SAN FRANCISCO — On a Friday afternoon in mid-September, Pablo Sandoval walked into Bruce Bochy’s office, a bat resting on his shoulder. The Giants had lost 11 straight.
“Bochy!” Sandoval yelled. “We’re going to win tonight.”
With that, the injured utility man turned and headed towards the field, his voice bouncing off the walls as he pushed through the double doors of the clubhouse. Bochy smiled.
“We miss him,” he said, sighing.
Sandoval is apparently a pretty good prognosticator. The Giants did win that night, beating the Rockies 2-0. But what Bochy really needed was the energy he showed in that moment. For two and a half seasons, this has been a somewhat lifeless group, but Sandoval remains a boisterous bundle of energy. The Giants are happy to have him back, and while his 2018 season ended prematurely, the Panda once again provided some highlights.
What Went Right: Sandoval does not look the part of a super-utility player, but when he showed up in camp, he worked hard to break in a small army of gloves. He ended up starting 29 games at third base, 20 at first, and two at second, where he saw real action for the first time in his career. Sandoval did well enough at second that the Giants may continue to consider that option given how much shifting they do. He caught bullpen sessions to prepare for life as the emergency catcher, and, of course, he ended up getting on the mound.
On April 28, with the Giants getting blasted during the first game of a doubleheader against the Dodgers, Sandoval became the first Giants position player to take the mound since Greg Litton in 1991. He needed just 11 pitches to complete a tidy 1-2-3 inning, showing a clean delivery, 88 mph fastball, and shockingly tight curve.
At the plate, Sandoval had a .248/.310/.417 slash line, hit nine homers and drove in 40 runs in 230 at-bats,. He was a good situational hitter, batting .286 as a pinch-hitter and .323 with runners in scoring position.
What Went Wrong: Sandoval is much better at the plate than he was in Boston, but he still is not really the kind of hitter you would throw out there every day. He had an OPS+ of 99, which was his highest in four years, but still made him roughly a league-average hitter. Against left-handed pitching, he batted .145 with three extra-base hits.
Defensively, while he handled multiple spots, Sandoval wasn't all that good at third, according to the metrics. He was worth negative-four Defensive Runs Saved.
Sandoval has struggled to stay healthy in recent years, and he was shocked when a hamstring strain ended up being so severe that he needed season-ending surgery, missing the season’s final two months. That cost Sandoval a shot at a pretty cool moment. Bochy was planning to let him play all nine positions in one game, and given how bad the Giants were in September, that surely would have ended up happening.
Contract Status: Sandoval is entering the final year of a five-year, $95 million deal he signed after the 2014 World Series. The Red Sox are on the hook for nearly all of it, so the Giants will pay Sandoval just the MLB minimum ($545,000) next season.
The Future: Sandoval burned a lot of bridges when he left in 2014, but he appeared to take the final step back towards “fan favorite” status when he pitched his inning. Assuming he’s healthy, he’s a lock for the Opening Day roster. The only intrigue may be his role. Will Bochy continue using him at second base? Could he regularly give the bullpen a breather? Stay tuned.