Monday, May 9, 2016
The Miguel Sano Mystery
Playing roughly a half of a season (80 games), Sano was worth 2.0 fWAR on his way to swatting 18 big league home runs. He played almost exclusively as the team's designated hitter, and it didn't take long for him to assert himself as the most dangerous hitter in Paul Molitor's lineup. Fast forward to today, and the narrative is different.
As of May 8, Miguel Sano owns a .234/.338/.369 slash line. His OPS is down over 200 points from where it was a season ago, and he's averaged just 3 home runs per 10 games (over double what he was producing a season ago.) Now playing in right field, Sano's bat has gone from a power producing threat, to being a thought of what once was.
The curious part of the equation is that the numbers suggest it shouldn't look like this.
To date, Sano is putting balls in play with "hard" contact 40.6% of the time. That's a respectable number, and down just under 3% from where he was a year ago. He's increased his "medium" contact rate and made his "soft" contact hits nearly obsolete. In general, there's nothing to see there.
Then if we look at the approach Sano has brought to the plate, it's hard to find much wrong either. A year ago, he swung at just over 25% of pitches outside of the strike zone. His 21.3% in 2016 is an improvement upon that number. He's also swinging and missing 13.2% of the time, which is over a 2% decrease from where he was in 2015. Generating contact 66.2% of the time, a non-ideal number but not at all out of line for a power hitter, is better than the 60.9% he posted in his rookie year.
So, what gives right?
Easily the largest discrepancy in Sano's production this season as opposed to a year ago is by way of the home run. In 2015, over 26% of the fly balls Miguel Sano generated were launched into orbit and left the yard. Hitting a fourth of your fly balls out of the yard is something the great power hitters do, unfortunately that hasn't been replicated this season. To date in 2016, Sano is hitting just 11.1% of his fly balls out of the park. His line drive rates have increased, and his ground ball numbers have decreased, but the fly balls are simply being caught.
On pace for just over 15 doubles through 80 games (as opposed to 17 in 2015) Sano hasn't turned into a more gap or doubles hitter. His power and strength stats suggest the same process is being repeated, if not expanded upon, but he's simply not seeing the results. That brings us to an area of conclusion.
Right now, Sano has played just 31 of the 162 games the Twins have in front of them. Early in the season, his game was largely muddled with thoughts and focus on how to attack a new position in the outfield. At this point, he is what he is out there, and should feel relatively acquainted. As the season draws on, the expectation should be that the process starts to display results we've seen it capable of producing.
David Ortiz noted during spring training that Sano's legs could be abused and hurt his production by placing him in the outfield. It's a fair assessment, but one that doesn't seem to be reflected in Sano's process at this point. The results aren't yet there, but staying the course should eventually turn fruitful for the Twins slugger. With the club struggling as a whole, the hope would be that point comes sooner rather than later.