Slowly but surely we’re seeing the San Francisco Giants give Pablo Sandoval more starts. He’s up to 16 starts on the year, though many of those have been the result of the lineup having an injury-sized hole that needed filling, rather than the Panda forcing his way onto the field.
Yet forcing his way onto lineup cards doesn’t feel out of the question, either. Say what you want about the sustainability of Sandoval’s success, but his hitting stands out like a bright red balloon in a sea of brown ones. I’ll let you read between the lines on why the balloons representing the Giants offense are brown.
Sandoval’s OPS (on base plus slugging percentage) of .966 mocks the team’s average of .655. His wRC+ (weighted runs created) of 154 is, after consulting with a mathematician, higher than the team’s score of 77. You can see why maybe Bruce Bochy and Farhan Zaidi would like to make Sandoval a little bit more of a thing.
But at what cost? Sandoval obviously shouldn’t be playing first base with any regularity, as Brandon Belt should not be displaced. And he can’t play designated hitter often, because the Giants don’t play in the morally corrupt league.
It’s third base (where he’s made 10 of his 16 starts) or nothing. But displacing Evan Longoria has its own share of problems as well, and Bochy has never shown much of a desire to platoon players.
Who, then, should be the Giants everyday third baseman? There is no clear answer, but there are many arguments for, and against starting Sandoval. Let’s look at the pros and cons of starting the Panda.
Pro: They’ve been a better team
In Sandoval’s 16 starts, the Giants have gone 8-8. In their other games, the team is 12-18. Now, .500 isn’t anything to scream and shout about, and there’s limited correlation, and as Sandoval regresses so too will the team’s results with him in the lineup, but hey . . . if it (kinda sorta maybe) works, don’t fix it.
Con: Longoria is quietly playing quite well
Longoria got off to the most dismal of starts. Since then, he’s been playing very nicely. Through the first 12 games of the year, Longoria was a veritable pitcher at the plate, slashing .182/.200/.273, en route to a laughably low OPS of .473. He had two extra base hits and one walk in 45 plate appearances.
He never caught fire after that, but he did get warm enough that you shouldn’t leave the apartment unattended, for safety. Since April 10 - a pretty decent-sized stretch - Longoria is hitting .250/.324/.480, with 12 extra base hits and 10 walks in 111 plate appearances. And his defense has been tremendous.
The .804 OPS accrued in that time is well below Sandoval’s, but . . .
It’s coming for Sandoval. The questions are merely when, and how much.
Sandoval isn’t just hitting well relative to his failed experiment in Boston and his attempted rejuvenation in the Bay. He’s hitting well relative to his entire career.
His .966 OPS is higher than any mark he’s hit as a professional baseball player. Heck, the .804 OPS that Longoria has been sporting for the last six weeks is a higher figure that Sandoval has had since 2011.
It’s not unlikely that Sandoval hits well below that mark from here on out.
But then again again . . .
Pro: Use your eyes, people!
Sandoval’s at-bats look good. He looks balanced. He’s an odd combination of patient and hyper-aggressive. He is absolutely smacking the baseball. He claims to be healthy for the first time in half a decade which . . . hey, “best shape of my life” may be one of baseball’s funniest aphorisms, but it’s occasionally true.
I’m no doctor, but my mom kind of is, and she tells me that good health can be beneficial to high-level athletes attempting high-level athletic accomplishments. Crazy, I know.
Con: Longoria’s a more important player
We can’t deny that Longoria is a part of the Giants future plans, in one way or another.
Zaidi didn’t opt to trade for the former star, nor would he have done so if given the chance. But you don’t get to start clean when you take over a franchise, and Longo is now Zaidi’s puzzle piece.
Sandoval is owed the league minimum for the rest of the year, at which point he becomes a free agent.
Longoria is owed $14.5 million this year, then $15 million in 2020, $18.5 million in 2021, and $19.5 million in 2022, then a $13 million team option for 2023 with a $5 million buyout.
He’s a part of their story for the next few years, whether as a member of the infield or a pricey trade piece, and it behooves the team for Longoria to play, and play well.
Pro: Sandoval’s more fun
The Giants haven’t been fun the last few years, in large part because they haven’t been good. They won’t be good this year, and as a result, they probably won’t be fun, but they can still be more fun.
Sandoval, despite the oddness and awkwardness of his departure and return, is loved by his teammates. He’s full of energy, and the clubhouse is just a little bit lighter when he’s playing. He makes his manager happy, and that’s good for a team seeking to make a big transition without ruffling too many feathers.
He’s also good for marketing, as the numerous Panda hats in the stands and the team’s decision to have a Sandoval bobblehead day show.
Con: He’s a better pinch hit option
Your best players should start. It’s that simple. That said, Sandoval provides the Giants with a much better bench option than Longoria does. The Panda’s strength is against righties, who are certainly the majority members in Major League bullpens.
He’s also done tremendously well as a pinch hitter this year, as anyone who watched baseball this weekend can attest to. He’s a weapon.
This is yet another article in which I don’t really have a conclusion. There’s no right answer - it would make sense if Bochy and Zaidi keep starting Longoria, opt to start Sandoval, or start platooning the two.
With that said, let’s definitely get mad at whatever they choose to do. The alternative is clearly better.