Monday, June 5, 2017

Twins Home Run Hitters Not Created Equal

In 2016, the Minnesota Twins slogged through what was undoubtedly among the toughest seasons to endure in franchise history. Over 100 losses, not much competitive play, and a season that can be classified as nothing short of lost. If there was a silver lining though, it was Brian Dozier and his 42 home runs. In 2017, we're seeing it again, but from a player that's doing it his own way.

Last year, Brian dozier became the first player to hit 40 or more home runs in a season for the Twins, not named Harmon Killebrew. He went from hitting 18 in 2013, to hanging around in the 20's each of the next two seasons, to exploding for 42. At points, it seemed his swing had become defiant. He was going to pull everything, it wasn't necessarily working, and it may have been a problem. He then got hot, popped off a bunch of long balls over the summer, and became the most coveted second basemen in baseball.

Fast forward to 2017, and Minnesota Twins third basemen Miguel Sano has 14 homers through the first 53 games. Interestingly enough, that's a pace of 43 homers on the year, or the same number Dozier would've had without Minnesota watching a game they started be wiped out by rain. Despite a similar trajectory to Dozier from a year ago, the Twins hulking slugger from the Dominican couldn't be going about his power in a more different way.

Some key numbers from Dozier's 2016 include a 34.7 Hard%, a 20.0 K%, and an 8.8 BB%. Dozier also posted an 18.4 HR/FB% and yanked the ball to left field 56.4% of the time. To summarize, the Twins second basemen generated power by being a dead pull hitter while also experiencing a good deal of gap contact.

The numbers for Sano couldn't be more of a stark contrast. This season, he owns a 52.0 Hard%, and has paired it with a 37.1 K% and 15.2 BB%. His HR/FB rate is 30.4% and he's pulling the ball just 40% of the time. Sano is a three true outcomes hitter, that is hitting bombs and getting on base by just destroying the baseball.

On the season, Miguel Sano is pacing the big leagues with a 96.6 mph average exit velocity. A year ago, Brian Dozier's average exit velocity was just 87.5 mph, sandwiched between James McCann and Josh Reddick. For each of the balls that Sano sends deep into the night, Dozier was scraping the flower pots at Target Field. Sano is also averaging a big league best, 241 ft on balls he puts in play. Dozier's average distance last year was 192 ft.

You can make a pretty obvious guess that Sano has sprayed homers to all fields more than Dozier did a season ago. Given that the latter is classified as being a dead pull hitter, it's not surprising to see the differences in their spray charts. Sano has gone to the opposite field and used dead center more already in his first 14 homers, than Dozier did all of 2016. What's maybe more interesting is in the quality of contact.

The expectation should be that solid contact is a necessity when it comes to hitting a home run. What's not a given however, is whether or not the ball was barreled on the bat. It's in utilizing the barrel that a hitter sees the long and powerful home runs. Looking at their comparisons, not only did Dozier not barrel all of his homers, but the vast majority fall very borderline on the spectrum. It helps to explain the differences our eyes suggest in just how the home run is being produced.

Given everything we've dissected here, the goal isn't to classify one players as more of a home run hitter than the other. The difference however, may be in terms of sustainability, and projectability. While Dozier was primed to come back to earth this year, and likely sit somewhere in the 20's when the dust settled, it's fair to project Sano for 35-40 homers a year for the foreseeable future. Power is something that comes natural to Miguel Sano, while Brian Dozier has generated his on his own accord.

Having now looked at what 42 homers looks like, and what a 43 home run pace suggests, it's exciting to see the Twins employ both a guy who's created his own power stroke, and one who is simply using the tools already afforded to him. Miguel Sano is going to destroy baseballs for quite some time, and Twins fans should sit back and enjoy the show.