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What's Going on With Miguel Sano and Luis Arraez?


If there’s two hitters for the Minnesota Twins that couldn’t be off to more different starts in 2021, it’s Miguel Sano and Luis Arraez. Analytics are painting a very interesting story for both.Given that the difference in production between Sano and Arraez is so drastic, let’s start with the bad news. Rocco Baldelli is obviously counting on the first basemen to be an anchor in the power production department of his lineup. Thus far Sano owns a .079/.271/.158 slash line and has been worth -0.3 fWAR. Let’s go under the hood though and see what’s really going on.

 

First and foremost, it’s worth remembering this is all an analysis of 48 plate appearances over a total of just 12 games. Yes, his average is abysmal, but it’s not a traditional problem for Miguel. He has a career best 20.8% walk rate (nearly double his average) and has shaved nearly 6% off his strikeout rate. There haven’t been a ton of balls put in play, but he has just a .105 BABIP.

 

What is often assumed to be the problem with a strikeout prone hitter is that they are just all over the place when in the box. That couldn’t be further from the truth for Sano. His chase rate is at 25.5% (below his career average), and he’s shaved 3% off his whiff rate from 2020. The contact rate is up, and he’s actually swinging more often at pitches in the zone.

 

So, where’s the issue? Miguel Sano is known for being a destroyed of baseballs, and right now timing is not allowing him to do that. He’s seeing a career high 68.8% first pitch strikes. Opposing pitchers are going right at him and getting ahead in the count early. Of the 20 batted ball events Sano has had, he’s barreled just a single one of them. For a guy with a 44.6% hard hit rate over his career to be at 25% with a 60% soft contact rate clearly suggests things are out of whack.

 

Download attachment: Sano.PNG

 

When attempting to deduce where and how Sano can adjust Minnesota may look no further than his swing path. Sano tends to get long at times, and instead of contact being centered, he’s under the ball. This is reflected in a 50% infield fly ball percentage. The likelihood that those types of circumstances are going to result in hits remains minute.

 

At the end of the season Sano will likely have adjusted and worked through hot streaks combatting this slow start. He’s a streaky hitter at times and the cold spell may have come to start the year. No matter how it shakes out, I think you’d be hard pressed to suggest that one of the game’s most powerful hitters over the past few years has simply lost his ability to make hard contact. He’s been more disciplined, so when bat meets ball things should get fun.

 

On the flip side the Twins are seeing a slight change in approach from their newly designated utility man. Luis Arraez has always been heralded as an incredibly tough out because he doesn’t strike out, makes a pitcher work, and will take walks. Those things are still all true, but he’s looking to add a bit more power into his game.

 

Here too we’re dealing with a small sample size in just 46 total plate appearances, but it’s clear that the former second basemen has a little something up his sleeve. Arraez posted a 7.9% and 9.1% strikeout rate in his first two seasons with the Twins, but to start 2021 has increased that to 13%. It’s not a problematic number by any means, especially not when coupled with a career high 15.2% walk rate, but it’s part of a tradeoff.

 

Welcome to the power surge. Arraez has 33 batted ball events this year and has a 39.4% hard hit rate, nearly a 10% jump year over year, and what was already a career high in 2020. He’s still utilizing roughly the same batted ball profile with what breaks down to a 30% line drive rate, but his xwOBA is now nearly 50 points higher at .405 solely because he’s putting force behind each swing.

 

Download attachment: Arraez.PNG

 

Don’t expect Luis to become some big bopper this season by any means, but there’s 15 homer potential in this style. He’s doing it while staying in himself too. The chase rate is actually down to a career best 22% while his whiff rate is only up 2% at 5.6% on the year. Sure, he’s making slightly less contact, but virtually all of it is still coming within the zone and he’s doing it with more intent.

 

We’re still far too early into the season regarding any definitive determinations. If there’s a takeaway regarding output from hitters to this point however, it’s that I love what I’m seeing from Arraez and that Miguel Sano should be in for a welcomed amount of production once the timing clicks.

 

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Keep writing about Sano - someday I will become a believer.  

Do I care if Arraez has power?  No - just get hits!

Exactly. What is his average now .100? We'll be half way through the season with a sub .200 average season from him and the excuses will still be flying in on this forum. I call a spade a spade.

