrating at times.

This is Orlando Cabrera mention #134 out of a remaining total of 53,593. Collect them all. I've found my muse! My new Jose Castillo!

But this article is to praise the Giants for a wacky, risky decision that actually did work out. And how. It was moderately insane. I still can't believe that members of the current Giants organization got together, discussed it, and said, sure, why not? They're not a bunch that likes to think outside the box because they know that outside the box there are tigers and dragons who eat people who think outside the box. There's cable and salumi platters inside the box. Why would they leave?

Seeking more ways to get Pablo Sandoval's bat in the lineup, manager Bruce Bochy gave the 22-year-old switch-hitter his first Major League start at third base in Friday night's series opener against the San Diego Padres.(

Sandoval was a 21-year-old catcher. He was blocked by Bengie Molina. Sandoval also had experience at first base, but he was blocked there by ... man, I have no idea. Travis Ishikawa? Rich Aurilia? Those are the reasons the Giants went mad scientist with their best hitting prospect? 

It worked. Man, how it worked. It's been a joy to watch Sandoval play third base. He doesn't have great range, but I feel comfortable describing it as good range. He has a strong, accurate arm, and he charges balls well. In another organization -- say, the Giants about 99% of the time -- Sandoval would have been moved to first base.

This kid's a little pudgy, and we already have a catcher. Let's think about what to do for about five seconds okay I'm done here's a first-baseman's mitt, kid. Limber up.

Instead the Giants looked the strong arm and the surprising agility of Sandoval, and thought -- hey, maybe this could work. Maybe they had an encouraging report from Steve Decker, who managed the Volcanoes when Sandoval played 70 games at third as an 18-year old. Whatever the reason, it worked. 

Back when the experiment was announced, over 2/3rds of the poll respondents thought he could stick. The other third was filled with secret Dodger fans and haters. You know who you are. I wrote this:

If it does work, though, the Giants have filled a round organizational hole with an exceptionally round peg. The player by which Sandoval should be measured is Garrett Atkins. If Sandoval can’t even approximate Atkins’s defense – and it should be noted that Atkins got his glove stuck in his own zipper as I was writing this – then the experiment is never going to work. Do not pass go, etc.... And to be fair to Sandoval, even though he’s surprisingly agile, this experiment has about a 25% chance of working.

That was the hope. That Sandoval would be acceptably awful. And I was thrilled that he was going to get that chance. Now, three seasons later, Sandoval leads the world in just about every defensive stat for third basemen. He's been amazing. 

 You can hear Krukow in that clip say something about "legitimate Gold Glove candidate" -- and that's not hyperbole. The experiment worked better than anyone could have expected, a testament to risk-taking, good coaching, luck, and hard work from Sandoval.

And to think, if one of them stat nerds were in charge, they would have thought Bengie Molina was a bad hitter, kept Sandoval a catcher, and then drafted Gordon Beckham instead of Posey. That would have been a disaster. Stupid stat nerds. Instead, the Giants thought Molina was a valuable offensive player, so they moved a young catcher to third base. That way, they won a World Series, and they're still reaping the benefits now.


Beautiful science. Except for the ignoring-the-science part, that's how you run a team. I can't believe the Giants took the gamble; I can't believe it worked out so well. Here's to Pablo staying at third base for the next decade.