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Taking a Deeper Dive into Miguel Sano's Plate Discipline

Roughly a week ago the discussion surrounding Miguel Sano was in relation to his strikeouts. Now operating at a 39.2% strikeout rate, the trips back to the dugouts remain inconsequential to me. The issue with his production profile revolves almost entirely on plate discipline. I touched on this in passing during that piece, but there’s a more nuanced conversation to be had here.
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
During the Twins 17-inning affair with the Boston Red Sox, Sano went 0-for-7 with five strikeouts. He came up in multiple big spots and simply couldn’t put the ball in play. It’s one thing to be fanning on pitches in the upper 90’s, but he was swinging through fastballs topping out below 95 mph. For a guy like Sano, bat speed isn’t the issue, but he certainly could be playing a literal guessing game.

First the good news. Although Sano’s strikeout rate is fourth highest in the majors among players with at least 100 plate appearances, he also owns the sixth best hard-hit rate (52.0%) in baseball. Because he doesn’t put the baseball on the ground, and crushes it when he makes contact, the 30.4% HR/FB rate is 11th in the majors. From this we can deduce that when the ball is put in play, good things happen.

Now the bad news. Steadily climbing since his debut season, Sano’s 33.7% chase rate is a career worst and his 19.2% whiff rate follows suit. With that mix you get an obvious combination detrimental to contact rates, resulting in just a 62.5% output. To summarize this bit of information we can understand that Miguel is expanding the zone, giving himself less opportunity to hit the ball hard, and finding himself behind in counts more frequently.

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As Sano has shown a willingness to expand, chase, and guess through at-bats, opposing pitchers have exposed him in the most inopportune moments. Coming up in high leverage situations, he’s got a .167/.250/.333 slash line across 20 plate appearances. That’s certainly a small sample size, but the reality is a lack of plate discipline is most exposed when pitchers need to exploit batter tendencies attempting to work around damage.

There are two trains of thought here that can provide some reason for hope. One is that Sano went without spring training and is still settling in. Teammate Marwin Gonzalez started with a .191/.262/.277 slash line across his first 100+ plate appearances this season. Sano is 103 PA in and owns a .225/.314/.539 slash line. Since settling in Marwin has been among the Twins best hitters, so once Sano gets acclimated an uptick may be coming.

Another avenue to venture down is the sustainability of a split like this. Three true outcomes players exist, but many of them fail to produce at a high level for any significant amount of time. Joey Gallo has certainly transformed himself into one of the best players in the game, and he’s done that by being something like the 100th percentile of Miguel Sano. Gallo’s 57.9% hard hit rate is the best in baseball while his 43.6% HR/FB mark is second. He’s putting up both of those outcomes alongside a 35.5 K%, just three spots behind Sano.

So, what’s the difference then?

The third outcome for Gallo, walk rate, is nearly double that (19.6%) of Sano’s (11.8%). He whiffs plenty at 15.1% (down 3% from 2018), and he actually makes contact less often (61.8%), but he chases significantly less. The Rangers star swings out of the zone just 22.8% of the time (10% drop from 2018). By forcing pitchers into the zone, he’s barreling hittable pitches with a powerful swing almost every time the two objects connect. Joey Gallo forces the opposing hurler to pitch to him, while Miguel Sano allows the opponent simply to throw.

James Rowson has a moldable piece of clay in front of him, and if the weight loss is any indication, this is the first time in a while that Sano may be a willing student. Figuring out how to get rid the check swings, hold off on the offerings well out of the zone, and commit every time the bat goes through the zone is an absolute must. Sano’s best season came with a 25.2% chase rate and a 15.7% whiff rate. He’s not far from those benchmarks, but it will take work and focus to get there.

Once again, I’m willing to suggest I could care less that Miguel Sano strikes out. In and of itself, the strikeout is no worse than any other out. What I do care about is that a guy whose entire value is derived from plate production, figures out how to read pitches, work counts, and commit to attacking the ball with a swing destined to produce results.