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I think Arraez can mostly keep this up--no reason he can't bat .320 on the year. Sano's at-bats do look good, even if he still swings and misses a lot. I'll listen to Morneau when he routinely says Sano's approach is encouraging.

 

Polanco and Kepler are worrying me. They're taking a lot of weak swings and guessing wrong seemingly every at-bat and end up watching hittable pitches go down the middle. If those guys can't both put up a consistent .750+ OPS, this lineup is not going to be top-10 in the league.

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Good job Ted! Concur with AZTwin Minnesota fans tend to be too negative, to the extent sometimes border on toxic.

I'm happy with Arraez's new found power. Not because of the extra base hits but because it makes the fielders more honest. A soft hitting Arraez, the OFers play in; a nonfast Arraez, INFers play back. A low velo contact combined with a good dense Arraez doesn't get a hit.

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Thanks, Ted. Arraez and Sano are the perfect contrast in style. 

 

In an effort to stay positive, I'll comment only on Arraez. What a perfect *hitter* - takes the ball to all fields, rarely hits a dribbler, hasn't hit a pop-up since 2019, and has exquisite patience. Now, he seems to be hunting pitches to drive when he sees an opportunity. He's a beauty.

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Baseball puzzles me. More than any other sport guys hold positions based on expectations. When they under achieve, it’s not only a negative for our results but it also takes an opportunity away from another player. How many more wins might we have with Tortuga at first while he is hot? Same with Polanco and Graver. These guys were hurt, but either way they have not shown they will return to top form. Why not make them earn their way back? Arraez, Jeffers and Tortuga should be playing every day until these guys show they have something.

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The amount of negative articles is overwhelming. I get it’s rough to be living in Minnesota, but sheesh. I’m glad wisconsin teams aren’t this negative or I wouldn’t be a sports fan at all

You must live in a different Wisconsin than I know. I spent 14 years of my adult life in the Badger state, most of it coaching basketball from junior high to junior college and ran into enough negativity to discharge a Tesla battery.

 

Let's be honest; when a team wins, fans are positive, when a team stinks, fans are negative. Human nature.

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Polanco and Kepler are worrying me. They're taking a lot of weak swings and guessing wrong seemingly every at-bat and end up watching hittable pitches go down the middle. If those guys can't both put up a consistent .750+ OPS, this lineup is not going to be top-10 in the league.

 

That's the elephant in the room, especially since they were recently signed to new contracts (team friendly, but still money) Kepler looks lost and Polanco is unbalanced. Is that a carry-over from his ankle injury?

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I haven't been as worried about Sano as some because:

 

1. His approach has looked good, he just can't hit the damned ball

 

2. We've seen this before as Miguel gets ready to start launching moonshots on a regular basis

 

But still, it sure would be nice if he didn't throw away the first 50 PAs of every season/callup. That part is getting a little tiresome.

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Polanco and Kepler are worrying me.

Polanco worries the hell out of me because his LH swing still looks like garbage. He's constantly flailing and off-balance.

 

Kepler, eh... I don't know. Perhaps people have too high of expectations for him. I think he'll hit okay (a mild disappointment there) and play good defense, making him a decent everyday player. I don't see stardom for him, really, unless he can figure out how to fix that absurd BABIP.

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The amount of negative articles is overwhelming. I get it’s rough to be living in Minnesota, but sheesh. I’m glad wisconsin teams aren’t this negative or I wouldn’t be a sports fan at all

What did you find negative about this article? I thought it had a pretty optimistic outlook for both players. Now, the comments on the other hand... Plenty of negativity there, but that's to be expected after a 2-5 homestand. I'll take negativity over apathy, at least the Twins have a fanbase who cares!

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when a guy fans as much as Sano, a 6% 'improvement' or whatever, is like taking a bucket of water out of the ocean. I applaud all the believers who feel that one day he'll hit a few HR's again. The guy is barely hitting .100. If hes getting a first pitch strike nearly 70% of the time..he should start swinging at it. I don't really think he is in the lineup to take walks. Just a hunch.

But then, there are too many others who can't even hit .200. And Buxton is nursing injury number 1,020,450 in his brief career.  Hopefully by May some of this will straighten out.

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