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Article: Why Miguel Sano's Strikeouts Are Not a Problem

Minnesota Twins Talk Today, 09:45 PM
Miguel Sano has played in 17 games for the Minnesota Twins in 2019. He missed the beginning of the season rehabbing from an Achilles inju...
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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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83 Comments

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drivlikejehu
Jun 12 2019 11:39 AM

 

I'm not asking for Sano to "magically" become a different player, I'm saying he needs to work on a few small adjustments to become a better version of the player he is today, just as Rosario is not suddenly Joe Mauer just because he stopped swinging at pitches three feet out of the zone.

 

Are you suggesting that this idea has eluded the Twins' coaching staff, whose club leads MLB in RC+? What basis do you have to suggest that Sano isn't already trying to tweak his approach and mechanics? Isn't that something that basically all professional players do on a regular basis?

    • BattleYourTailOff likes this
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Cap'n Piranha
Jun 12 2019 11:40 AM

He's hit 6 homers in 18 games.That's 54 homers in a 162 game season; that's only happened 26 times in baseball history.

 

His BABIP is .286 (well below his career average of .345), which is 105th in the league.

 

His soft contact percentage is now under 5, at 4.9%.That is best among the 345 hitters with 80 or more PA's this year, by almost 2 percentage points (Tyler Austin is next at 6.8%).

 

His hard contact percentage is at 51.2%, which is 11th among the 345 hitters with 80 or more PA's.

 

This is what Miguel Sano is--a guy that will always strikeout a lot, but will be legitimately one of the very best power hitters in the league when he doesn't.There is immense value to that.

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Brock Beauchamp
Jun 12 2019 12:00 PM

 

Are you suggesting that this idea has eluded the Twins' coaching staff, whose club leads MLB in RC+? What basis do you have to suggest that Sano isn't already trying to tweak his approach and mechanics? Isn't that something that basically all professional players do on a regular basis?

In no way have I even implied such a thing.

 

There's three things I don't accept:

 

1. That exorbitant strikeout rates aren't bad. They're bad.

 

2. That a K is no worse than any other out. It's worse.

 

3. That Sano's current K rate is what it's gonna be. Why can't he improve his contact rate and/or reduce his whiff percentage?

 

I don't know squat, but I just wonder if he can do wrist strengthening exercises or something else to reduce those failed check swings. Isn't this a massive problem for him? Anyone have thoughts?

Not sure wrist strength is his problem with check swings (I bet he has more wrist strength than most players on the team). Improving his pitch recognition would help so he can see the breaking pitches earlier.

    • USAFChief and Jerr like this

 

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 

 

I thought he swung too.

    • In My La-Z-boy likes this

 

 

This is what Miguel Sano is--a guy that will always strikeout a lot, but will be legitimately one of the very best power hitters in the league when he doesn't.There is immense value to that.

 For their career, Sano as a HR every 18.7 PA, Tyler Austin has one every 17.1 PA.In today's game, is his power really anything special? He really needs to provide more.

Sano's BABIP might explain some of his low batting average. His batted ball stats are pretty consistent over his career. His hard hit% is 13th highest for players with 60+ PA but his BABIP is 5th lowest of the top 30 Hard Hit% leaders. No reason his BABIP can't be around .350 with what he is doing now, a little boost in BA might be coming.

 

2015 .396

2016 .329

2017 .375

2018 .286

2019 .286

Career .345

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yarnivek1972
Jun 12 2019 12:22 PM

For their career, Sano as a HR every 18.7 PA, Tyler Austin has one every 17.1 PA. In today's game, is his power really anything special? He really needs to provide more.


It is if he can stick at 3b. I (and just about anyone who makes a living in the sport of baseball) don’t think he plays there even part time for more than 5 more years. He’s a terrible defender.

