TS Eliot once wrote that April is the cruelest month, and if two English degrees taught me anything it’s that he was obviously writing about baseball. April can be cruel in many ways: it can fool you into thinking things you know aren’t true, yet it allows you juuuuust enough hope to think this year might be different. That’s true for both teams and individual players. A hot (or cold) start can easily get people saying this could be the year!
I’ve talked about how people are reacting to the Giants’ mediocre start as a whole, but there are a few individual players whose starts have people talking the most. It’s important not to lose all perspective though, and if I’m anything in life it’s a perspective-bringer. Or something like that, it just sounds good.
Anyway, the players I’ve been thinking about the most:
Aaron Rowand: Giants fans are so Jekyll and Hyde when it comes to Rowand. Last year and throughout this year’s spring training, he was the guy everyone loved to pick on. He gets a few big hits over the first 11 games this season, and now he’s indispensable.
I’m still in the former camp; I don’t buy Rowand’s hot start, but I’m not against the Giants squeezing all they can out of him while he’s hitting. This isn’t the first time Rowand has started hot with the Giants, either. Forgetting about last year for a minute, let’s check out his first-half stat lines from his first two seasons in San Francisco:
2008: .291/.359/.445, 8 HR, 48 RBI
2009: .288/.348/.458, 9 HR, 40 RBI
Great, right? Earning that ridiculous contract! What’s that you say? You want to see his second half numbers? Uhh…
2008: .242/.309/.356, 5 HR, 22 RBI
2009: .218/.271/.358, 6 HR, 24 RBI
So you’ll excuse me if I’m not jumping for joy at Rowand’s .346/.346/.577 start so far this year. Again, I’m all for the Giants riding his hot start, especially with Andres Torres on the shelf. But thinking it’s anything more than that- that Rowand is going to turn it around this year, that he’s capable of being an everyday outfielder again- is setting yourself up for disappointment. It’s like being a kid with a deadbeat dad who promises to take you to the circus but then never shows to pick you up: you got your hopes up for nothing, and you should’ve known better.
Pablo Sandoval: Confession: I’m a Sandoval fan. It’s been great watching him embrace his new approach to life and baseball, and the results are showing at the plate. Sandoval is looking like the hitter the Giants thought he would be after ’09: scorching the ball, driving in runs, and being a force in the middle of the order.
Only problem is, Sandoval looked that way last April, too. He hit .368/.433/.575 with 3 HR’s and 10 RBI’s and looked to be a legitimate MVP candidate after one month. We all know what happened after that: he followed it up with three straight months of hitting under .235 en route to a terribly disappointing season.
Is Sandoval truly back to his old form? I’d like to think so, but I’m hesitant to believe it completely. Pitchers adjusted to his poor plate discipline last year and exploited it, and there’s no reason to think that won’t happen again this year. If Sandoval can adjust with them, that's a different story. He can be the same hitter he was two years ago. If he can’t? Well, the Giants better hope that doesn’t happen: there’s no Juan Uribe waiting in the wings to take over at 3rd.
Brandon Belt: Yes, he’s off to a slow start. But as the excellent Crazy Crabbers blog points out here, Belt has had some bad luck at the plate. He’s rarely looked overmatched, has shown good patience, and has a good idea of what he wants to do when he’s at bat. He doesn’t look like a typical rookie.
The calls for Belt’s demotion to the minors make little sense to me. Going to Fresno isn’t going to magically make him a better hitter; he’s a good hitter now, he just has to take his lumps and adjust to big league pitching. I’d be worried if he wasn’t making contact, but that’s not the problem. Belt’s hitting the ball, but the hits aren’t falling in just yet. That’ll change as he gets more and more comfortable at the plate. Sending him to Fresno won’t do anything to help his development; it’ll only slow it down.
Giants/Dodgers tonight. Until next time.