Forecasting Sano in October
Image courtesy of Image courtesy of © Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports2020 has been a tale of three seasons, or rather three streaks. The first was a brutal cold streak. Sano spent much of his early summer quarantined in a room in his home with an asymptomatic COVID diagnosis. While the virus didn’t take its toll on his body, his ramp up time was affected. He opened the season 1-17 with no walks and 8 Ks as fans panicked.
The turn of the calendar was kind to Sano, as he seemed to adjust on the fly. He was one of the best hitters not only in the Twins lineup, but in all of baseball. Sano hit .284/.394/.636. He was 73% better than a league average hitter according to wRC+. In a lineup that was struggling mightily, Sano was seemingly putting on a show night in and night out.
Unfortunately as the Twins offense has heated up in September, Sano has gone ice cold again. He sat a few times with neck stiffness at the peak of his performance and it clearly ruined the roll he was on. In September he’s well below the Mendoza line and hasn’t managed to get on base even 20% of the time. Having only one peak to go with his two valleys on the season has left him with an overall line that barely shows him as an above league average hitter. His talent is undeniably so much better than this.
Sano has shown his entire career that he has an unmatched ability to punish mistakes when he makes contact. While he’s the worst case of swing and miss you’ll find across the MLB, his plate approach when he’s at his best is enough for him to cause his fair share of damage. When he’s taking bad pitches and drawing his walks, he’s dangerous. And that’s exactly what’s missing from Sano’s game right now.
Sano’s walk rate is sub 3% in September and was a solid 0% in his first 17 ABs where he looked lost. Even if you weren’t paying close attention, his quality of at bat is much different this month than when he was peaking in August where his walk rate was over 10% higher. We’ve seen a lot more flailing at pitches well off the plate in September.
So what’s Sano’s issue? Plate discipline is typically a pretty consistent skill among hitters and it seems to come and go in Sano’s case. Combining July and September, Sano is hitting under .200 against fastballs with expected stats that don’t offer much inspiration. In August however, Sano made more contact with fastballs and paired it with an exit velocity over 101 mph. He hit .372 against the pitch and slugged .814. His launch angle was 17 degrees which is prime for barreling the ball when you’re averaging 101 mph off the bat.
September in particular has been strange. Sano has seen more fastballs, swung and missed at them less and somehow is doing less damage. It might be as simple as him just missing his pitches. He’s not whiffing on fastballs, but I have more than a few ABs in mind where he fouled off pitches he would have crushed a month ago. In addition, his launch angle has risen from 17 to 24 degrees against fastballs which means he’s getting under the ball much more often instead of lining it into some poor stadium seat in the second deck. All of this adds up to something just barely throwing Sano’s timing off in my opinion. He sometimes looks to be cheating on pitches and winds up sacrificing his plate discipline, in other cases he’s just missing fastballs and either fouling them off or popping them up.
At any rate, this isn’t one of the deep slumps we’ve seen from Sano over the years. He sinks or swims with his ability to connect with fastballs. He’s not completely missing them, but rather seems to have just a miniscule timing issue ever since he sat with his neck injury. He’s taking some big swings now that suggest the neck isn’t bothering him, but he may very well still be looking for his perfect timing again which I’d argue is very close.
You should feel relatively good about Sano headed into the playoffs. He always seems to be one swing away from breaking out of his slumps and he appears to be right on the edge of exploding again according to his swing and miss rates which are all that matter in Sano’s case. If we see some smart at bats and timed up fastballs to close down the season, the Twins first round opponent likely won’t be able to afford a single mistake to the slugger. Miguel Sano is the kind of hitter who can carry a lineup when he’s right, and with the Twins looking not quite as lifeless as of late, he may just make our 1-9 too much to handle in October.
— Latest Twins coverage from our writers
— Recent Twins discussion in our forums
— Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
— Follow Cody Pirkl on Twitter here
- ToddlerHarmon likes this