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Making the Most of Miguel


Ted Schwerzler

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Early on this season Miguel Sano might have been the biggest mess he’s even been during his big league career. There was an inability to time a fastball, and he was a detriment to the Twins lineup. That has changed, and he’s back to being who he’s always been.

Rewind to the Twins slog through April and May to find a slumping Miguel Sano. The team was bad, and Sano owned a .675 OPS at that point. His playing time was reduced as he was splitting reps with Alex Kirilloff at first base. Eventually he’d begin to ride the pine even more often, and there was clamoring from fans to DFA him and pass him down to the St. Paul Saints.

Fast forward to where we are now. Sano isn’t having some sort of revolutionary resurgence, but since June 4 he’s posted an .815 OPS with 22 extra-base hits (including nine home runs) in 47 games. The batting average is respectable (.256) for a power hitter, and while the on-base percentage isn’t where he’d like it (.321) the number is passable.

All season long the problem has been timing more than anything else. His strikeout rate is 35.6%, or below his career average, and substantially below the 43.9% he posted in 2020. Sano’s hard hit rate is above his career average, and basically in line with some of his best seasons. Unfortunately, his barrel rate is at a three-year low, and that again is indicative of point of contact. Sano has dropped his whiff rate back to 2019 levels however, and his CSW% is right below his career norm.

What we’re seeing is the same player that Minnesota paid $30 million over three years for. The problem is that the peaks and valleys have been more pronounced, but at this point you’d have hoped the organization had a better idea as to the player they have. Sano is a former top prospect, but not in the vein of a Guerrero Jr. or even Buxton. Miguel’s tools have always been plus-plus power and a plus-plus arm. Yes, he was a young Dominican shortstop, but it quickly became apparent he wouldn’t stick there. He’s passable at third base, but the frame has always profiled better at first base, a position he’s actually adequate at.

The .923 OPS Sano posted in 2019 is very likely a mirage given his tendency to be inconsistent. His .859 OPS as an All-Star in 2017 makes a lot more sense. The average will always lag behind, but he actually commands the zone well and his hard contact output will always trend towards a slugging outcome. Given the run, he’s a good bet for 25-30 homers a year, and as a guy you can put in the bottom half of a lineup, that seems like a decent asset.

It’s very clear that Miguel Sano isn’t a foundational cornerstone. He can absolutely be worth what the Twins front office decided to pay him though. Committing to him on a regular basis rather than second guessing what he is through slumps doesn’t make a ton of sense. He’s the type of player that isn’t going to benefit from extended time off. Not all prospects pan out the same way, and while this isn’t the 99th percentile of where you’d like development to be, that might not be the worst thing any ways. If Sano was the best version of himself, paying him $30 million might not have happened in order to send him elsewhere for another hopeful return.

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very frustrating to watch Sano flail away..  great power but never putting the bat on the ball in crucial at bats.  watches fast ball go right down the pike  and flails away at pitches low and away.. this just shows he guesses a lot ... and doesnt really pick up pitches well at all. Larnach is the same way..pitchers know how to get him to K easily. Twins have way too many players with over 30% + K rate

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Interesting. Question: Would it make sense that one's barrel rate would go down when the strikeout % went down? The thinking is that instead of missing certain pitches, the hitter makes weak contact thus dropping the barrel %. I'd be curious is there's any information correlating the two measures. BTW, I would say weak contact is much better than no contact since it increases the possibility of a productive out. 

I think the Twins are going to have a very interesting set of decisions after this year that could really effect Sano. There's basically at least 5 or 6 players fighting for 4 starting spots at IB, LF, RF and DH - Sano, Kepler, Kirilloff, Larnach, and Rooker. I would add in Donaldson since it looks like he can't play more than 80-100 games at 3B so he'll need 30-50 games at DH. Minimum. I wouldn't be surprised is Donaldson and Arraez basically share 3B next year and, if the Twins keep Polanco at 2b (seems like the right move given this year), those two will likely split the majority of ABs at 3B and DH.  In effect, there may only be 3 starting spots for those 5, and that's before we think about re-signing Cruz, Refsnyder as more than a bench option (unlikely), or bringing up Miranda or Contreras. The other thing is that none of these guys offer much as a bench option other than Kepler or Refsnyder. Hard to see keeping Sano around if he isn't getting 450-500 ABs a year.   

I agree that Sano is what he is - high power, high strikeout guy who plays below average defense outside of 1b and is barely average there. A .775-.825 OPS guy with 30 plus HRs and 150-200 strikeouts in 500-550 ABs. Not bad, but not great considering his lack of defense and baserunning. Hard to see where he fits in if he really loses the 1B job to Kiriloff, even harder if Donaldson or Cruz needs near full time work at DH.

