With that kind of start, one has to look at where he might end up on the career list. The current leader is Reggie Jackson at 2597, prompting two questions — can Sano get there and can anyone beat him to the mark.
To the first, with 1,000 strikeouts in 661 games, he’s essentially striking out 1.5 times per game. Continuing at that rate, he’d need to play about 1065 more games. How reasonable is that?
On its simplest terms, we have a concern about health, thinking he’s missed a lot of games. However, last year he played 53 of 60. Over a full season, that’s pace for 143 games. This year he’s on pace for about 133. If he averages 133 games per season going forward, he ends up with 200 whiffs. That would mean being able to play eight more seasons to get the roughly 1,600 he needs. That’s to age 36.
In the baseball-reference.com “Similarity Scores,” six of the 10 players most like him through age 28 are still active. The other four are Carlos Quentin, Rob Deer, Jay Buhner, and Bo Jackson. Quentin had his last productive year at age 30 and retired at 31. Jackson’s career ended at 31 due to injury. Deer’s last year as a regular (I hesitate to call it “productive,” based on his stats) was at 32, followed by a handful of games a few years later. (I don’t remember that gap — was he hurt?) Buhner’s last year with more than 120 games was at age 32, though he had several part-time years after that.
Of the guys whose career stats are similar to Sano, you can add Adam Duvall, Joey Gallo, and Marcus Thames. Duvall is playing somewhat regularly at age 32, Gallo is only 27, and Thames never played more than 120 games on the way to playing 36 games at age 34.
The common thread in those is not being a regular past the early 30s. In Buhner’s case, he also relied on his defense for playing time. Those comps don’t paint a rosy picture for Sano playing another eight years.
There are two other interesting cases near the top of the list. Adam Dunn is third. He actually played 131 games in his final season at age 34 and had an OPS+ of 115, He well may have had enough in the tank to get the 218 he needed, particularly given that he had 159 whiffs in that age 34 season.
The other is Jim Thome, who is second only to Reggie, falling 49 short. Thome played regularly until age 38 and then semi-regularly for two more years and part-time for one. His OPS+ was still above 100 at the end, so it’s conceivable he could have played the remaining games he needed.
The difference here, of course, is that Thome was much more effective as an overall hitter than Sano has ever bend. Thome got a slight head start by making it to the majors as a 20 year-old, but he had “only” 882 whiffs by age 28. Thome appeared washed up at age 34, when he appeared in only 59 games and had an OPS+ of 85. Had he retired then, he would have ended with just 1762 strikeouts.
However, it was at age 35 that he transitioned to becoming a full time DH. From then on, he played another 805 games, striking out 786 times. Throughout his career, his strikeout rate was much lower than Sano’s, as he struck out only five more times than games played. Bottom line is that he was so productive that he stayed around a long time.
Barring Sano turning into Thome, I can’t see him making it to Reggieland. But even if he did, would that be enough?
In my mind, one particular player seems positioned to make a run at Reggie — Giancarlo Stanton. Already fifth among active players with 1543 through age 31, he has whiffed 1.18 times per game. Continuing at that rate, he needs less than 900 more games. He’s on pace to play 137 games this year with an OPS+ of 134, just below his career average. With his overall hitting, he has a much better likelihood of having a Thome-like end to his career. If Thome can play 800 games after age 34, Stanton can easily play 900 after age 31.
Finally, I’ll note that if Stanton DOESN’T reach Reggie, it could well be because of the significant time he missed the past two years, with only 18 games in 2019 and 23 in the shortened 2020. In those two years, he probably lost about 200 games. Another 236 strikeouts would put him close to 1800 by the end of his age 31 year, meaning he’d only have to play 675 games going forward at his current whiff rate. That would be five seasons at 135 games, which seems eminently doable.