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How Miguel Sano Turned His Season Around

In late June, Miguel Sano’s 2019 season felt like it was on the brink of collapse.

From his delayed start in May through the end of June, the Minnesota Twins’ third baseman led baseball with a grotesque 42 percent strikeout rate. He had been strikeout prone but now in nearly half of his trips to the plate, he headed back to the bench without putting a ball in play, often looking a fool in the process. While the game was trending toward more whiffs, the average hitter still managed to strike out in only 20 percent of his plate appearances. Pitchers had him eating out of their hands.

The Twins staff finally intervened, retooled, and rewired his swing. The results have been no short of outstanding. Since the end of June, Sano’s 627 slugging percentage has been one of the best in the game. His average exit velocity of 95.6 miles per hour has been the third highest among qualified hitters and he has hit 60 percent of his balls in play over 95 miles per hour (third best in MLB).

While all the rocket shots and batted ball data is intriguing, perhaps most importantly, Sano no longer leads all hitters in strikeouts. So what changed?

Here’s how Miguel Sano became hotter than hard seltzer this summer.
Image courtesy of Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Sano’s low point involved a frustrating pitch selection and inexplicable inability to make contact with fastballs. He would swing through low 90s center-cut fastballs or flail at a breaking ball that bounced in the left-handed batter’s box.

To repair, the Twins and Sano focused on his hand path, starting with eliminating the extra movement before getting to his launch point. As innocuous as it may seem, with the added bat tip forward Sano would put himself in the position of having to cheat to catch up to fastballs while getting burnt on breaking and offspeed pitches. Refraining from tipping the barrel toward the pitcher (as seen on the left) provided him with the ability to read pitches better.

Since reducing the slack, Sano is swinging less, chasing pitches out of the zone less and swinging through fewer pitches.

Attached Image: FSFrameGIFImage (10).GIF


“The goal is to put his hands in a position to handle balls out over the plate to get to that ball up a little bit better and to be able to stay through the ball so that he can get on top of the ball consistently or to be able to drive through it more consistently,” Twins’ hitting coach James Rowson told The Athletic’s Dan Hayes.

That ball up, as Rowson noted, was Sano’s kryptonite. Pitchers who threw even the softest of gas could tie him in knots when elevating in the upper third. Before the correction, Sano swung through 66% of fastballs up in the zone and had just one hit. After Rowson and Rudy Hernandez performed their magic — working on drills that reduced hand movement from his start to his launch point — Sano improved his swing-and-miss rate on fastballs up from 66% to 28% and has three home runs on fastballs in that area of the zone.

Before the adjustment, Sano’s swing was powerful but one-dimensional. He mashed fastballs in one spot in the zone (outer-third, waist high) yet, because of his delayed swing process, his barrel would struggle to find anything middle-in. As long as opponents stayed away from that zone with their fastball, Sano’s power was muted. Again, speeding up his timing mechanism paid dividends. Over those first 30 games, Sano hit just .120/.267/.280 on fastballs middle-in but has since hit .395/.469/.907 with 7 home runs.

Attached Image: Sano Average.png


And that has been the key to Sano’s turnaround: hammering the heat.

Former player and manager Matt Williams used to say that the best way to hit a curveball was to not miss the fastball. In Sano’s case he would miss the fastball and would be reduced to rubble on various breaking balls. Even with the new approach, Sano has not handled non-fastballs well when swinging. However, he has greatly reduced the number of hacks at them.

Attached Image: Sano Approach.PNG



Sano also points to another factor in his offensive uptick. He told Fox Sports North that Rowson had recommended adjusting his grip on the bat, aligning his middle knuckles rather than having his top hand bottom (proximal) knuckles aligning with his bottom hand bottom (proximal) knuckles. This is a similar effect to how Axe Bat-type handles naturally align knuckles, a feature that some hitters have raved about, which the Cubs’ Kris Bryant credited with turning his 2019 season around. It stands to reason that once he was able to decipher good from bad pitches, he would be able to drive them better with a new grip and more efficient hand path.

His load adjustment provided him with the ability to separate pitch types earlier while his grip allows him to drive through the ball. Needless to say, Sano’s in-season turnaround is a testament to the Twins’ coaching process as well as his ability to implement changes on the fly.

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28 Comments

One of the simplest evaluations of his crazy improvement is the simple fact that he has went from about the 11th or 12th guy I would want up in an RBI situation to about the second. Arrez (sp) would likely be 1st, unless it was a HR needed.
    • Twins33, Tomj14 and Aerodeliria like this
Interesting note about knuckle alignment at the end.

That’s kind of surprising because I was taught that as an elementary-age ball player. I just taught to my 4-year old t-baller this summer. After struggling for 2 years, that’s what fixed the swings of one of the (now) best hitters in the American League?
    • Loosey likes this

 

One of the simplest evaluations of his crazy improvement is the simple fact that he has went from about the 11th or 12th guy I would want up in an RBI situation to about the second. Arrez (sp) would likely be 1st, unless it was a HR needed.

