So this tweet got a lot of traction yesterday:
— Steve Silva (@stevesilva) February 17, 2015
The reactions were interesting, with the usual jokes about Pablo Sandoval's weight but with many taking the opposite viewpoint, that it's no big deal. After all, the Red Sox knew what they were getting.
Mike Oz of Yahoo says to stop "fat-shaming" Sandoval: "It didn't take long for the Internet vultures and jokesters to join in too. They chomped on that low-hanging fruit, not worrying about whether it was fresh -- it's not. Nor is it all that interesting. Sandoval has proven time and again that he's a quality baseball player regardless of his weight. He plays above-average defense at third base, he's a good hitter and he has a knack for coming through in the clutch."
Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk says to pump the brakes already: "And so it begins. What 'it' is, of course, is premature worrying about a problem that may not be a problem. Because, yes, that may be a bad photo of Pablo Sandoval and, yes, in the past Sandoval has come under fire for being out of shape on occasion. But it’s also the case that (a) an 'in shape' Pablo Sandoval is not the same thing as a thin Pablo Sandoval; and (b) one photo of a player on the first day of spring training does not establish, ipso facto, that he is out of shape. Or are we all forgetting 'Fat Derek Jeter' and 'Fat Chipper Jones?'"
Jason Lisk of The Big Lead says that Pablo just looks like Pablo: "In other words, it’s not news that Pablo Sandoval is a bit pudgy. If you were to pick out the beer league softball team of MLB players, Sandoval has been a long-time member. In a surprise to a few people who forgot who he was, Sandoval showed up at a Boston Red Sox workout wearing shorts and a t-shirt with a little bit of a belly hang."
I get all that. The Red Sox didn't sign Sandoval to a five-year, $95 million contract expecting him to suddenly show up to camp with a six-pack. But let's not pretend that it's no big deal that Sandoval plays baseball with a bowling ball wrapped around his stomach.
Yes, he's been a good player for the Giants. He'll likely be a good player for the Red Sox in 2015, moving to a better hitting environment where he can slap doubles off the Monster.
But he'd be a better player if he did lose weight. His defense isn't affected? Of course it is. His defensive runs saved total was plus-15 in 2011 but minus-4, minus-5 and plus-4 the past three years. It's unlikely his defense is going to improve as he ages carrying that much weight. You don't think he'd run better if he dropped 25 pounds? Of course he would. And for those who say it doesn't bother him at the plate, how do we know that? In 2011, he hit .315/.357/.552 at age 24. He was entering his prime years. He hasn't come close to reaching those numbers the past three seasons. Maybe the weight has been a reason. For those who say he needs the weight to provide power, he ranked tied for 84th in the majors in extra-base hits last year while playing 157 games. He's not actually hitting for a lot of power.
Sandoval is a professional athlete making millions of dollars per season. He doesn't sit behind a desk all day. He can work out, hire a professional trainer, hire a personal chef ... if he cared, he could get in better shape and become a better ballplayer. People point to Kirby Puckett or Tony Gwynn as proof that baseball players don't need to be in great shape to be great. Well, the Twins had to move Puckett out of center field because he didn't have the range to play there; Gwynn missed a lot of games in his 30s as he added weight because of knee problems.
So it does matter. There's no way you're telling me Sandoval is getting the most out of his ability. He's not as good as he was at 22 or 24. Now he's 28. He's been pretty durable so far in his career (his two significant injuries were fractured hamate bones in both hands) and the Red Sox are betting he stays healthy and durable through age 32.