Back in Scottsdale I was truly surprised at just how good Pablo Sandoval looked in the locker room, and during his first game of spring training I was surprised at just how sprightly he seemed on the field. At the same time, I also wondered if the sprightliness was merely a function of first game adrenaline and if, smaller or not, he’d revert to his lumbering ways once he got back into the routine of playing baseball.
Seems there’s nothing to worry about:
“My first step,” [Sandoval] said after being asked about the biggest benefit to losing almost 40 pounds this winter. “Especially at third base, you have to be quick. That’s why I worked so hard on it every day” …
“He’s moving around so much better now — left, right, coming in on balls,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “He’s feeling good about that first step. He’s bouncing around out there.”
Indeed, not a day goes by when someone watching a Giants game doesn’t tweet something about how quick Sandoval looks at third base. This transformation does in fact seem to be more than merely cosmetic.
Which will be hugely important for the Giants, because I’m a bit dubious about their chances to repeat as NL West champs.
I don’t like Miguel Tejada at short and I don’t have a ton of confidence that Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell will contribute anything close to what they contributed last year. As such, a return to 2009 form for Sandoval is essential to make up for those places where I think they’ll regress.
Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.
As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.
Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”
Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012. He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.
The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.