Sano only really works in three scenarios. One is if we move Polanco to SS, give 2B to Arraez, and have Sano DH 100 games a year, play 1B 20-25 and 3B 15-20. Hurts the middle infield defense. The second is if Kirilloff goes to the OF, and either Kepler goes to the bench or Larnach and Rooker go back to AAA with Resnyder/Cave/Garlick the 4th and 5th OFs.  The third is that he or one of the other competitors is traded. I don't think any of these is the plan. It will be interesting to see what transpires with Sano and, for that matter, Kepler. Kirilloff and Larnach are here to stay and Rooker is either with them or gone. I don't think we will keep all 5 at the MLB level.        

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I like Sano and Kirilloff splitting time at 1B and Kirilloff and Arraez splitting time in LF.   All three then split time at DH with Josh Donaldson.   Get a SS to hold a place for Dean and Jerry 2.0 (Martin and Lewis) or someone else, Polanco at 2B.  Larnach, Rooker, Miranda and more fight to get into those competitions listed above.  

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Sano's an impact bat who, I think, will age surprisingly well but I think he presses really hard and affects him. Once he gets going, he's ok but you got to let him go through his valleys. One of the dumber things Rocco did this year was bench him for Astuddio (sp). He should be penciled in at 1b/DH all the time. I'd be ok with Kiriloff in the OF with a healthy Buxton.

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As far as I can see, Sano is just something in between Chris Davis and Chris Carter only more inconsistent. Sano is going to be here next year due to the $12MM guaranteed (9.25 + 2.75) due. Sano will then get a another team to give him a one year contract where he'll post negative WAR and then his career in MLB will be over.

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This is not at all meant as a disparaging comment: I think managing his weight better would help him. He has performed best when his weight has been lowest. I think he goes home in the off season, eats too much home cooking and maybe has too many beers with his Dominican League buddies, and loses his edge. His agent should hire the man a personal chef and personal trainer in the Dominican Republic if necessary.

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If Sano is a guess hitter, then he is the worst guess hitter of all time. Anyone else want to guess what the 1-2 pitch will be from a RH? The bottom line may be all he wants to do is hit HR’s? He shows no inclination to going the other way. But, I am I’m pressed by his ability to get his SO rate into the 30’s! 
 

Bottom line, is that nothing will convince me that a player striking out 30-40% and plays mediocre defense is helping you win ball games. Which lest we forget is the whole theory in any sport. 

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On 8/9/2021 at 1:09 PM, bean5302 said:

As far as I can see, Sano is just something in between Chris Davis and Chris Carter only more inconsistent. Sano is going to be here next year due to the $12MM guaranteed (9.25 + 2.75) due. Sano will then get a another team to give him a one year contract where he'll post negative WAR and then his career in MLB will be over.

Hyperbole. In fact, the opposite is true. Sano’s floor is somewhere between Davis and Carter. And he’s been more consistent, not less. Davis posted seven years of negative bWAR, (and one with 7+!)…Carter 3 or 4 with negative WAR. Sano has had one…and 2021 isn’t going to be a second. Also, say what you want about Sano’s defense, he has infinitely more defensive value than either Davis or Carter had.

He’s been significantly better than both Larnach and Kirilloff over the season…and especially over the last 2+ months. Should the Twins be able to better at 1B/DH? Maybe…it would be nice. But is Sano even close to a top problem for the 2022-2023 Twins? No, not even close. That’s why he’ll likely be around next year…unless he can be a part of something that brings pitching in return.

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4 hours ago, jkcarew said:

He’s been significantly better than both Larnach and Kirilloff over the season…and especially over the last 2+ months. 

Sano has been significantly better than Kirilloff? They have virtually the same OBP and Sano's OPS is about 20 points higher. That's not to mention RISP situations:

Sano: .187/.272 (.722 OPS)

Kirilloff: .310/.349 (.815 OPS)

And that's not mentioning the fact that Sano was practically demoted to a platoon in June, which coincidentally sparked his hot streak. Kirilloff was a rookie playing every day against most lefties.

It's nice that Sano is hitting better now, but the first 3 months counted, and he was actively hurting the team. Fangraphs has him as a slightly below replacement level player this season. WPA doesn't like him either - I do like using the OPS, but it exaggerates the value of a power-only hitter. 

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In regard to Sano's consistency, his year to year performance has been:

  • 2015 - Great 4.5 WAR full season pace
  • 2016 - Awful 0.5 WAR full season pace
  • 2017 - Good 3.0 WAR full season pace
  • 2018 - Awful (1.0) WAR full season pace
  • 2019 - Good 3.0 WAR full season pace
  • 2020 - Awful 0.0 WAR full season pace
  • 2021 - Bad 1.0 WAR full season pace.

Hard to get much less consistent. Thing is, Sano only has one playable season in the last 4 years. He's also clearly in decline meaning there aren't probably any bounce back (good) years left and his defense was so bad at 1B this year, he's likely slated for the DH going forward. His exit velocity is the 2nd lowest of his career and even though his K rate is down, he's not getting on base anymore.

