Miguel Sano Shows Process Drives Results
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports2020 has been anything but straightforward for sports, and Major League Baseball as a whole. For Miguel Sano, it got even more difficult when his return to the field during Summer Camp was delayed by an asymptomatic COVID-19 positive test result. He was finally ushered back into the action with roughly a week to go before Opening Day, and man did that show.
13 games into the season, and now playing a new position, Sano had bottomed out with a .111/.149/.356 slash line. He had a 23/2 K/BB and had generated just five extra-base hits in 47 plate appearances. For a guy that hits in the middle of the order and is expected to be an anchoring power bat, that’s about as bad as it gets.
That was August 9th, and on August 12th I rattled off some thoughts about why he was scuffling. My conclusion was that it was a matter of timing. He was seeing 4.66 pitches per plate appearance, second most in baseball at that point. Despite seeing all of those pitches, he was striking out an astronomical amount and the balls he was putting in play were rather fruitless.
What became apparent is that his timing wasn’t only off, but he was working through simply setting himself up for future success. Sano strikes out plenty, but he’s anything but an undisciplined hitter. He was taking pitches to get an idea of what he was seeing Pitchers exploited that to the tune of a 74.5% first pitch strike percentage. When he was swinging, the bat path wasn’t ideal as he was still behind, and the negative results followed. Statistics weren’t pretty, but the process here was a plan for something more.
Hello, we’ve now arrived at that something more. Sano is currently seeing 4.38 pitches per plate appearance which is 8th most in baseball. Instead of all the whiffs though, he’s got a 33/13 K/BB in his last 21 games and owns a .329/.440/.686 slash line. In his last 84 plate appearances he’s generated 15 extra base hits (including five dingers) and has become among baseballs hottest hitters.
The most drastic difference in the two separate splits are that Miguel Sano has gone from being the hunted to the hunter. Now timing pitches well and settled in, he’s seeing first pitch strikes just 48.8% of the time, down over 25%. Opposing pitchers realize he’s up there and ready to do damage, and it’s forced them to work counts rather than immediately get ahead. When he was working on getting going, Sano was hitting the ball hard over 54% of the time, but now on pitches that too has jumped to a crazy 64.9% hard hit rate. He’s dialed in.
Another point I touched on in the Twitter thread regarding his timing issues what the bat path and resulting launch angle. Through August 9th Sano had an average launch angle of 27.2 degrees. While it is true that success in baseball relies on elevation, there’s a threshold that a line drive or long fly ball turns into nothing more than a routine pop up, no matter how hard you hit it. Sano has surpassed that mark early on in the season. Since that point he’s generate a 17.2-degree average launch angle which falls right into the green zone of line drive or home run hitter.
In short, the Twins slugger allowed opposing pitchers to win the battle so he could focus on winning the war. By taking an extra couple of weeks to get his version of Summer Camp in, he sacrificed some early season production in order to capitalize when it mattered most. He’s now timing pitches, and although a streak this hot may not last, it’s a foundation he can be happy with.
We saw James Rowson break down Sano’s swing and completely rebuild him last year, all at the Major League level. This time, Sano did the process work on his own because it wasn’t a mechanical issue, and he’s reaping the benefits. A younger version of this man likely would’ve relied on his talent alone and fought through it for immediate gain. Now bought into work and sustained success, it’s the same reason why being fat was always a result and never the problem. Miguel Sano is invested in his own success and getting the most out of his career. Even in this shortened season, he saw the bigger picture, and now the opposition is seeing the big flies.
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