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Why Miguel Sano's Strikeouts Are Not a Problem

Miguel Sano has played in 17 games for the Minnesota Twins in 2019. He missed the beginning of the season rehabbing from an Achilles injury, and joined the club in the middle of May. Through his first 75 plate appearances Sano has fanned 28 times while drawing nine walks. Each of those strikeouts has drawn the ire of Twins fans and stirred up a vocal minority suggesting the club deserves more. They are wrong, it doesn’t matter, and the slugger has been great.
Image courtesy of © Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s the deal, Miguel Sano currently owns a .949 OPS which is the third best among Minnesota hitters. Rocco Baldelli’s club has the best OPS in baseball, and the next closest team (Houston) is over 40 points in the rear-view mirror. While Sano’s impact hasn’t been felt for a considerable amount of time this season, he’s been adding to what is already the most feared lineup in the game.

Now, let’s get into the merits of Sano based on this year alone. His 37.3% strikeout rate is down just slightly from the 2018 mark (38.5%), and up just slightly from the 2017 mark (35.8%). Essentially, he’s striking out a third of the time as he always has. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. The other part of this equation is what takes place the other two-thirds of the time.

Right now, Miguel Sano owns a 12% walk rate for the Twins, which is the highest it’s been at any point since his 15.8% tally in 2015 as a rookie. There is some reason for concern regarding his plate discipline, however. The 31.1% chase rate and 20.1% whiff rates are both career highs. He’s generating contact just 61% of the time, and while that’s lower than his career mark, it’s right in line with what he’s done in his two best years (2015 and 2017). A silver lining here is that his 4.34 pitches per plate appearance is a career best mark. When it comes to this piece of the puzzle, the walks are an encouraging sign even if there are lots of opportunities left on the table.

That brings us to batted ball opportunities. As he was billed to do when coming through the system, the Dominican native is absolutely destroying the baseball. In a year with the ball being juiced and flying out of the park more than it ever has, a 50% hard hit rate is going to do significant damage. Across 361 players with over 70 plate appearances this season, no one has a lower soft hit rate than Sano’s 5.3%. Miguel is also not a stranger to elevating the baseball. He’s putting it on the ground just 21.1% of the time and hitting fly balls 44.7% of the time. Because of the hard-hit rate, and lift on his batted balls, 35.3% of them have left the yard (eighth best in baseball).

At the end of the day the reality is Miguel Sano is essentially the perfect version of himself. If you’re looking for him to hit for a high average and be some sort of MVP candidate, you’ve probably misunderstood his skillset all along. If you’re on board with him batting around .250, having a OBP around .330, and SLG in the upper .500’s celebrate because that’s what you’ll get. Sano isn’t a franchise cornerstone, but he’s definitely a middle-of-the-order bat that can hold his own against the best in the game.

There’s been some goofy suggestions thrown out over the course of the season. Trading Sano for peanuts, preferring the likes of Willians Astudillo, or demeaning his production because he produces outs are all foolish reasons to be down on him. Although he’s been lumped in with Byron Buxton from a timeline perspective, Sano has never been in the same boat from a 100th percentile impact expectation. At his best Buxton is a perennial MVP candidate. At his best Sano is an all-star who challenges for the yearly home run title.

At some point we need to get to a place where the head trash that strikeouts are bad is removed from our memory. In baseball the most important commodity is the out, and you get 27 of them. Striking out is no worse than any other out and given the inability to be doubled up in that scenario, it may even be better. Enjoy how much Sano is demolishing the ball, hope he can rein in the plate discipline even a bit more, and allow whatever happens in between to be the gray area providing a reminder that baseball is hard.

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108 Comments

I like the way you think. The only part I question is the middle of the order bat. Rocco has batted him mostly6th-7th and I think that is perfect. Getting run production from the lower part of the order is a nice position to be in.

    • BattleYourTailOff likes this
I don’t want a guy like Miguel Sano shortening up and chopping a grounder somewhere with 2 on and 0 outs. Try and bounce it off a speaker somewhere. Stay away from GIDP at all costs with this lineup as well (hit it far, or K trying).
    • Nine of twelve likes this
I can live with the strikeouts. But his at bat with Adams tonight shows how valuable he is. There was no way he was gonna get a fastball. And a slider that bounced in the dirt allowed the the game to be tied. When he starts hitting into double plays, I'll have an issue.
    • blindeke and D.C Twins like this

 

I can live with the strikeouts. But his at bat with Adams tonight shows how valuable he is. There was no way he was gonna get a fastball. And a slider that bounced in the dirt allowed the the game to be tied. When he starts hitting into double plays, I'll have an issue.

You're going to give Sano credit for a WP?

 

 

    • Jerr, notoriousgod71, mikelink45 and 2 others like this

You're going to give Sano credit for a WP?