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148 Comments

Career Kent Hrbek: .848 OPS, 128 OPS+, .371 wOBA, 126 wRC+, .198 isoP
2019 Miguel Sano: .853 OPS, 124 OPS+, .351 wOBA, 119 wRC+, .315 isoP

 

I don't remember much whining about Kent Hrbek day in and day out.It seems that Sano bashing is a weekly phenomenon around here, and it is getting a bit trite and quasi-rancorous, esp. when the team has the best season since forever and the best record in the majors currenty.

 

 

    • Cap'n Piranha, Mike Frasier Law, Don Walcott and 1 other like this
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Ted Schwerzler
Jun 19 2019 07:25 PM

 

Career Kent Hrbek: .848 OPS, 128 OPS+, .371 wOBA, 126 wRC+, .198 isoP
2019 Miguel Sano: .853 OPS, 124 OPS+, .351 wOBA, 119 wRC+, .315 isoP

 

I don't remember much whining about Kent Hrbek day in and day out.It seems that Sano bashing is a weekly phenomenon around here, and it is getting a bit trite and quasi-rancorous, esp. when the team has the best season since forever and the best record in the majors currenty.

 

I'm not sure if my tone was misinterpreted or not but both this article, and the one I wrote a week and a half ago, have been in defense of him. Among those blogging/tweeting on the Twins, I've arguably been the most defensive of him.

    • Mike Frasier Law, dgwills, WLFINN and 2 others like this

 

I'm not sure if my tone was misinterpreted or not but both this article, and the one I wrote a week and a half ago, have been in defense of him. Among those blogging/tweeting on the Twins, I've arguably been the most defensive of him.

 

Not about you Ted, per se.It just seems that there is an article about Sano's shortcomings on a weekly basis on this site, without appreciating the fact that he is having an overall pretty darn good season, esp. in the power department, despite missing the whole ST and a month of the season with an injury.

 

Just getting pretty old, esp. in a season that Twins' fans should be rejoicing. Lots of other things to talk about than Sano's shortcomings.At least you kept it on the field

    • Cap'n Piranha, Mike Frasier Law, kenbuddha and 3 others like this
I believe the Sano defenders are equally missing the point. The guy can’t hit or lay-off an outside breaking pitch or catch up to a fastball belt high or above. Not the profile of a hitter that is going to produce against good pitching staffs. He has to seriously rework his approach at the plate
    • ScrapTheNickname, USNMCPO, notoriousgod71 and 13 others like this
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operation mindcrime
Jun 19 2019 08:29 PM
CROM!!!!!!!!!!! :)
    • Original Whizzinator likes this
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yarnivek1972
Jun 19 2019 08:56 PM
You are certainly entitled to your opinion Ted. Just don’t be surprised that a lot of people don’t share it. A strikeout is a completely wasted at bat.

Sano has a career BABIP of .345. A little more than half of his career PA are balls not in play and 2/3 of the balls not in play are Ks.

In a full season, if Sano got 500 PA, he would put about 225 in play and strike out 200 times at 40% ratio.

Striking out at a 30% ratio would trim that to 150. That would translate into 17 more hits given his BABIP. That’s almost an extra hit per week. That’s the difference between where Sano is now and where he could be, an elite level player. Sure, he could still improve his plate discipline, but he has done nothing but get worse since day one. That is extremely concerning.
    • pbrezeasap, notoriousgod71, LA VIkes Fan and 11 others like this
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yarnivek1972
Jun 19 2019 09:02 PM

Career Kent Hrbek: .848 OPS, 128 OPS+, .371 wOBA, 126 wRC+, .198 isoP
2019 Miguel Sano: .853 OPS, 124 OPS+, .351 wOBA, 119 wRC+, .315 isoP

I don't remember much whining about Kent Hrbek day in and day out. It seems that Sano bashing is a weekly phenomenon around here, and it is getting a bit trite and quasi-rancorous, esp. when the team has the best season since forever and the best record in the majors currenty.

