Miguel Sano’s Making His First Adjustments

There’s a hitting prospect called straight up from Double-A currently blowing away offensive expectations while providing a boost for a surprising potential playoff team. Michael Conforto’s just 22, and the New York Mets didn’t even really want to have him up so soon, but desperation forced their hand, and now Conforto’s sitting on a 166 wRC+. He homered on Wednesday. No matter what happens from here, Conforto’s already justified the hasty promotion. But then, there’s Miguel Sano. Sano, who’s also just 22. Conforto has been amazing. Sano, somehow, has been even better.

Say what you will about the Twins, but they’re clearly a contender, doing their best to hang with the Rangers in the wild-card race. And while earlier-season versions of the Twins were supported by a lot of really good timing, there’s no question that Sano has been a shot in the arm since he was brought up. Sano helps the current Twins to make a little more sense, and his numbers are absolutely absurd, despite the strikeouts. He doesn’t hit the ball quite as hard as Giancarlo Stanton, but the potential seems there, and the consistency makes up some of the difference. He’s a true slugger, a man with 80-grade power. Anyone with any 80 grade is a remarkable specimen.

What Sano is is a player who’s having a successful rookie season. Whenever a rookie gets off to a hot start, you have to start looking for the league adjustment. When the league learns certain rookies, those rookies have a heck of a time trying to recover. But Sano? For Sano, there are many tests yet to pass. But he’s already making some adjustments.

Let me quickly explain how I got here. Why am I writing this about Miguel Sano? I started looking at Sano closely because, have you looked at Sano’s player page? You should go ahead and do it. I needed some reason to write about him. And once I was looking at Sano closely, something jumped out:

That’s silly, and if you have any familiarity with ball-in-play numbers, you recognize as much. I know the first thing some of you will say, and it’s true: Sano doesn’t hit that many balls in play, relatively speaking, but he still hits a good amount; over this recent stretch, there’s no one in baseball with a lower rate of grounders. Not many grounders. Interesting. Not many grounders, after having hit more grounders? That’s extra interesting.

It’s not that Sano has gotten a ton better in the last 25 games. He’s still struck out a bunch. Relatedly, he’s still swung and missed a bunch. He’s achieved a similar level of performance, but that’s kind of the thing — Sano has made a change and still sustained an extraordinary level of hitting. He didn’t get better, but he also didn’t get worse, at a time when some other rookies might’ve been exposed. And about those grounders: Sano isn’t designed to hit grounders. When he’s going good, he puts balls in the air.

A few years ago, in High-A, Sano finished with his league’s second-lowest groundball rate.

A few years ago, in Double-A, Sano finished with his league’s seventh-lowest groundball rate.

This year, in Double-A, Sano finished with his league’s sixth-lowest groundball rate.

Sano wants the ball in the air. The pitchers don’t, but against Miguel Sano, pitchers have only so much control. Lately, Sano has succeeded in lifting almost everything. And I mentioned something about adjustments. Sano has a different look, to go with his different results.

In the course of writing this, I came across a recent post by Parker Hageman. Hageman wrote, also, about Sano’s adjustment-making. It’s a good post with good visuals, so full credit to him for striking earlier. I’m too stubborn to abandon a topic once I’m invested, though, so I’m going to cover a little similar ground. You’re going to see some images below, of Sano watching and swinging at a pitch. Both were homers. The picture above is from earlier in Sano’s season; the picture below is from a recent game.

sano-3-1

Again, top: earlier. Bottom: later. Here you see two stances, and though they’re fairly similar, the big difference is that the more recent stance is more closed. The hands haven’t changed too much, but now Sano’s front foot is a little closer to the plate than his back foot. Based on the stripe on Sano’s pant leg, you see the hip is also more closed. The legs and the hip tend to go together.

sano-3-2

Here we are at release. It’s the same story, but maybe more obvious. Down below, Sano’s a lot more closed. Above, he might already be opening up.

sano-3-3

Contact. Both home runs were pulled, but you get the sense from the lower picture that there were more options. Above, the ball has to be pulled or the contact is probably going to be bad. Below, Sano’s in position to drive the ball pretty much anywhere. The above swing runs the risk of flying open prematurely. The lower swing has lesser risk, in that regard, and it seems to open up the outer half of the plate.

Simply put, it’s less of a pull stance, and less of a pull swing. It hasn’t hurt Sano in any way, and based on the fly balls, this is more like what he wants to be. Presumably as a consequence, Sano’s swing patterns have changed. Split at 25 games, with the help of Baseball Savant

Swings, first 25 games

sano-first

Swings, last 25 games

sano-second

Sano’s swing rate at inside pitches has gone down 10 percentage points. At outside pitches, it’s gone up 6 percentage points. At low pitches, it’s gone down 7 percentage points. At high pitches, it’s gone up 10 percentage points. Here are the most stark swing-rate changes: At low-inside pitches, Sano’s rate has dropped from 57% to 36%. At high-away pitches, Sano’s rate has jumped from 34% to 51%. The evidence suggests he’s more comfortable with his plate coverage, and now he’s not just looking to punish pitches inside. It’s not every rookie who demonstrates such plate coverage, although Sano already obviously isn’t every rookie.

The strikeouts are still there, so those are still going to raise questions. Sano won’t keep clobbering every other pitch for a home run, and at some point there’ll be a slump. Not everything is solved. Not everything can ever be solved. But Miguel Sano is a big-league rookie. He had a lot of success, he made some adjustments, and he’s continuing to have a lot of success. He’s passed the first few challenges. Countless more await. Minnesota Twins fans, I imagine, can’t wait to see him face those head-on.





Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Orsulakfan
Guest
Orsulakfan

I saw Sano when the Twins came to Baltimore 2 weekends ago (a sad weekend for O’s fans). Anyway, I know it’s just the short sample eyeball test blah blah blah but as an opposing fan I was already nervous about him every time he came up to bat. He was really locked in, has a good batting eye as well. He looks like he’s something special for Twins fans.

Phillies113
Member

Funnily enough, I also saw him in Baltimore that same weekend while visiting some friends who are huge O’s fans. Got to see that HR he crushed to right center that Sunday live and in person. As a third party observer, each at-bat of his was fascinating to watch. Sano’s gonna give the rest of the AL Central headaches for a long time.