So far in 2019, he’s had about 50 chances at 3b. 40 of them ranked as routine. Of the other 10, he’s converted just two into outs, and they ranked as “likely (60-90%)”. I’m not sure exactly how fangraphs has him at a UZR/150 of 17 right now, but I suspect before the year is over it will be back in negative territory as it has been for his career.
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yarnivek1972
Jun 12 2019 12:26 PM

Sano's BABIP might explain some of his low batting average. His batted ball stats are pretty consistent over his career. His hard hit% is 13th highest for players with 60+ PA but his BABIP is 5th lowest of the top 30 Hard Hit% leaders. No reason his BABIP can't be around .350 with what he is doing now, a little boost in BA might be coming.

2015 .396
2016 .329
2017 .375
2018 .286
2019 .286
Career .345


It’s worth remembering that homeruns aren’t considered “balls in play”. So they don’t help his BABIP. They don’t hurt it, directly except that it takes away those at bats. A higher than typical (career-wise) HR rate is likely going to result in a lower BABIP.
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Taildragger8791
Jun 12 2019 12:34 PM

 

It is if he can stick at 3b. I (and just about anyone who makes a living in the sport of baseball) don’t think he plays there even part time for more than 5 more years. He’s a terrible defender.

So far in 2019, he’s had about 50 chances at 3b. 40 of them ranked as routine. Of the other 10, he’s converted just two into outs, and they ranked as “likely (60-90%)”. I’m not sure exactly how fangraphs has him at a UZR/150 of 17 right now, but I suspect before the year is over it will be back in negative territory as it has been for his career.

 

I'm curious what impact shifting has on defensive metrics like that. Regularly playing Sano in the hole or on the other side of 2nd base isn't really a fair assessment of how he performs as a 3rd basemen. But then again if that's the direction the game is going maybe the skills required for 3rd basemen are changing also, pushing guys like Sano across the diamond or elsewhere.

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His 162-game average for his career is 37 HR. This season, if he plays 100 games, he's on pace to get 33 HR.


Is that elite power?

 

It’s worth remembering that homeruns aren’t considered “balls in play”. So they don’t help his BABIP. They don’t hurt it, directly except that it takes away those at bats. A higher than typical (career-wise) HR rate is likely going to result in a lower BABIP.

Its not like he found his homerun stroke this year compared to 2015-2017 when he posted great BABIP numbers. For someone who consistently makes hard contact he should see a higher BABIP. His homerun totals shouldn't explain his decrease in BABIP. His homerun to flyball rate is pretty much what it was in 2017 but his BABIP is 100 points lower.

Its not like he found his power stroke this year compared to 2015-2017 when he posted great BABIP numbers. For someone who consistently makes hard contact he should see a higher BABIP. His homerun totals shouldn't explain his decrease in BABIP. His homerun to flyball rate is pretty much what it was in 2017 but his BABIP is 100 points lower.


That's actually the point. More of his hard hit balls are leaving the park than usual. Balls that likely would have been hits if they stayed in the yard are HR. Thus high hard contact%, lower babip. Potentially luck neutral. As babip normalizes up so too will his HR numbers down. Which was my point on Ks being more of a problem than recognized because his numbers are inflated by an unsustainable HR rate.
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Don Walcott
Jun 12 2019 01:07 PM

 

Is that elite power?

33 HRs in 100 games? Yes. Averaging 37 per 162 in the equivalent of his first 2.5 full seasons in the majors? Possibly debatable, but I'd say that's elite.

 

That's actually the point. More of his hard hit balls are leaving the park than usual. Balls that likely would have been his if they stayed in the yard. Thus high hard contact%, lower babip. Potentially luck neutral. As babip normalizes up so too will his HR numbers down. Which was my point on Ks being more of a problem than recognized because his numbers are inflated by an unsustainable HR rate.

2018-2019 BABIP of .286 and 19 homerun in 378 PA 5.02%

2017 BABIP of .375 and 28 homerun in 483 PA 5.08%

 

I can see his BABIP increasing over time which was my original point but I don't think homeruns are causing the 75 point decrease on his career BABIP. BABIP isn't a perfect vacuum to measure but if he can continue to hit the ball hard his BABIP and average should pick up a bit.