 

I'd take Nelson Cruz over any other Twins hitter in an RBI situation.

    • Twins33, Monkeypaws, gbg and 4 others like this

I like to use the phrase "finding the light switch".

 

Your articles are always great explaining the different ways that the "light switch" can be found.  

 

 

 

 

    • Jerr, Dman and Minny505 like this
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tarheeltwinsfan
Aug 19 2019 06:31 AM

Good explanation of how two changes have made a huge difference. Habits are things done repeatedly. To change a habit, do something repeatedly a different way. The grip was easy for Sano to change, however getting used to it and swinging and actually connecting using the new grip, took multiple sessions in the batting cage, and live pitching, I am sure.I wonder specifically what drills Sano did over and over to change his batswing to eliminate the little tipping of the bat toward the pitcher? Any ideas how a coach gets a hitterto change that "hitch",other than yell at him when he did it wrong and praise him when he did it correctly? 

 

One of the simplest evaluations of his crazy improvement is the simple fact that he has went from about the 11th or 12th guy I would want up in an RBI situation to about the second. Arrez (sp) would likely be 1st, unless it was a HR needed.

I'll take Marwin! He's been very clutch this season. 

Very interesting analysis. 

 

Now that the opposing scouts will have read it, will Sano (and the coaches) be able to adapt to the changes in how he will be pitched?

    • ashbury likes this

I'm a fan. IMO, Sano pretty consistently demonstrates a love of the game, of winning, and of his teammates. Becoming a great power hitter in the major leagues is a process...lot's of players experience greatness...several even right out of the gate...but relatively few sustain it. It's a process of trying to learn and trying to adjust...and it seems like Miguel has finally embarked on that process. It still won't be linear, and it remains to be seen where it will take him, but I'm encouraged and exited that he's begun the process.

    • SQUIRREL, Major League Ready and Minny505 like this
Rowson deserves a promotion or something... I know the juiced ball has helped, but the ABs our boys are taking out there have improved drastically this season. Rowson deserves some credit!
    • railmarshalljon likes this

In an RBI situation...hmmm...

First I'd go Arraez, because of bat control. He'll barrel it up almost every time. 

Second I'd go Gonzo, for he is super hot right now.

Third I'd go Cruz, for he's a perfect blend of power and bat.

Fourth I'd go Sano, because he's got nightmare power, and his approach has improved immensely. 

 

Sano has the potential to be the scariest bat in the lineup, but he's not quite done refining his approach. He still has trouble with high pitches, and I still see him flail at the low outside curve, tho nowhere near as much as a couple months ago. Taking walks has greatly improved his game.

 

If Sano continues to bash outside pitches oppo, and then learns to turn on inside stuff....ohboy. Meanwhile he could still get rid of more of that extraneous bat waggle, and keep working on quickening his hands. Short to it, long thru it. Like Garver, plus 50 pounds of muscle. 

    • twinsnorth49 and Aerodeliria like this

Very interesting analysis.

Now that the opposing scouts will have read it, will Sano (and the coaches) be able to adapt to the changes in how he will be pitched?


The adjustments gets his bat through the zone faster, he already hit well middle away, it was the upper fastballs and the ones inside that got him. So if he can hit those, then if they go back to pitching him middle away then that is sort of pitching into his strength. The only way would be to throw more off speed stuff, of which, lately, he has been laying off of.

Interesting note about knuckle alignment at the end.

That’s kind of surprising because I was taught that as an elementary-age ball player. I just taught to my 4-year old t-baller this summer. After struggling for 2 years, that’s what fixed the swings of one of the (now) best hitters in the American League?


I think sometimes when a person is as naturally gifted as a professional athlete that when they were younger it didn't matter how they held the bat, they smashed no matter what, so people would probably be a little reluctant to fix something when he was killing the ball all over the place. Now when he wasn't doing well then they went to the fix.

 

The adjustments gets his bat through the zone faster, he already hit well middle away, it was the upper fastballs and the ones inside that got him. So if he can hit those, then if they go back to pitching him middle away then that is sort of pitching into his strength. The only way would be to throw more off speed stuff, of which, lately, he has been laying off of.

 

My reaction as well.Sano has made changes to his swing that allow him to get to balls in basically *most* (all?) areas of the zone.In addition, these swing changes have given him the confidence to be able to get to fast balls without cheating meaning he can also sit back and wait on breaking stuff in the zone.Further, because he doesn't have to cheat and start his swing so early he's able to wait longer on pitches and not chase breaking stuff that starts in the zone and goes out of the zone.

 

Sano has been among the best at the league at not chasing pitches out of the zone and hitting the ball hard in the zone when it's there.He still does get a lot of strikeouts, but mostly because he's consistently working so deep into counts to wait for good pitches to hit.It's a formula I like because it leads to getting on base a bunch and hitting a bunch of balls hard.  