Indirectly, yes. His reputation led to him getting nothing but sliders
    • spanman2, Minfidel, blindeke and 5 others like this
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Taildragger8791
Jun 11 2019 09:34 PM
Miguel Sano’s uniqueness aside, I don’t see how you can say strikeouts are the same as other outs. The Twins won tonight partially because Rosario advanced Polanco on a deep fly out, allowing him to score on a wild pitch. If you have a lineup of guys striking out over 1/3rd if the time you don’t get as many of those kinds of opportunities to stress the defense or induce productive things to happen.

It somehow works for Sano because he sells out and hits the ball so dang hard when he eventually makes contact. I like the risk/reward profile in the 5-7 slots in the lineup, but there are 4-5 other hitters on this team I’d rather have up in a big spot to extend a rally.
    • USAFChief, birdwatcher, Jerr and 13 others like this
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BattleYourTailOff
Jun 11 2019 09:39 PM
High leverage situational hitting will ultimately make or break opinion on Sano. His production when healthy is worth the Ks. But if it’s “hollow numbers” and poor in the playoffs, people will sour more.
    • birdwatcher, Danchat, mikelink45 and 2 others like this
It’s crazy how polarizing this player is. He’s as big of a guess-hitter, it appears, but he’s a good one. .230/.320/.500, give or take, with a ton of strikeouts is a reasonable expectation. I’ll take that. He’s not going to hit for a high average. Probably ever. He’s going to drive people nuts with check swings, probably forever. But he sees a lot of pitches and has potential to leave the yard with every swing. He is a very useful player. At 26, he has the ability to improve.
    • Minfidel, Minny505 and IaFan1 like this
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Soft Tosser
Jun 11 2019 10:20 PM

Yeah, I think batting him 6th or 7th is ideal for this team. Gives the guys in front of him a little better pitches to hit, and really, Sano's gonna be pitched the same no matter where he is in the order anyway.

    • mikelink45, IaFan1, Nine of twelve and 1 other like this

 

High leverage situational hitting will ultimately make or break opinion on Sano. His production when healthy is worth the Ks. But if it’s “hollow numbers” and poor in the playoffs, people will sour more.

I totally agree. Sano's numbers look great and he's mashing a lot of the time. But when a guy like Adams or a reliever with some strikeout ability gets up there, it seems like Sano has no chance. He struck out twice in that AB (I think he went with the check-swing on the wild pitch) and I wish he could shorten up his swing when he's down in the count 0-2 / 1-2. 

    • mikelink45, PDX Twin, Tomj14 and 2 others like this
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BattleYourTailOff
Jun 11 2019 10:34 PM
Sano knows he can a mistake ball 500 ft so he will cheat a bit for that potential huge sportscenter highlight reel homer... especially earlier in his career. I believe he’s smarter in 2019 but I don’t know if he’s prepared to go all the way and take the temporary drop in power numbers to become ok against nasty pitching
When was the last time you remember Sano hitting a line-drive?
He doesn’t!
He either walks, K’s, homers, or hits 2000 foot popups!
I hate to say it, but in a critical situation with the game on the line- Adrianza will give me a better AB than Sano-every time.
    • notoriousgod71, mikelink45, PDX Twin and 1 other like this
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BattleYourTailOff
Jun 11 2019 11:46 PM

I hate to say it, but in a critical situation with the game on the line- Adrianza will give me a better AB than Sano-every time.


Yeah... i don’t think that’s accurate. I’ll still take my chances with Sano it only to get him more experience in those situations. I don’t know if Adrianza will even be on the team in a year.
    • Nine of twelve likes this
Ahhhhh the new baseball! Where striking out almost 40% of the time is acceptable. There is no doubt he will destroy a ball that he guessed right on. But oh those sliders off the plate are still irresistible! He sort of hits like the pitcher with the big fastball and no control. It's amazing to watch and the potential for the big play is always there. While it doesn't happen often, you just can't turn away!
    • Dman, PDX Twin, Eris and 3 others like this

I guess you missed the article on ESPN that talked about Bellinger and Trout and how batters are getting smarter and learning how to beat the shift and make choices about what to swing at.Not swinging less hard, but eliminating the trash that gives away an AB.

 

https://www.espn.com...strikeout-trend

 

As an old guy I will always remember the sadness Mickey Mantle felt when his BA for his career dropped below 300.Yes contact can give you a DP, but it can also advance the runner, cause an error, get a hit, rearrange the defense.  

 

I want Sano, but I also want a batter who has a little bat control.  

    • birdwatcher, Jerr, pbrezeasap and 6 others like this
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diehardtwinsfan
Jun 12 2019 05:07 AM

He's always going to be a high K guy, so to some extent you have to live with them. Not quite sure I'd call the Ks "not a problem" though. He's done much better this season laying off of pitches out of the zone, but I do think he's got to focus on that a bit more. 

    • Brock Beauchamp, Jerr, Sconnie and 4 others like this

Sano's upside has become a less durable Adam Dunn.I always hope it would be higher.

    • jctwins, PDX Twin and jz7233 like this
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stringer bell
Jun 12 2019 07:22 AM

To me, Sanó angst is all about the hype. When he got to the majors, the comparisons were to Frank Thomas and triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera. He was supposed to be a power hitter who would hit .300 or better. His debut half-season gave us believers plenty of evidence that he would be such a hitter and soon. The first half of 2017 was more "proof". Injuries combined with struggles the last half of 2017 and most of 2018 show that he's not really improved. 