I think you remember incorrectly. There was plenty of talk about his weight and frequent injuries. And to some extent, diminished production. 1987 was the only year he ranked better than 10th in HR. 1984 was the only year he cracked the top 10 in RBI.
    • notoriousgod71, Platoon and Aerodeliria like this

The chasing outside the zone would loom larger for me if he weren't swinging clean through so many strikes in the zone.

    • glunn, pbrezeasap, chpettit19 and 4 others like this

In and of itself, the strikeout is no worse than any other out.

 

Well of course it is. Why do pitchers try to strike hitters out? Why are we looking for bullpen help that can miss bats?

 

 

    • ashbury, pbrezeasap, Badsmerf and 15 others like this

Let's not miss the forest through the trees....

 

His current plate approach is not consistent with an elite hitter which is what we all hope for.

 

And in the playoffs, against more consistent elite pitching, he will be absolutely eviscerated with his current plate approach.

 

Elite pitchers (and catchers who are calling the game) will be salivating when he come up for an at bat in a high leverage situation.

 

A mental exercise....what do you think the chances are that he receives an intentional walk at ANY time in the playoffs?

    • LA VIkes Fan, SD Buhr, Major League Ready and 4 others like this
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yarnivek1972
Jun 19 2019 09:21 PM

Let's not miss the forest through the trees....

His current plate approach is not consistent with an elite hitter which is what we all hope for.

And in the playoffs, against more consistent elite pitching, he will be absolutely eviscerated with his current plate approach.

Elite pitchers (and catchers who are calling the game) will be salivating when he come up for an at bat in a high leverage situation.

A mental exercise....what do you think the chances are that he receives an intentional walk at ANY time in the playoffs?


Hitting ahead of Castro as he has been probably increase those odds.
Sano is too valuable to trade. Maybe he should spend some time in Rochester to get his head straight.
    • bighat and Dakota Diver like this
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Tom Froemming
Jun 19 2019 09:34 PM

The check swings are what drive me mad. Do it or don't, man. Obviously it's really difficult to identify pitches, MLB pitchers are really good, but if you start your swing, just let it fly. Commit. If you're gonna have a swinging strike, I want all the people up in Minnie & Paul's to feel the wooosh from your swing :)

    • glunn, Twins33, Danchat and 4 others like this
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Aerodeliria
Jun 19 2019 09:50 PM

Thank you for this. I also made the comparison to Joey Gallo in your original post on this topic because the comparison I think is a very good one. Gallo obviously has learned that the the guessing game is a fool's pursuit. Gallo's SO rate is almost identical to every other season, but his walk rate is up over 6% and his chase rate way down. I wondered if his slugging might have dropped with his newly found plate discipline. Hardly. His slugging is up nearly .100, and of course, his OPS is bordering on being ridiculous and so is his OBP.

 

Concerning Sano, I'll take today's game as another vivid example. Down by four/five runs Barnes throws him three straight balls not really even close. I am sure he had the take sign on for the next pitch and Barnes threw him a strike. The next pitch was probably six inches outside, easily ball four. Sano swings at it instead of trotting down to first base with a walk. That is what is meant by a meaningless plate appearance. Arraez follows by working himself a walk, but then Barnes starts to get comfortable because instead of having two on and no out, there is only one on and one out.

    • Original Whizzinator likes this
I still have hope for him but he's very concerning.
    • pbrezeasap and Aerodeliria like this
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Aerodeliria
Jun 19 2019 10:02 PM

 

The chasing outside the zone would loom larger for me if he weren't swinging clean through so many strikes in the zone.

I think this is also a result of guessing where and what kind of pitch is coming. In today's game he swung at pitches far outside the zone as well as pitches in the zone, but he failed to make much contact. If he happens to guess right that means hard contact, but wrong and he swings and misses or gets weak contact.

    • twinsnorth49 and Dakota Diver like this
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Aerodeliria
Jun 19 2019 10:03 PM

 

Let's not miss the forest through the trees....

 

His current plate approach is not consistent with an elite hitter which is what we all hope for.

 

And in the playoffs, against more consistent elite pitching, he will be absolutely eviscerated with his current plate approach.