Chris Carter was never as good as Sano, but never as bad, either. Chris Davis, in the 4 years prior to his huge contract was 7.1 WAR, 1.1 WAR, 4.9 WAR, 3.1 WAR producing more value than Sano's career best in 3 out of 4 seasons. Davis has (6.0) WAR over the past 4 seasons and still has 40% more lifetime WAR than Sano.

I agree Sano isn't a huge problem for the Twins because they don't need to play him. Eating $12MM to release him before spring training next year wouldn't break the franchise, and if he continues to hit the ball well through the end of the season, keeping him on the roster for depth won't really do any major damage, either. My projection of Sano seems pretty reasonable.

 

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The problem with moving Polanco over to SS is then we are returned to a very poor defense up the middle. Polanco has seemed to regain his skills as a decent hitter but he is still a subpar fielder--especially bad at SS and extremely bad in the late innings of tight games. His late inning flubs have cost the Twins plenty including the loss to the Astros in Game 1 of last year. Moving Sano over to 3rd is even a less attractive idea. He moves around like a sofa without casters. I can accept that at 1st base (somewhat), but not at 3rd. I know there has been a lot of carping about Simmons at SS, but none from me. I knew he was a bad hitter--maybe not as bad as he has been, but I never advocated getting him for his bat. I wanted his glove. (Think Mark Belanger. One of the reasons the bygone Orioles were so good was their defense was stellar both on the infield and in the outfield.)

Personally, I want to keep Sano. If he can get his head screwed on straight, he can be a devastating asset. If he can't, we can eat his 12 million dollars as Bean5302 has mentioned, it won't break the bank.

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Sano's not a kid anymore. He's been in the big show for 7 years now and I do believe he may be getting a sense that his career is teetering on the brink, but things are going to need to bounce his way and he's going to need to put in effort and dedication he's never remotely come close to showing in his MLB career.

If Rooker figures out how to adjust, Sano could find himself under Rooker on the DH depth chart. He's blocked at 1st by Kirilloff. He's blocked at 3B by 70lbs, Donaldson, Arraez and Miranda. If Donaldson isn't traded, it's hard to imagine him not slotting over to DH in an attempt to keep him healthy. Arraez and Miranda would then pick up 3B.

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On 8/9/2021 at 10:40 PM, singlesoverwalks said:

This is not at all meant as a disparaging comment: I think managing his weight better would help him. He has performed best when his weight has been lowest. I think he goes home in the off season, eats too much home cooking and maybe has too many beers with his Dominican League buddies, and loses his edge. His agent should hire the man a personal chef and personal trainer in the Dominican Republic if necessary.

I couldn't disagree more with this. His issue has never been his weight. It's always been about his work ethic. His weight was a byproduct of a lack of work ethic, and him being trim had to do with a heightened level of working out. They go hand in hand.

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On 8/11/2021 at 10:09 PM, Danchat said:

Sano has been significantly better than Kirilloff? They have virtually the same OBP and Sano's OPS is about 20 points higher. That's not to mention RISP situations:

Sano: .187/.272 (.722 OPS)

Kirilloff: .310/.349 (.815 OPS)

And that's not mentioning the fact that Sano was practically demoted to a platoon in June, which coincidentally sparked his hot streak. Kirilloff was a rookie playing every day against most lefties.

It's nice that Sano is hitting better now, but the first 3 months counted, and he was actively hurting the team. Fangraphs has him as a slightly below replacement level player this season. WPA doesn't like him either - I do like using the OPS, but it exaggerates the value of a power-only hitter. 

So, to summarize…Sano’s been better than Kirilloff, even accounting for his first awful months. But not significantly better. 

Meanwhile, significantly better than both Larnach and Kepler.

Also, he was benched. Being ‘platooned’ has had nothing to do with his performance…his splits have been better against righties than lefties this year. Bottom line, there is nothing in Sano’s overall performance that warrants the FO being in a hurry to get rid of him. They can wait for the next generation to actually arrive rather than assume they will arrive.

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On 8/11/2021 at 11:15 PM, bean5302 said:

In regard to Sano's consistency, his year to year performance has been:

  • 2015 - Great 4.5 WAR full season pace
  • 2016 - Awful 0.5 WAR full season pace
  • 2017 - Good 3.0 WAR full season pace
  • 2018 - Awful (1.0) WAR full season pace
  • 2019 - Good 3.0 WAR full season pace
  • 2020 - Awful 0.0 WAR full season pace
  • 2021 - Bad 1.0 WAR full season pace.

 

You’re confusing value with consistency. The above demonstrates modest value (which I’d agree with), not remarkable inconsistency. Not uncommon at all for a perfectly ‘consistent’ player to have full-year WAR that deviates in magnitude 2, 3, 4 per year. Check out Kirby Puckett. There’s BABiP in play year to year along with extremely imperfect defensive stats, and normal variation in performance.

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