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Article: How Miguel Sano Can Fix His Swing

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#1 Parker Hageman

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Posted 23 June 2019 - 07:33 PM

When Miguel Sano first arrived in Minnesota in 2015, Twins team president Dave St. Peter said that fans “don't want to miss a Miguel Sano at-bat because you just never know what might happen, and at any given moment, he may hit a home run 500-plus feet. That's a trait very few players have.”

In August 2015 during the Summer of Sano, the rookie bashed nine home runs, one dinger every 10.78 at bats. He also struck out in 38 percent of his plate appearances. Four seasons later, Sano still has that massive power. He has hit a home run in one out of every 11.67 at bats in 2019. He also has struck out in 42 percent of his plate appearances. From day one it’s an all-or-nothing approach for Sano but the narrative feels like it is trending more to the nothing.

It does not have to be this way. Sano doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing hitter. Here's how he can move toward being a complete hitter.There is no denying that Miguel Sano hasn't been clicking on all cylinders.This season, Sano has approximately one portion of the zone in which his swing does damage. See if you can pick that out.


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On balls that are thrown on the outer-third/middle-third section, Sano is hitting .579 with five home runs. It is absolutely crazy that teams still manage to pour a pitch or two in that area every couple of games -- just like the Royals did twice this past series -- but it happens because Sano’s largest swing holes happen to be a section above or a section below that spot.

Let's start by discussing his inefficiencies above that spot.

Sano’s swing path is highly susceptible to fastballs up in the zone. With the increasing emphasis on high spin fastballs, it is no surprise that teams have gone upstairs on him. In two-strike counts this year, Sano has swung-and-missed at 90 percent of fastballs. That’s helpless territory. So what can the big man do to fill this swing hole that can be seen from space?

The first is simply learn to lay off that pitch. To Sano’s credit, he has actually decreased the amount of swings at fastballs up in the zone over his previous years. Early in the count he spits on those pitches, swinging at only a quarter whereas in the past, there was a 50-50 chance that he would take a hack.

Contrary to what you might have heard on the local broadcasts, umpires are actually not calling more strikes on fastballs up in the zone. In 2011, if you took an elevated fastball, there was a 23 percent chance it would be called a strike. So far in 2019 those fastballs have been called a strike 17 percent of the time, which is the lowest rate dating back to 2009. So there isn’t a grand umpire conspiracy to call more elevated fastballs strikes. Laying off more of those pitches is not going to advance the count in a pitcher’s favor.

What’s more is that hitters in general have curbed their appetites for high fastballs as well, demonstrating a swing diet three percentage points lower this season than it was in 2017 when the Boston Red Sox pitching staff rode the elevated fastball to the American League’s second best ERA. Teams have started to use spin data to help hitters know when they should adjust their approach, swinging above the baseball when there’s a high spin hurler on the mound. They have also incorporated more high velocity pitching machines in batting practice that attempts to duplicate what they will face that night rather than facing a soft-tossing coach for on-field bee pee. So it is no surprise to see offenses starting to counter the attack.

That being said, when hitters do offer at high fastballs, they are missing at a greater rate than ever before and Miguel Sano is no exception. Although he is swinging less frequently than he has in his career, he is swinging through more. Compared to last year, Sano swung and missed at 34 percent of elevated four-seamers. This year that’s at a grotesque 50 percent clip (and you will recall the sheer futility in the aforementioned two-strike situations).

So far in 2019 Sano has opted for the path of least resistance -- not swinging at elevated fastballs, at least until it is imperative that he protect the zone. Given what he is currently working with, this is a decent option. Sano has what ill-informed broadcasters like to call a “launch angle swing” but, more accurately, Sano’s swing path is down-to-up trajectory that does a ton of damage on balls down in the zone. In his career, the big man holds a .698 slugging percentage against all fastball types in the lower third of the zone. At the top of the zone, pitchers have turned him into Drew Butera with a .287 slugging percentage. It is no surprise then to see that in a series versus Boston, frontrunners in the high fastball industry, Sano struck out 9 times in 15 plate appearances as the Red Sox pitchers threw 26 of their 41 fastballs in the upper third of the strike zone (he swung through 36 percent of those too).

So while we can point to Sano’s swing path as a reason why he has trouble catching high fastballs on the barrel that doesn’t answer the question as to why he swings over breaking balls that actually bounce in a neighboring zip code.

For anyone who follows PitchingNinja or Driveline coaches on Twitter knows, pitchers have some absolutely filthy stuff right now and, to make matters worse, they have also found ways to make it even more disgusting. The TrackMan data has helped pitchers tunnel pitches better. The high speed cameras and Rapsodo devices have helped add extra break. Hitters are completely outgunned. At the very least Major League Baseball has seemingly done the hitters a solid by tossing in a juiced ball to help even the playing field but pitchers have the development advantage. So there is an element of that behind Sano’s increased strikeout rate.