 

His sample size is small enough to make this kind of a silly discussion but 2 less homeruns would make his rate really close but less than 2017, if both those homeruns instead fell for hits he would be about .320 BABIP. A "normal" homerun rate still wouldn't have him at career levels.

 

Look at Joey Gallo, career highs in homerun rate, hard hit%, and BABIP

I get the gist of the OP, and don't disagree Sano is a force, a producer, and that he is at least a bit unfairly criticized due to his production with focus only on SO numbers.

But I also know that we love for our pitchers to have high SO rates. So SO are good for pitchers and not bad for hitters? There just is no logic behind that. SO are good for pitchers and bad for hitters because they are empty outs, producing nothing, including any chance to move a runner or create an error or anything of the sort.

And I'm saying this as a fan of Sano.

The question becomes at what level the number of SO is acceptable in regards to production. And I think Brock's post about improvement from Rosario, just 4%, lead to a significant difference in the production and the player Rosario is.

Sano will not change, should not change, and it would probably be impossible for him to change. But he can IMPROVE.

Good player or great player. Could be as simple as a 4% change in his strikeout/contact rate.
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LA VIkes Fan
Jun 12 2019 02:04 PM

I like Sano but it feels like he never really changes his vicious uppercut swing pathwhich results in more HRs, but also in a lot more high pop-us and strikeouts. I really wonder if he would;t really improve his play if he went to the "two strike approach" we all learned growing up to put the ball in play by flattening his swing and trying for the now hated hard ground ball/line drive. I know that might lower his HRs a bit, but would also lower his SO %. Good trade off?  

2018-2019 BABIP of .286 and 19 homerun in 378 PA 5.02%
2017 BABIP of .375 and 28 homerun in 483 PA 5.08%

I can see his BABIP increasing over time which was my original point but I don't think homeruns are causing the 75 point decrease on his career BABIP. BABIP isn't a perfect vacuum to measure but if he can continue to hit the ball hard his BABIP and average should pick up a bit.

His sample size is small enough to make this kind of a silly discussion but 2 less homeruns would make his rate really close but less than 2017, if both those homeruns instead fell for hits he would be about .320 BABIP. A "normal" homerun rate still wouldn't have him at career levels.

Look at Joey Gallo, career highs in homerun rate, hard hit%, and BABIP


I'm not disputing that Sano could be hindered by bad luck. Just thought that the HR might even it out. Apparently he's sustained this level of HR production for long stretches previously. Maybe this is a return to 2017 form. Let's hope. I remain somewhat skeptical. I'm encouraged by his willingness to go the other way, for instance, but would like to see how he handles a slump before saying "don't worry about cutting back on k's," because I think that catches up with him before he catches up with babip.
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jorgenswest
Jun 12 2019 02:59 PM

It is if he can stick at 3b. I (and just about anyone who makes a living in the sport of baseball) don’t think he plays there even part time for more than 5 more years. He’s a terrible defender.

So far in 2019, he’s had about 50 chances at 3b. 40 of them ranked as routine. Of the other 10, he’s converted just two into outs, and they ranked as “likely (60-90%)”. I’m not sure exactly how fangraphs has him at a UZR/150 of 17 right now, but I suspect before the year is over it will be back in negative territory as it has been for his career.


I think people have been wondering if he can stick at 3B since he arrived in 2015.

Five seasons and nearly 1800 innings and he has a career UZR150 of -1.1. He has performed as an average 3B. That won’t continue forever but it doesn’t for anyone as they approach 30. Defense declines first.

Will he stick at 3B? Is 5 years sticking at 3B? The guys in the Twins front office making a living in baseball see him as a 3B. His performance suggests he will be next year.