 

Similar to his rookie season, when he's on like this, I've never seen a hitter go 3-2 in counts more consistently (lol).But to go back on topic, I think it's a formula that's foundational in terms of being a successful approach that should allow him to get on base at a high rate and hit a lot of balls hard. I think his success is also important because he knows the things to do to shorten his swing if he starts struggling.

 

I think the biggest threat to his approach is health.If Sano gets injured he may start, maybe by necessity, cheating or doing things that create bad habits.He's a really tough hitter to get out right now.You essentially have to hope that you can get to 2-2 or 3-2 and throw something on the black of the plate because Sano shows a willingness to take pitches on or just off the edge of the plate or hope that a fielder catches a 95+ MPH exit velocity rocket off his bat.

    • Twodogs likes this
RBI situation? I want the guy who puts the bat on the ball the most often, yet with some drive. Arrez. He is an awful tough out. Yes, if I am down 3 with two on, two out, that equation changes. But if I want to move one runner to the plate it's Arrez hands down.

What a difference a new coaching staff dedicated to developing young players is. 

 

For all the respect I have for Paul Molitor, his staff did little to work with the young players mechanics like this.I get it, Molitor was a natural and spend two decades in the majors.But not everyone is a natural and a veteran who can make their own adjustments that young players need. 

 

And, the fact is, Gardenhire was even worse.

 

So, for 8 years this team has been in rebuilding mode they had a manager that really could not develop these young players.We finally get one in Baldelli and players like Sano that looked like they were heading for the dustbin suddenly turn around.Add Garver, Polonco, Kepler, and Buxton to that list of former high level prospects that were sputtering and now have turned it around, it is one amazing job.

    • PDX Twin likes this
Mollie was responsible for helping Buxton change his approach and swing.
Photo
yarnivek1972
Aug 19 2019 06:07 PM

What a difference a new coaching staff dedicated to developing young players is.

For all the respect I have for Paul Molitor, his staff did little to work with the young players mechanics like this. I get it, Molitor was a natural and spend two decades in the majors. But not everyone is a natural and a veteran who can make their own adjustments that young players need.

And, the fact is, Gardenhire was even worse.

So, for 8 years this team has been in rebuilding mode they had a manager that really could not develop these young players. We finally get one in Baldelli and players like Sano that looked like they were heading for the dustbin suddenly turn around. Add Garver, Polonco, Kepler, and Buxton to that list of former high level prospects that were sputtering and now have turned it around, it is one amazing job.


I’d say the credit more likely goes to the analytics’ staff. It’s literally part of their job to see a mechanical flaw in a guy’s swing or delivery and ensure it gets properly communicated to him.

The old school was “try this” or “try that”. The new approach is “this is what you were doing when you were doing well, this is what you’re doing now and this is what you need to do to fix it.”
    • SwainZag likes this
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Aerodeliria
Aug 19 2019 06:59 PM

Thanks again Parker. I noticed his balance again (as I did last time) and his stance. The hand adjustment naturally improves his stance. I noticed how much more upright he looks in the box. Also, because the pitches farther out of the zone away, look like they are farther away, he can lay off of those pitches. Previously, as you mentioned, he had only one 'sweet spot,' while every other place he was swinging like the proverbial 'broken ladder.' The lunge factor has also seemed to correct itself (to me those were the ugliest swings of all). Sometimes intervention is needed as these things do not correct themselves over time--they tend to worsen. Kudos to the Twins and to Sano (for heeding their advice).

Well done as always Parker.

 

Always must read stuff from you!

If you are looking for your next project, I'd be fascinated to see your take is on Royce Lewis' swing!

I was hoping last night he was going to come through, but can't do it every time.It has been very nice to see this change.Lets hope as pitchers adjust, he does as well.I think the biggest thing for Sano was he never failed in his life until getting to majors and then could not figure how to get out of it, despite being coached, but sometimes you need to let players fail their way before they are willing to do it your way.

    • DocBauer likes this

The knuckle-alignment thing reminds me of teaching 8 year old girls how to grip the bat in fastpitch - gets the handle more in the fingers than the palm - which is more like a golf grip as well.As far as the hand movement goes I've always advocated for quiet hands prior to the swing.Get your hands where you want the swing to start from - and then relax until you launch.

 

Pretty much the opposite of Gary Sheffield - there's always exceptions!

Sano has basicly adopted Mauer's approach at the plate these days.

He needs to keep on the diet and he will be a force! If he regresses he will be Panda 2.0

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Crackedfungo
Aug 24 2019 10:58 PM

I hope we are done hearing about how Sano is a declining talent.He is still learning to deal with not being able to rely on sheer ability and power to get out of his funk(s).He has clearly worked hard; to come in with a better 'baseball shape,' to be more discerning at the plate, to adapt/adjust to adversity and power through.I think that he must be very attentive to what has helped him renew expectations and his capabilities.I also would not diminish the work of Rowson, Baldelli, and the influence of Nelson Cruz.I think Cruz is the 'Inspirational MVP' of this team.He has clearly helped the entire team - and SANO.Brilliant move by FO.Now, sign him to a reasonable extension before his costs increase.Make it incentive laden.


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