There is also an element of simply telling Miguel Sano to go up there and be Miguel Sano -- the man who can crush monster second deck tanks. Rip the governor off and open it up. Chuck three pointers and don’t worry about the missed shots. Strikeouts be damned.

But that’s not why Sano has trouble with his pitch selection.

One issue that appears to be hindering him his timing mechanism in his mechanics. It is a main reason why he keeps getting beat on fastballs up, regardless of velocity. And it’s one of the factors behind his inability to lay off those acid-soaked breaking balls.

Watch this clip of Sano next to teammate Nelson Cruz. Watch for where they get their hands to the launch point (where the bat starts firing forward).

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If you are stumped, here it is:

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What you will notice is that Cruz has his hands and bat in a position to fire forward before the 97-mile-per-hour fastball leaves Gerrit Cole’s fingers. It requires no extra travel from this point. This gives him additional time to read and react.

Sano, on the other hand, brings his hands back to a spot when Ryan Braiser’s 97-mile-per-hour cheese is quickly approaching the plate. This means he has to make his decision to swing earlier -- before getting the right read on the spin. This is part of the reason why you see Sano swinging over so many breaking balls: out of the hand they look destined for that juicy lower third of the zone before *fart noises* vanishing. Furthermore, Sano has a rolling launch point, almost continually moving his hands which means that he will get beat on fastballs up as well as inside if he starts them late.

As another example, consider Mike Trout. Admittedly, it is cheating to take the world’s greatest living hitter and say “do what he’s doing” but there are some existing components in Trout’s swing path that is similar to Sano’s. Both Trout and Sano share that down-to-up swing that decimates balls low in the zone. However, Trout has the ability to get to pitches up in the zone (although, like Sano, this year he’s spitting on more of them). Similar to Cruz, Trout gets his hands to the launch point early, giving him time to recognize the pitch and shut down his swing on things he doesn’t like.

Download attachment: Sano Cruz Trout.png

It’s difficult to tell hitters change their approach drastically in midseason -- especially when every one out of eleven at bats results in a home run. Still, it is not about a total overhaul, it’s making the right tweaks to improve deficiencies.

This is something that just a few years ago, Jorge Polanco cleaned up and has since entered the land of ten thousand rakes. Prior to making that change, he had posted a .245/.296/.351 batting line in 147 games. Since taking the slack out of his drawback, Polanco has hit .308/.368/.502 over his last 204 games. Polanco had been blessed with world class bat-to-ball skills but this modification has allowed him to drive the ball.

Another successful Twins convert of the reduced slack swing was Eduardo Escobar. Escobar modified his swing in 2017 which gave him the ability to better differentiate fastballs and breaking balls. From 2014 through 2016, Escobar produced a .626 OPS versus breaking balls with a 30 percent strikeout rate. From 2017 on, he’s posted a .815 OPS against breaking balls and reduced his strikeout rate to 25 percent. And he still hammers fastballs.

Sano could be one of them. He could be like Polanco or Escobar. He could be a non-slacker.

While the movement may seem minor, it takes a lot of muscle memory to commit that to the body. There are plenty of hitters too, like Sano, who have similar big pre-swing movements (Josh Donaldson comes to mind) but those hitters get their hands to the launch point sooner as well. The solution may not be to swing like Cruz, Polanco or Trout, it maybe simply get your hands moving earlier in the process.

There is no question that Sano can hit a ton in his swing plane. His exit velocity on fastballs down in the zone is 98 miles per hour. But more teams are seeing the blueprints to getting him out -- avoid the lower portion of the zone. When or if the adjustments come, then maybe -- just maybe -- we can stop reading about Miguel Sano’s supposed failure as a player.

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"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#2 Seansy

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Posted 23 June 2019 - 07:45 PM

Excellent analysis Parker!

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#3 Aerodeliria

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Posted 23 June 2019 - 07:49 PM

Brilliant post. Now getting from "A" to "B," that is the question and problem. If he can be convinced that high fastballs can be hit a long way, maybe that would do the trick--with a lot of work. As it stands, I don't think he can viably continue along this plane.

 

I would also note, from the photos, that he appears to be leaning in from the start, whereas Cruz and Trout appear in a balanced position--almost upright. This would add to his woes of pitches up, pitches inside and breaking balls away (because they appear reachable).

 

"...has since entered the land of ten thousand rakes." This made me smile not because of its punability but because of its pronunciabilty...its a Japanese/Asian thing rather than a Minnesota fishing thing.

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#4 theJemmer

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Posted 23 June 2019 - 08:28 PM

I don't understand the concept of the hands moving while the pitcher is in the windup.Hitting is hard enough. Get your hands in the ready position at the load point when the pitcher starts - then have quiet hands and just explode through the ball.Gary Sheffield be damned!!!

