Taking a Deeper Dive into Miguel Sano's Plate Discipline
Image courtesy of © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY SportsDuring 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.
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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