Twins third baseman Miguel Sano, you might have heard, is down in Fort Myers for the biggest swing makeover since “Mambo No. 5” hit the charts. A big part of the reconstruction will be helping Sano recognize and hit the slider, a pitch he has been helpless against this season.
Sano doesn’t have to be good at hitting sliders to become a consistent threat in the Twins lineup. He just can’t be as wretched as he has been this season.
The numbers are brutal: a .103 average when hitting the slider, slugging percentage of just .138 and a (gulp) 65.6 percent strikeout percentage against sliders, according to Baseballsavant.com.
Teams are actually throwing a smaller percentage of that pitch to Sano this season (21.7 percent to 25.3), but that might be because he is swinging and missing at so many of them instead of laying off ones out of the zone.
But it’s not as if Sano made his name pounding sliders, the second most frequent pitch he faces at the plate behind fastballs.
From 2015 to ’17, he hit just .213 against sliders with a slugging percentage of .367. It might come as no surprise that his best stretch against the pitch came in the first half of 2017, the half of a season that made him an All-Star. That’s when he hit .274 with four home runs off the pitch.
However, the struggles soon re-emerged. In July, his average dipped back to .120 with no home runs.
What happened during that three-month burst when Sano was at least competent in recognizing and doing some damage against the pitch? He was laying off the sliders out of the zone.
“More than anything it’s about him getting those balls to where he can handle them — getting them to the height where he can do damage with them,” hitting coach James Rowson said. “Sometimes when those balls are down below the zone or on their way down, it’s just hard to get that ball up in the air and put the swing he’s capable of putting on it.”
Rowson said there was a point Sano was returning to that form — against the Yankees in New York in late April. He walked four times in that four-game series. He has only 10 walks in 33 other games.
But a few days later Sano injured his hamstring and was out for a month. The progress he was making was lost.
“When you come back, it’s like starting all over again,” Rowson said.
When he returned, Sano was flailing and missing at more 1-1 sliders out of the zone instead of taking them. And when Sano gets to two strikes, he is one of the worst hitters in baseball (.092, the eighth-worst average in baseball among hitters with 102 plate appearances, according to Inside Edge).
“It’s a matter of recognizing it early, seeing the ball out of the hand a lot earlier and also just knowing where you want that pitch and not giving in,” Rowson said.
Because now Sano has seemed helpless to fight back against the slider.