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#5 D.C Twins

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Posted 23 June 2019 - 09:14 PM

Yikes....that heat map....his entire swing is one big hole except for outside middle...

 

I'm actually more worried now....and I didn't even think that was possible.

 

Thanks Parker... consistently the most informative articles on the site!

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#6 Hosken Bombo Disco

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Posted 23 June 2019 - 09:35 PM

I agree about the hands. Looks like his habit of recocking the hands after the pitch has been thrown isn’t helping him. I don’t know if Sano has good pitch recognition anyway. Isn’t there a vision test that teams can ask players to take? Just so many check swings tells me he doesn’t interpret the spin on breaking pitches until too late. Or it could just be lack of mental focus. I do think there’s more to it than that noisy swing.

I still think he can be a streaky but decent player and hitter. Clean up his swing, preparation, focus, maturity, all the things we constantly talk about, just kind of comes and goes with him.
He measured the achievements of others by what they had accomplished, asking of them that they measure him by what he envisaged or planned.
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#7 Devo123

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Posted 23 June 2019 - 10:48 PM

Very good read ! Thanks. In my personal opinion I don't see a need change it. Just breaking down the numbers. Through 27 Games Sano has hit 9 home runs while returning from an injury. (162/27=6) 9x6= 54 home runs. You folks can double check my math but I see it very hard to question anything he's doing at the plate. If ain't broke don't fix it. If he stays healthy he will lead the twins in home runs by seasons end. Member when we got rid of Ortiz and had to watch him mash in Boston. He is the same type of guys and the twins would be idiots to trade him.
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#8 Devo123

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Posted 23 June 2019 - 10:53 PM

Very good read ! Thanks. In my personal opinion I don't see a need change it. Just breaking down the numbers. Through 27 Games Sano has hit 9 home runs while returning from an injury. (162/27=6) 9x6= 54 home runs. You folks can double check my math but I see it very hard to question anything he's doing at the plate. If ain't broke don't fix it. If he stays healthy he will lead the twins in home runs by seasons end. Member when we got rid of Ortiz and had to watch him mash in Boston. He is the same type of guys and the twins would be idiots to trade him.

#9 Jham

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Posted 23 June 2019 - 11:42 PM

Very good read ! Thanks. In my personal opinion I don't see a need change it. Just breaking down the numbers. Through 27 Games Sano has hit 9 home runs while returning from an injury. (162/27=6) 9x6= 54 home runs. You folks can double check my math but I see it very hard to question anything he's doing at the plate. If ain't broke don't fix it. If he stays healthy he will lead the twins in home runs by seasons end. Member when we got rid of Ortiz and had to watch him mash in Boston. He is the same type of guys and the twins would be idiots to trade him.


You can say that again...

#10 darin617

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 04:08 AM

Maybe he needs to try from the other side of the plate. He might have been a lefty and didn't know it...


#11 Ole St Carleton

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 07:33 AM

 

Very good read ! Thanks. In my personal opinion I don't see a need change it. Just breaking down the numbers. Through 27 Games Sano has hit 9 home runs while returning from an injury. (162/27=6) 9x6= 54 home runs. You folks can double check my math but I see it very hard to question anything he's doing at the plate. If ain't broke don't fix it. If he stays healthy he will lead the twins in home runs by seasons end. Member when we got rid of Ortiz and had to watch him mash in Boston. He is the same type of guys and the twins would be idiots to trade him.

There's the problem here...throwing good money (time & effort) after bad just because the Twins are afraid of the Ortiz situation happening again. Sano would be great trade bait for a team looking for a homer guy. The Twins don't need that- what they need is relief pitching. Sano is wasting space on this very well balanced team because:

1. He can't play the field. How many more bunts/dribblers up the 3rd base line do we have to watch him bumble before Rocco realizes this?

2. He can't get the clutch hit. When is he getting homers or extra base hits? Not in late innings when the game is on the line. Just start paying attention and you'll see.

3. I believe his play in the field and at the plate is dragging the team morale down. Sure, he may be a good locker room guy, but look at how the team was doing before he joined them. 

Dick & Jack kept mentioning Sano's need for more and more at bats to come out of the funk. Well- he should be getting those at AAA.

I suspect the Twins will not trade or demote him. Here's my solution: keep him in the majors, but take him off the 25 man roster and make him shadow Cruz for the rest of the season to learn how to be a DH- because that's what he should be and it's a tough role to play. Who better to mentor the mentality of the DH than Cruz? 

OK- bring on the scorn- but mark these words.


#12 Number3

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 07:34 AM

That analysis plus 50 cents might get you a senior cup of coffee at McDonald's. What you see is what you get with Sano. Take it or leave it.

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#13 Parker Hageman

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 07:40 AM

I would also note, from the photos, that he appears to be leaning in from the start, whereas Cruz and Trout appear in a balanced position--almost upright. This would add to his woes of pitches up, pitches inside and breaking balls away (because they appear reachable).