His performance as close to an average 3B with his power is an asset to this team.
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Cap'n Piranha
Jun 12 2019 03:14 PM

 

 For their career, Sano as a HR every 18.7 PA, Tyler Austin has one every 17.1 PA.In today's game, is his power really anything special? He really needs to provide more.

 

Sano has almost 1700 career PA.Austin has less than 500 career PA.That's 3 times the sample that puts Sano at a HR rate that would place him 100th all time if he had 3,000 PA's.It would also put him at 14th among active players.Given his HR rate is accelerating (1 every 13.2 PA this year), that seems likely to hold up.

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Cap'n Piranha
Jun 12 2019 03:28 PM

 

I get the gist of the OP, and don't disagree Sano is a force, a producer, and that he is at least a bit unfairly criticized due to his production with focus only on SO numbers.

But I also know that we love for our pitchers to have high SO rates. So SO are good for pitchers and not bad for hitters? There just is no logic behind that. SO are good for pitchers and bad for hitters because they are empty outs, producing nothing, including any chance to move a runner or create an error or anything of the sort.

And I'm saying this as a fan of Sano.

The question becomes at what level the number of SO is acceptable in regards to production. And I think Brock's post about improvement from Rosario, just 4%, lead to a significant difference in the production and the player Rosario is.

Sano will not change, should not change, and it would probably be impossible for him to change. But he can IMPROVE.

Good player or great player. Could be as simple as a 4% change in his strikeout/contact rate.

 

Strikeouts are good for pitchers, and bad for hitters, but its by degrees.A hitter is going to make outs at least 60% of the time.While balls in play can move runners up, or get them in, they can also erase lead runners via double plays or baserunning gaffes.A strikeout is always one out, unless the ball gets away from the catcher, and a runner tries to advance.So in the sense that a certain number of outs are guaranteed, the upside of balls in play is at least somewhat cancelled by the downside of balls in play, whereas strikeouts are neutral.

    • DocBauer likes this
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yarnivek1972
Jun 12 2019 03:48 PM

I think people have been wondering if he can stick at 3B since he arrived in 2015.

Five seasons and nearly 1800 innings and he has a career UZR150 of -1.1. He has performed as an average 3B. That won’t continue forever but it doesn’t for anyone as they approach 30. Defense declines first.

Will he stick at 3B? Is 5 years sticking at 3B? The guys in the Twins front office making a living in baseball see him as a 3B. His performance suggests he will be next year.

His performance as close to an average 3B with his power is an asset to this team.


I don’t think a rating of zero is “average”. There are 39 thirdbaseman who have played at least 1500 innings since 2015 (Sano has 1700). Sano is ranked 26th. That’s not good, nor is it average.

I don’t think a rating of zero is “average”. There are 39 thirdbaseman who have played at least 1500 innings since 2015 (Sano has 1700). Sano is ranked 26th. That’s not good, nor is it average.


UZR is scaled from 0 being league average.
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jorgenswest
Jun 12 2019 04:24 PM

 

I don’t think a rating of zero is “average”. There are 39 thirdbaseman who have played at least 1500 innings since 2015 (Sano has 1700). Sano is ranked 26th. That’s not good, nor is it average.

 

I suppose it is hard to get to 1500 innings if you are well below average so that set of players may be skewed. Sano is below the median of that skewed group.

 

I looked at the UZR by team at 3B for this year. There are 15 teams above 0 and 15 teams below 0. The Twins rank is second.

 

I don't see support for a conclusion of terrible play at 3B where it would be necessary to move Sano off 3B in the near future.

    • DocBauer likes this
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Nine of twelve
Jun 12 2019 04:31 PM

 

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

I award partial credit. When the batter can hit a ball close to 500 feet the pitcher has to attempt more difficult-to-execute pitches. That makes wild pitches more likely to occur. If Jason Tyner is at the plate just throw a middling fastball or slider and you'll be fine.

    • DocBauer likes this

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