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Sano's Problems Aren't New, but Are They Fixable?

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 11 June 2018 · 419 views

minnesota twins miguel sano
For better or worse, Miguel Sano has been the same player for much of his big league career. On one hand, that's a hulking slugger that drives baseballs deep into the outer reaches of major league ballparks. On the other, it's a free swinging giant that frustrates both fans and coaches alike. Regardless of which side of the fence he finds himself on during a given day, he's remained largely the same player throughout his career. What's someone comforting is that 2018 is no outlier.

Coming into the season, really at the beginning of spring training, I wrote about how Sano's weight itself isn't the issue. My problem with the big third basemen's size is more in relation to what it says about his level of commitment to both the Twins as well as his own ability to be great. By deciding not to adhere to guidelines suggested by his employer, and turning a bit of the extra baggage into muscle mass, there's a higher tier that goes from reachable to a distant memory.

On the field, and even with as bad as he's been for the Twins in 2018, much of the underlying numbers suggest he's not far off from who he's always been. Sano's .859 OPS in 2017 earned him his first All Star trip, and was in line with the .916 OPS he produced as a rookie in his first 80 major league games. Last season, he posted a 29.1% chase rate, and just a 62% contact rate. He swung through pitches 18.3% of the time, and he made contact on strikes just 73.5% of the time. None of those numbers are great, and especially so combined with a 35.8% strikeout rate. That being said, they combined to provide more than welcomed results.

This is where we get into some of the silver lining that Sano has left for 2018. On the season, he owns a 32.6% chase rate (3% worse), 64.9% contact rate (3% better), and a 16.5% swinging strike rate (2% better). The biggest dip is his 40.6% K rate (5% worse), and his 18.4% HR/FB ratio (9% worse). While the strikeouts and lack of home runs are certainly egregious, none of the other areas in which he's slipped up have been too drastic. On top of that, he's not being attacked in an entirely different fashion. Teams are throwing him nearly 40% fastballs, which is a career high, while it's changeups and curveballs that have been offered to him less.

So where does that leave us? Well if you've observed Twins broadcasts or watched a game in the park, I'm sure you can figure it out. Right now, Miguel Sano's biggest failure is in pitch recognition. For one reason or another he's guessing entirely too often at the plate, and in doing so, he's seen check swinging a crazy amount, while watching otherwise perfect pitches go by. The dip in offspeed offerings may have Sano waiting on pitches that won't ever come, while he's then susceptible to the fastball being blown right by him. He's swinging and missing less, and he's not chasing all the much more. In fact, when he's making contact, it remains at a comparable clip in terms of hard hit rate. Simply put, he just doesn't know what he's swinging at.
When taking a look at his pitch chart, we can see that Sano is being abused by the breaking ball low and away. Pitchers have gotten a ton of swings and misses from Sano on sliders and curveballs that are off the outside corner of the zone. Despite not being a dead pull hitter, those are the balls he's either check swinging on, or shouldn't be offering at whatsoever. Conversely, he's yet to swing through anything up and in, while six of his seven homers have come on pitches in the middle of the zone.

If you've checked out Rob Friedman's GIFs on Twitter (under the handle @PitchingNinja), you'll see how difficult attacking pitches can be. Both sliders and fastballs can get to the zone on the same plane, before one drastically turns away from an opposing batter. With a lacking ability in pitch recognition, spin isn't something Sano is currently picking up, and it leaves him flailing through both types of offerings not fully knowing which is which.



There's plenty of drills that can be executed to help with this sort of deficiency, and while they are simple in practice, application is hard. Big league pitchers are the best in the world for a reason, and even while Sano is always going to be a strikeout machine, the reality is that he can also hit very well. Until he can once again read offerings as opposed to guessing or reacting through them, he's going to struggle.

James Rowson did an incredible job of breaking down Byron Buxton's swing to the bare minimum and rebuilding him at the highest level last season. Sano shouldn't need that level of an overhaul, but the Twins hitting coach has his next big challenge in front of him. Pitch recognition isn't something you can simply use your given ability to get through however, and that's where this could take a tough turn for Miguel. He;s going to need to rededicate himself at the plate, and put in the work to see a different set of results. There's been different times and instances where the Twins have hoped that blueprint would play out for their third basemen and it hasn't.

Miguel Sano has the opportunity to be great, but he could choose to settle for being average. There's another crossroads in his path, and it'll be interesting to see how he attacks this one.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

  • nclahammer likes this



He may be seeing a higher % of FB's, but are they strikes? Or are they show me pitches, setting up the breaking ball. Since Sano isn't a dead pull hitter he should have a leg up on say a Dozier in combatting breaking stuff away. Plus he doesn't need to pull a ball to hit the seats, in any park. Also you posted a ton of numbers to show that he wasn't that far off spec, but you woulda fooled me. Sano has put himself at a level where he has almost no control of the AB. If the pitcher, any pitcher executes his pitches, Sano is toast.
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Ted Schwerzler
Jun 11 2018 10:28 AM

 

Sano has put himself at a level where he has almost no control of the AB. If the pitcher, any pitcher executes his pitches, Sano is toast.

I think these couple of sentences highlight exactly the issue. He's guessing completely and has lost almost any ability to dictate ABs by knowing/seeing what's coming. He's reacting to what he believes could be coming, and is wrong more often than not right now.

Molitor, among many, have referenced the idea that Sano is late on the FB, and in an attempt to compensate is jumping the FB and getting eaten alive by the off speed stuff. This begs a question. Why? Why is Sano not keeping up to the FB? What's changed? Rust should be gone. I dread going here, nor will I speculate on cause. But has his "apparent" lack of conditioning stolen some bat speed? While we may think it's a lack of recognition, it instead could be an attempt to compensate for being behind on the FB, making him look like a guess hitter? In lesser hitters that's what makes off speed stuff so effective, they low up for the FB and flail at the slow stuff.
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Aerodeliria
Jun 12 2018 12:23 AM

Thank you! This is very informative.

Good stuff, my fingers are crossed that Miguel Sano can figure things our and right the ship.