 

We were promised Miguel Cabrera and we're getting Mark Reynolds. I am not sure if it is potential wasted or if this is what Sanó was meant to be. Also, he just turned 26, a lot of players have broken out in their mid to late 20s.

 

 

    • blindeke, DocBauer, puckstopper1 and 4 others like this

If Sano starts to struggle, that's when you look at his strikeout numbers.

 

Every hitter has a weakness. This is his. He is still a very dangerous hitter, and heck he's still getting better.

    • blindeke, DocBauer, Tomj14 and 1 other like this
Buxton dropped his K rate. Sano could accomplish the same.

If he does... when he does... the results will be stunning.

Keep coaching and working with him. We have enough talent around him so he doesn’t have to carry us.
    • Jerr, JW24, DocBauer and 7 others like this
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Brock Beauchamp
Jun 12 2019 07:33 AM

I don't know why so many people have a hard time calling out Sano's atrocious contact rate while also accepting that he will strike out quite a bit.

 

But the difference between a 38% K rate and a 32% K rate would go a looooooong way with the guy. No one should want him to turn into Astudillo but there's certainly room for improvement in his approach.

 

Last night was a perfect example of how his approach nearly cost the team a victory. The pitcher didn't throw him a fastball because he didn't have to... thankfully, the pitcher lost control of a pitch and the winning run scored without Sano needing to do anything.

    • birdwatcher, Jerr, pbrezeasap and 8 others like this

 

I don't know why so many people have a hard time calling out Sano's atrocious contact rate while also accepting that he will strike out quite a bit.

 

But the difference between a 38% K rate and a 32% K rate would go a looooooong way with the guy. No one should want him to turn into Astudillo but there's certainly room for improvement in his approach.

 

Last night was a perfect example of how his approach nearly cost the team a victory. The pitcher didn't throw him a fastball because he didn't have to... thankfully, the pitcher lost control of a pitch and the winning run scored without Sano needing to do anything.

On the Wild Pitch, I thought he actually swung (I could be wrong), but that situation last night he and Castro are the two Twins I don't want hitting with 1 out and a guy on third. After the the wild pitch he struck out on a terrible swing IMO that looked like he was trying to hit the ball out of target field.

I like Sano so this isn't a criticism of him as a whole, it seems to me he doesn't have the ability to change his approach slightly based on the game situation.

On a positive note for Sano, down by 1 late in the game he and Rosario are two of the guys I want batting.

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drivlikejehu
Jun 12 2019 07:54 AM

 

I don't know why so many people have a hard time calling out Sano's atrocious contact rate while also accepting that he will strike out quite a bit.

 

But the difference between a 38% K rate and a 32% K rate would go a looooooong way with the guy. No one should want him to turn into Astudillo but there's certainly room for improvement in his approach.

 

Last night was a perfect example of how his approach nearly cost the team a victory. The pitcher didn't throw him a fastball because he didn't have to... thankfully, the pitcher lost control of a pitch and the winning run scored without Sano needing to do anything.

 

It is what it is. If he could just magically strike out less, he would. The good (walks/power) come with the bad (low BA driven by K%). There would be trade-offs if he became more aggressive earlier in the count, and most likely he would become a worse hitter.

If a runner is on third with less than two outs and we are tied or down by a run and it’s late in the game.

When simple contact could tie the game or break a tie.

I would consider pinch hitting for him based on his contact rate in that situation.

That’s OK. We got a team full of guys who can hit. You can still play Sano tomorrow and it doesn’t mean he’s a waste of roster space.

In all the other situations that OPS just might help us.

Let Sano be a simple member of a good team.

Don’t compare him to Cabrera until he hits comparably.
    • DocBauer, Taildragger8791, Don Walcott and 4 others like this
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In My La-Z-boy
Jun 12 2019 08:13 AM

 

To me, Sanó angst is all about the hype. When he got to the majors, the comparisons were to Frank Thomas and triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera. He was supposed to be a power hitter who would hit .300 or better. His debut half-season gave us believers plenty of evidence that he would be such a hitter and soon. The first half of 2017 was more "proof". Injuries combined with struggles the last half of 2017 and most of 2018 show that he's not really improved. 

 

We were promised Miguel Cabrera and we're getting Mark Reynolds. I am not sure if it is potential wasted or if this is what Sanó was meant to be. Also, he just turned 26, a lot of players have broken out in their mid to late 20s.

Bingo. You can place most of the blame for our fan angst on Terry Ryan. Sano batting 3rd 2 years ago and having our entire future placed on his shoulders was all on the front office. Throwing sand in our eyes as we struggled to watch the 2011-2015 years. Then Ryan decides to make him a RF'er - are you joking? In todays lineup, playing a competent 3B & batting 7th - Sano fits nicely. 

    • Jerr, blindeke, Eris and 1 other like this

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