Sano The Sleeper Of The Derby?
Image courtesy of © Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY SportsCompeting before him, the Twins have watched both Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier scuffle in the competition, while Justin Morneau won it as a footnote to Josh Hamilton’s output. If Sano is going to win it, he’ll have to travel a difficult road, and the competition stacks the odds against him.
Not ruling out an upset victory from the likes of Gary Sanchez, Mike Moutakas, Justin Bour or Charlie Blackmon, the four aforementioned names seem to be where the focus should remain. Figuring out just how well Sano stacks up against the trio of Stanton, Judge and Bellinger could lead us to some sort of conclusion on Monday night.
Having led the major leagues in average exit velocity for most of the year, Sano has routinely hit the ball hard. Now sitting at 94 mph in second place, he trails only Judge’s 96.3mph. Both Stanton and Bellinger find themselves further down the leaderboard at 90.9 and 90.2 mph respectively. When putting out max effort however, Judge and Stanton pace the big leagues with max exit velocities of 121.1 and 118.7 mph on the season. Sano’s high water mark is 114.6 mph while Bellinger’s is 112.8. In the derby though, the test is both endurance and strength.
You’d be hard pressed to find an argument against Sano being the strongest of the group, but coming in around 260 pounds, his fitness will likely be tested to a greater extent than the likes of the leaner Stanton, Bellinger and Judge. With the new rules dictating players routinely swing in a timed format, getting a rhythm, and not over exerting on outs is an absolute must. While you can toe the line between getting the added bonus for distance, you also can’t set yourself up for failure by launching straight moonshots.
During game situations this season, Sano actually holds the lowest percentage of fly balls that leave the yard among the group. His 26.7% is 11th in MLB, trailing Judge’s insane 41.4%, Bellinger’s 29.6%, and Stanton’s 27.7%. In a derby format, he’ll obviously need to hope something like 80% of the balls he puts in the air leave the yard.
If you’re going to drive the ball far, you’ll also have to hit it hard. Per Fangraphs, Sano owns the fifth best hard% in the majors this season. His 47.7% number is behind Judge’s 49.5%, but ahead of both Bellinger’s 45.5% and Stanton’s 35.8% mark. Despite being another category that tips the scales in Judge’s favor, Stanton fares well here in regard to his competition.
Maybe the final part of the equation is the actual location of the Derby itself. Being hosted in Miami, Miguel Sano has never had a big league at-bat in Marlins Park. Per ESPN’s 2017 Park Factors, Marlins Park checks in as the fifth most pitcher friendly ballpark in the big leagues. That’s on par with Camden Yards, Busch Stadium, Citi Field and Minute Maid. Target Field ranks as the third most hitter friendly ballpark this year.
Of the similarly playing ballparks to Marlins Park, Sano has only played in at least 5 career games at Camden Yards and Minute Maid. While the .884 OPS and three homers in 41 at-bats at Camden Yards shows nicely, Sano has just a .297 OPS and zero homers in 23 at-bats in Houston.
Realistically speaking, it’s foolish to extrapolate game data to a slugging competition. Despite that not being the exact intention, it’s interesting to see what the sluggers'offensive production has looked like relative to the home run. We may not know anything more about Sano’s chances based upon this data, but we can gain a further understanding of his power ability as a whole.
Come July 10, and the commencement of the actual Home Run Derby, the wondering will be laid to rest. Given the fact he’ll likely be facing long odds, Sano is a solid bet. However, this still appears to be a race between the defending champ in Stanton, and the Yankees phenom Judge.