 

 

Very good observation and thoughts.

 

While I think the balance factor isn't an issue for Sano's pitch recognition portion, it definitely does effect his swing. I just finished reading The MVP Machine (sick reading brag, I know) and they talk to hitting instructor Doug Latta -- who rebuilt Justin Turner and Mookie Bett's swing -- emphasizes balance in the swing. He works to instill some bigger movement in guys like Turner and Betts but both swings have adjustability and balance (and both can hit the fastball upstairs). You look where their hands are at and, while they move like Sano's, they get to the launch point much sooner in the process. 

 

Here's one last video that was left on the article's cutting room floor (mostly because I felt like I had beaten the point to death) was this clip of Mike Trout's swing covering the northern and southern reaches of the strike zone:

 

 

This, to me, is what all hitters should strive for. 

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#14 Platoon

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 07:57 AM

Sano has become the poster child for the 3 true outcomes hitter! SO swinging! SO called! SO checked swinging! :(
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#15 stringer bell

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 08:03 AM

Excellent article! While I agree with most everything written, I do think in a longer view, that umps are calling high strikes much more than in previous decades. Ballplayers and coaching staffs are still adjusting to this. 
 
Sanó has lots of company in his inability to handle high fastballs. But, as pointed out, he is particularly susceptible and the velocity doesn't have to be 95+. I agree the Sanó needs to make adjustments. Supremely talented hitters can do so. Time will tell if Miguel is able to do so.

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#16 Parker Hageman

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 08:33 AM

While I agree with most everything written, I do think in a longer view, that umps are calling high strikes much more than in previous decades. Ballplayers and coaching staffs are still adjusting to this.

 

 

It's possible but we don't have data from anything before 2009 to prove that out. What we do know is that the narrative that is cited in local broadcasts that umpires are calling higher strikes more frequently is not accurate, at least as far as recent history goes. 

 

I'll amend this -- the amount of fastballs called strikes at the upper third of the strike zone has shrunk from 2009 (23%) to 2019 (19%). Fewer fastballs are getting called at the top of the zone. HOWEVER, more BREAKING BALLS at the top of the zone are getting called strikes: In 2009 it was 34% and now it's up to 37%, highest it's been in that era. Furthermore, breaking balls ABOVE the zone are getting called at a 5.5% clip (compared to 3% last season). 

 

Switching to feel mode now, I feel like I've seen more high breaking balls that barely catch the upper reaches of the broadcast's strike zone box called more often this season -- those high breaking balls that are at a hitter's eyes and then somehow grab the upper line of the zone. So when we hear the broadcasters talk about more called strikes at the top of the zone, it's possible it is happening when it comes to breaking balls.

 

But, yes, high fastballs are difficult for any hitter to handle -- that's why hitters are a group have hit .231 vs fastballs up and .284 vs fastballs down since 2009. That is definitely one driver for why teams are instructing their pitchers to go up. 

"You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time." -- Jim Bouton, "Ball Four"


#17 Nick Nelson

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 08:44 AM

The photo for this post feels symbolic.

Sano's star potential is floating from his grasp, like a helium balloon. Can he reach out and grab it before it escapes to the heavens?

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#18 birddog

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 08:52 AM

Great research on this article. No way Miggy should be hitting at the Mendoza line, but his uppercut is an all or nothing swing and when he tries to hit every ball 600 feet it is usually nothing. I was really expecting a phenomenal season from him as he was no longer expected to carry the team--just one of nine power hitters on the lineup card. He is still trying to do too much and not going with that outside pitch, especially with RISP. Nine HR's with only 15 RBI's is not the production we need.

 

In past years we had no better alternative so he had to play. Lately the other 12 bats is a better option, but Rocco knows much better than I what to do. We all would love to see him reach his tremendous potential. Can we afford to wait much longer in the midst of a pennant race?

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#19 Taildragger8791

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 09:08 AM

 

Very good read ! Thanks. In my personal opinion I don't see a need change it. Just breaking down the numbers. Through 27 Games Sano has hit 9 home runs while returning from an injury. (162/27=6) 9x6= 54 home runs. You folks can double check my math but I see it very hard to question anything he's doing at the plate. If ain't broke don't fix it. If he stays healthy he will lead the twins in home runs by seasons end. Member when we got rid of Ortiz and had to watch him mash in Boston. He is the same type of guys and the twins would be idiots to trade him.

 

He has 11 RBI on those 9 HRs because good pitchers are more careful to stay out of his happy zone with runners on base. I'm not convinced solo home runs add enough value to offset the tradeoff it took to get them.


#20 Jerr

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Posted 24 June 2019 - 09:09 AM

 

Excellent analysis Parker!

Damn good analysis, Parker!!!

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