 

Elite pitchers (and catchers who are calling the game) will be salivating when he come up for an at bat in a high leverage situation.

 

A mental exercise....what do you think the chances are that he receives an intentional walk at ANY time in the playoffs?

Right now? 0%. They'd probably 'unintentionally' walk someone hitting before him to face him.

Sano's strikeout streak of six ends with a walk tonight. 

Posting his career #'s is a nice distraction. No one disputes he had a successful 2015 or 2017. The issue is that he is trending severely in the wrong direction and isn't getting any younger. His days playing 3B are numbered. And 1B/DH that hit 25 HR's and strike out all the time aren't valuable. You can claim them off waivers from the Rays whenever. 

    • mikelink45, chpettit19, ken and 1 other like this
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Aerodeliria
Jun 20 2019 02:04 AM

Does anyone know if Cruz is helping Sano with plate discipline and/or pitch recognition? I mean they are quite similar hitters in many respects (strike out frequently, try to hit the long ball), but Cruz takes quite a few walks, even in high leverage situations.

 

Concerning Marwin, I wasn't...concerned that is because he was making contact and he was not expanding the strike zone. It was simply a matter of time before good things started happening. (Adrianza I had less patience with simply because I took his history as the basis for my complaint. I am happy to be shown the error of my ways.)

    • Original Whizzinator likes this

What plate discipline?

 

Like Ash, I'm more concerned about the stuff that he misses inside the zone because if he was actually hitting more of the pitches that he should obliterate, I'd be able to tolerate swinging out of the zone. 

 

Strikeouts are a completely wasted at bat. Nothing good can come from it. Nothing. Putting the ball in play at the very least has marginal chance at becoming positive and forces the defense to execute the out. 

    • Steve Lein, birdwatcher, Twins33 and 4 others like this

Sano, Buxton, Rosario, Kepler, Polanco. All came up to the big league roster about the same time. Sano and Buxton were the two that were suppose to be the "Stars" of the bunch. As it turns out they have been the worst of the bunch with Sano leading the way. I keep comparing him to David Ortiz and wonder if the Twins trade him will he become just that, another David Ortiz? How long do you keep a player that just can't figure out you don't have to try to hit every ball 500 feet. Maybe they should have him practice bunting so he learns that putting the bat on the ball is more productive.

I sure hope he doesn't become Joey Gallo because I don't think his current performance is sustainable...

Every player has peaks and valleys in their game. Because Sano's discipline is iffy at best, his valleys are pretty bad. When he's off, he barely makes contact with a pitch.

I don't understand why some fans continue to dismiss this problem of his. Why is it a bad thing to comment about his bad plate discipline and high K rate, and want him to improve that aspect of his game?
    • Twins33 and LA VIkes Fan like this
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twinsnorth49
Jun 20 2019 07:40 AM

The fact that he's whiffing regularly on sub 95mph fastballs is a pretty good indication that his approach needs a reset. He's simply guessing, largely due to his inability to recognize breaking pitches out of the zone, when he tries to sit on them pitchers are busting him on the inner third of the plate and he's behind. Making them come into the zone on him needs to be number one, then he can start just looking fastball, which at that point he should rarely miss. Was he in a hitters count once during the Red Sox series? Falling behind 0-2 or 1-2 every AB is a recipe for disaster unless he can get a little disciplne. 

 

As Ted points out though, the Gallo comparison is cause for some hope. 

As a consistent critic of Sano, I am compelled to add to this discussion. Watching Sano wiff insignificant at-bats the last two nights has driven my frustration to higher levels. He didn't even come close to hitting those balls. It says if he has his eyes closed and just hopes. You can throw all kinds of stats at me, but being one of those old guys, I still like to judge what I see. And I do not want Sano coming up in crucial situations. I have no faith in him. Somebody might turn him around and I hope that that happens but as of now I am not a fan. I prefer Arraez and his bat discipline over Sano. And I hope by the end of the year or next year or sometime in his career I can eat by words.
    • In My La-Z-boy likes this

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