Miguel Sano is one of the Minnesota Twins most prolific hitters, and right now, he's also one of their worst. Through 17 games in the 2018 season, he's had 75 plate appearances and owns a .191/.253/.426 slash line. What's positive is that there's a very clear path to righting the ship. The downside is that the path is one that doesn't come easily for players toting power bats.
Thus far, Sano has struck out 32 times while drawing just eight walks. Extrapolating those numbers over a full 162 game season gives us a 305/57 K/BB ratio. Both of those numbers would be a career high, the strikeouts would be an MLB record, and it would be nearly a doubling of his 178 whiffs in 2016. To be transparent, I have no real problem with a three true outcomes type of hitter, but right now, Sano has to right the ship in order to produce more of the two positive outcomes.
Let's start with some good news. Sano owns an 18.2% swinging strike rate. That number is tied for 3rd worst in all of baseball, but it's directly in line with how he finished 2017. It's also in the same company as players like J.D. Martinez, Javier Baez, and Yoenis Cespedes. If you aren't a fan of swinging and missing, a more encouraging number is Sano's contact rate (63.3%) and his contact rate on pitches in the strike zone (78%). The former is a slight improvement from 2017, while the latter represents a new career high. To summarize, it's not as if Sano is missing hittable pitches, and he's got a very similar approach to what he's always done.
Here's where things get off track however. The Twins third-basemen owns a career worst 33.2% chase rate. That number is up four percent from a year ago, and expanding the strike zone doesn't allow for him to truly harness his power. We see that evidenced by his hard hit rate as well, which at 35.1% is the lowest mark of his career. After owning the 4th best hard hit rate in baseball last season, Sano's current total puts him barely inside the top 100 among qualified hitters this year.
Given the fluctuations in contact quality, it also matters how Sano is putting the ball in play. While the goal should always be to elevate the baseball, doing so with hard contact is a must. Right now, Sano has a career high 51.4% fly ball ratio, but he's dropped his line drive rate to a career worst 10.8%. With his HR/FB number dipping to 21.1% after 27.5% in 2017, we can see a perfect storm of negative events. Miguel is currently hitting the ball weaker, more up than on a line, and fewer baseballs are leaving the yard. For a guy looking to walk or homer nearly as often as he strikes out, the process has become a bit busted.
Earlier I noted that the blueprint for a fix is there however, and that remains true. As a right handed batter, pitchers have decided their best opportunity to work around Sano is to attack the zone low and away. The graph shown allows us to see that Miguel has helped out his opponents far too often this season. When he's offered at pitches, nearly 10% of the time he's doing so with little opportunity of making anything positive happen. Unless he waits back significantly and drives the low and outside pitch to right field, it's hard to get any lift or power generated on a ball you're reaching for.
Over the course of his career, Sano has shown an ability to go to all fields. While his spray chart skews home runs more to the pull side, the opposite fences aren't ignored. There's plenty of scatted doubles to be had the other way, and three of his four career triples have been sent to right field. The goal isn't necessarily to make Sano a hitter determined to use all fields as much as it is to impress upon him that dictating plate appearances is something that a batter of his caliber should be doing. Given the opposing pitcher is aware that mistakes will put them a run down, Sano must be more choosy in regards to the times he takes the bat off of his shoulder.
It's still early in the year, and there's plenty of opportunity for the ship to be righted. This isn't the blistering start that the Dominican native got off to a year ago, but it's hardly a death sentence either. If Sano is really going to be a three true outcomes hitter that's fine, but the process has to be one conducive to productive results.