At the end of his breakout rookie campaign last year, Mike Yastrzemski sat down with former Giants manager Bruce Bochy and president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi to discuss potential areas of improvement ahead of his sophomore season in the Majors.
One category that came up during those discussions was plate discipline. Yastrzemski, who slashed .272/.334/.518 with 21 home runs in 2019, walked in 7.8 percent of his plate appearances last year, a tick below the league-average mark of 8.5 percent.
Refining his selectivity at the plate became an offseason focus for Yastrzemski, whose efforts appear to be paying dividends thus far. The 29-year-old outfielder entered Wednesday leading the Majors with 13 walks over his first 55 plate appearances (23.6 percent) of the 2020 season. According to Statcast, he’s swinging at only 17.3 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, down from 27 percent last year.
“Little things like that will not only help the team, but it helps your average if you're not swinging at bad pitches and you're getting more walks,” Yastrzemski said Wednesday. “It kind of takes at-bats away, essentially. So just trying to manage that and trying to find the pitches that we can do damage on.”
Yastrzemski is the only player to start each of the Giants’ first 13 games and currently leads the Majors with 1.1 WAR, according to FanGraphs. He entered Wednesday batting .310 with three home runs and a .473 on-base percentage, which ranks sixth in the Majors.
Yastrzemski credited the Giants’ hitting group -- co-hitting coaches Donnie Ecker and Justin Viele and director of hitting Dustin Lind -- for putting him in position to succeed each night and helping him improve his eye at the plate.
“It's more of a mental thing, trying to game plan against pitchers,” Yastrzemski said. “Our hitting staff has been unbelievable with that. Coming up with plans to help us stay locked in and figure out what we should be swinging at, what we need to be taking. So a lot of credit goes to them for helping me create those and stay locked in on them.”
Kapler showing faith in Sandoval
Pablo Sandoval has gone 3-for-26 (.115) over his first 11 games of the year, but he was back in the Giants’ lineup on Wednesday, starting at designated hitter and batting sixth against Rockies right-hander Jon Gray.
While Sandoval has struggled to produce early this season, manager Gabe Kapler said the Giants have been encouraged by his ability to make hard contact, as evidenced by his 109 mph single against right-hander Germán Márquez on Tuesday.
"Last night was a really good signal with respect to his swing," Kapler said Wednesday. "He really crushed some balls, crushed them on the ground, and ultimately, in a perfect world, you're able to elevate the balls that you hit hardest, and when he's at his best that's exactly what he's doing. What we've seen with Pablo has been a slow progression towards his good swing."
The switch-hitting Sandoval carved out a valuable role as a utility player with the Giants in recent years, but his versatility has not been put into much use so far this season. He has not been asked to play third base and has logged only three plate appearances from the right side.
"We have a lot of options to hit lefties, from [Donovan] Solano to [Wilmer] Flores to Darin Ruf to [Austin] Slater to [Mauricio] Dubón," Kapler said. "We've got a lot of guys who are really equipped to take down at-bats against lefties. It's a little bit thinner when we're facing a right-handed pitcher."
Sandoval’s slow start and limited role could put him in a tough spot with rosters set to shrink from 30 to 28 players on Thursday. The 33-year-old veteran re-signed with the Giants on a Minor League deal earlier this year after completing his rehab from Tommy John surgery.
Giants looking for ‘happy medium’ with Heineman
Rookie Tyler Heineman recorded his third catcher interference call of the season on Tuesday and now leads the Giants with three errors this season. Kapler said the Giants had asked Heineman to move up behind the plate to help him catch low balls earlier and give him a better chance of framing them for strikes. But the tweak to Heineman’s setup has obviously had unintended consequences.
“At this point, it’s reasonable to try to find a happy medium,” Kapler said following Tuesday’s game. “I don’t think we need to overcorrect and push him way back in the box. I’ll ask if there’s something in the middle between the adjustment that he’s made and that sweet spot where he can still get up underneath that low pitch and have it called a strike and not have this happen.”