San Francisco Giants v Colorado Rockies

When I first considered speaking with Pablo Sandoval about his approach, it was somewhat tongue in cheek. Interview the Panda and Hunter Pence, have a few laughs. When I spoke with Giants PR about the idea, their PR rep said “I don’t even think Pablo has an approach.” With love, of course.

But how much depth could I get into with the man known as the Kung Fu Panda? Pablo Sandoval hits. That’s it. That’s the whole story.

Pablo Sandoval is a very unusual hitter but he’s also a very good hitter. It doesn’t matter how he gets them, the hits come. The hard hit balls find green or they find the seats. He’s a good hitter with a rare ability to hit baseballs most players are unable or unwilling to offer at. Pablo Sandoval isn’t the only good “bad ball” hitter in baseball. Vladamir Guerrero is a folk hero if not a god.

It is very easy to give in to the temptation of putting players into boxes. Good players do this, bad players do not. Walks are important because they mean a hitter didn’t make an out, but walks are not the be all and end all – they are a means to an end.

But the joke is on me and everyone else who celebrates studious ballplayers for their cerebral approach to their craft while chiding the “from the heels” insanity of players like Sandoval. It takes all kinds.

Sure, it’s fun that Glen Perkins and Brandon McCarthy dip their toes into DIPS theory, but the reality is they had little choice. Even previous My Approach subject Jose Bautista was halfway out of baseball before a new approach and few swing changes unleashed the slugger within.

For every diligent slugger with a dog-eared book full of scouting reports and encyclopedia knowledge of tendencies and probailities, there are guys who just hit falling out of bed. Guys who put the bat on the ball come hell or high water. Guys who work to keep their swing performing like a well-oiled machine and just let their instincts and eye balls do the rest.

Maybe their approach isn’t sustainable. Perhaps the moment their body betrays them and some of that preternatural hand-eye coordination slips and their batspeed lags, they’re on the fast track out of baseball.

But the fact of the matter is Pablo Sandoval owns a career 125 wRC+. That’s higher than Dustin Pedroia, Justin Upton, Billy Butler, and Adrian Beltre across the same time frame.

He also has two World Series rings, a World Series MVP trophy, and became only the fourth man in baseball history to hit three home runs in a World Series game this past October. Those count, too.

Getting Blanked: Do you do a lot of video work before games?

Pablo Sandoval – Nope.

GB – No?

PS – I’m a simple guy. I just go out there and do my simple routine before every game with a pitching machine. And that’s what I do before every game.

GB – If you’re swinging the bat well, do you change things up a little bit?

PS – It stays the same. I still do the same things if I’m swinging good or swinging bad. This routine keeps me focused on the game.

GB – As a switch hitter, do you approach your left-handed and right-handed swings the same way?

PS – I treat the two swings differently. From the left side, I work with the pitching machine. For my right side, I work with the hitting coach.

GB – What do you want to know about a pitcher before you face him?

PS – Nothing. You just go in there and see how he’s going to pitch me. I watch how he pitches me in my first at bat and then I try to make an adjustment after that.

GB – Then you just…”let it go?”

PS – I just let it go.

GB – What about as the count changes, as you get behind for example?

PS – I just work on the count. I don’t want to strike out.

For a power hitter, Pablo Sandoval strikes out rarely. He is one of only seven players to strike out in fewer than 14% of his plate appearances while hitting for power (ISO greater than .180) The company he keeps is very impressive indeed.

He does expand his zone with two strikes but uses his seemingly natural ability to make contact and keep from striking out. The contact he makes his hardly cheap, as well. Sandoval’s .287 wOBA with two strikes ranks him in the top 30 league-wide in these situations.

GB – Do you ever try to guess?

PS – Nope. I see the ball, I hit the ball. I’m a simple guy.

This is a simple distillation of the Pablo Sandoval experience. I see the ball, I hit the ball. It doesn’t appear to matter where the ball is thrown, either. The Panda has hit .276/.381/.418 on pitches out of the zone since 2010 (that ranks him in the top three in batting average and slugging percentage in all of baseball over that time).

He makes more hard contact on balls out the zone. Which is really the name of the game: put the round bat on the round ball and hit it hard somewhere, preferably into the seats if possible.

Grant Brisbee at McCovey Chronicles and Sam Miller (pinch hitting at MCC) both showed just how extreme Sandoval’s plate coverage/willingness to swing at anything really is. Swinging at balls isn’t ideal as it represents a deviation from the standard operating procedure. Why swing at a pitch that isn’t a strike?

If not defending the strike zone, what is a batter doing at the plate? Pablo Sandoval seems determined to do more than defend the strike zone and his valuable out – he wants to launch an offensive.

There are video highlights throughout this post showing Pablo Sandoval hitting pitches farther than should be allowed. Just as easily, this post could contain GIFs and highlights at Sandoval flailing at balls in the dirt or swinging through fastballs at his eyes.

Such is the Pablo Sandoval experience. Maddening yet amazing. Until it just becomes full-time maddening, taking years off the lives of Giants fans the world over.

Who has the best approach? Who do you like to watch?

PS – I like to see Buster (Posey) hit in BP. He never pulls the ball, he just works the other way. It’s the same approach he takes to the game.

Who did you watch growing up that inspires you still today?

PSAndres Galarraga. He was the big guy and he could hit anything.

Hat tip to Fangraphs and ESPN Stats & Info for a helping hand.