The puzzle that is Pablo Sandoval has been on full display during these heart-warming days in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The thick third baseman definitely looks harder around the edges after his winter of workouts. Now, the Giants need Sandoval to be harder on opposing pitchers than he was a year ago, when he posted one of the most disappointing sophomore campaigns in recent memory.
The switch-hitter smittenly known as Kung Fu Panda wasForgotten-On-The-Bench Panda last fall as the Giants rolled to their world championship.
Sandoval looked off-kilter most of last season, hitting a paltry .268 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs, not the kind of numbers expected after his rookie measuring stick of .330 with 25 home runs and 90 RBIs.
Nonetheless, all has been positive this spring as Sandoval emerged from offseason whispers about his demise and appearing at camp some 40 pounds lighter. What the Giants must find out is whether less pounds mean more production in this, Sandoval’s third year.
If Sandoval can rekindle the mashing magic of his rookie season, it would feel as if the Giants had signed that free-agent free swinger the skeptics believe they need in their title defense. He was that much of an afterthought by season’s end.
What’s more, the Giants might just become known for more than producing pitchers. If Sandoval, Buster Posey and rookie Brandon Belt can stake their claim to the heart of the Giants’ batting order, the Orange and Black, owners of baseball’s best young starting rotation, might just be mentioned among the producers of baseball’s best young offenses.
What Sandoval can’t do is repeat the disappearing act he pulled off in 2010. Looking back, the biggest holes in his production fell into three buckets — as a right-handed hitter, on the road and against division opponents.
Against left-handed pitchers, Sandoval dropped off from hitting .379 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 2009 to just .227 with one home run and 15 RBIs last year.
On the road, Sandoval dropped off from a .301 batting average with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs in 2009 to just .208 with four homers and 23 RBIs last year.
Against division opponents, Sandoval dropped off from hitting .333 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs as a rookie to just .230 with six homers and 26 RBIs last year.
If Sandoval can hit his way past his puzzling 2010 season, the Giants just might follow up these warm and fuzzy spring days celebrating a championship with a hard-fought summer campaign that could put them on track for another postseason run.
Tim Liotta is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.