Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Miguel Sano Could Really Make This Work

Through their first 41 games, Miguel Sano has been nothing short of a monster for the Minnesota Twins. He's been every bit the offensive stalwart he was expected to be, and he's taken it to a whole new level. Right now, he's been the most impressive player on the club, and in terms of WAR, Fangraphs quantifies him as the best player in baseball not named Mike Trout. The question is, how much of it is a mirage?

There's a couple of different scenarios at play with it comes to Sano. He's easily defined as a three true outcomes player (Strikeout, Walk, or Home Run). Sano also is flirting with sustainability when it comes to BABIP (Batting average on balls in play...note: HRs are excluded). So, when looking at those two scenarios, the question becomes how much should we believe in his current .319/.439/.638 slash line?

In answering that question, we can present the notion that it's both a mirage and sustainable at the same time. When the dust settles in 2017, I think it'd be foolish to expect Miguel Sano to hit above .300, he simply strikes out far too often for that to happen. However, he's not a tradition three true outcomes batter in that he absolutely crushes the baseball.

Let's look at what the numbers tell us. 34.5% of the time in 2017, Miguel Sano is striking out. That is the 5th worst percentage in the big leagues, and behind a group that includes Keon Broxton, Joey Gallo, Chris Davis, and Byron Buxton. On the flip side, Sano walks a ridiculous 17.5% of the time, good enough for third best in the big leagues. In generating free passes, he is able to even out, and sustain his on base percentage, even before looking at what happens when he makes contact.

It's in that contact that things get interesting as well. As of May 23, Sano has generated 82 batted ball events, or balls in play. 43 of those have been hit at 98 mph or more. His 98.2 mph average exit velocity leads the big leagues, and is nearly 4 mph above the Yankees Aaron Judge. Breaking down the 43 balls put in play above 98 mph, Sano has generated 32 hits and barreled 20 balls (5th most in MLB). To summarize, and as I wrote on May 1, Miguel Sano is crushing the ball.

So, is it a problem that Sano strikes out in nearly one third of his plate appearances? Sure, it's not ideal. Is it likely that the Twins 3rd basemen is going to sustain a .439 BABIP and continue to bat above .300? No, probably not. What is with noting however, is that the results are a by-product of an approach that has Sano swinging with all he has in virtually every plate appearance.

Production for Sano is a result of consistent hard contact. He has generated hard contact 52.4% of the time (1st in MLB) while making soft contact just 3.7% of the time (lowest in MLB by nearly 5%). Those numbers suggest that while his BABIP will flatten out (and his average will follow suit) the decline will not nearly be as stark as it would be in a different scenario. Realistically, the decline for Sano will come more from a lack of swing power on his own accord, as opposed to the numbers normalizing from an inflated level.

Just two months into the season, it's hard to suggest that Miguel Sano is going to be consistently able to swing as hard in September as he is right now. His legs, torso, and upper body will undoubtedly go through wear and tear as the season goes on and it'll be worth monitoring to see if his swing loses oomph because of it. Should things stay consistent though, Miguel Sano is going to consistently experience inflated BABIP numbers, and will remain a non-traditional three true outcomes player because of the quality of the balls being put in play.

Until Sano is consistently fooled on pitches, or can no longer catch up to heat, he's going to get the upper hand on opposing pitchers every time the ball hits his bat. The results are there to prove that, and while they'll level off some, we aren't watching Adam Dunn even in his prime here.