Miguel Sano made his major league debut on July 2. That’s a little crazy to think about because he’s only been in the majors for two months, yet it’s hard to remember what the Twins’ lineup looked like without him. (Hint: It wasn’t as pretty. They averaged 4.22 runs per game before Sano joined the team and have averaged 4.52 runs per game since he came into the lineup).
With the calendar page turned to September and the Twins firmly entrenched in a playoff race, here is a look at Sano’s first two months in the big leagues, by the numbers:
THE OUTCOMES OF A SANO AT-BAT
Every at-bat, I suppose, has four likely outcomes: a walk, a strikeout, a hit, or a ball put in play for an out. There are infrequent plays like sacrifices, reaching on an error, hit by pitch, etc., but those are the four main ones.
What’s striking about Sano is the distribution of those four things, and how it adds up to an OPS of nearly 1.000.
In 206 plate appearances, Sano has:
49 hits;33 walks;74 strikeouts; and50 other outs (21 on the ground, 19 fly balls and 10 line drives). If you prefer that in pie chart form, here it is:
By comparison, here is Joe Mauer in 528 plate appearances this season (this isn’t done to pick on Mauer, just to show the huge difference in approach/results):
129 hits; 48 walks or hit by pitch; 88 strikeouts; 263 other outs (171 ground outs, 51 fly outs, 40 line drive outs and 1 bunt out). Again, in pie chart form you really see the difference:
Fewer than half of Sano’s plate appearances end with him putting the ball in play, and nearly one-third of them end with strikeouts. By contrast, roughly three-fourths of Mauer’s at bats end with him putting the ball in play and only 1 of every 6 ends in a strikeout. The 2015 sample size is clearly larger for Mauer than it is for Sano, but with the data we have so far it’s illustrative of the new model of hitting, where a strikeout isn’t a sin — as long as you’re taking walks and hitting the ball hard when you do put it in play. And oh, Sano is most definitely doing that.
(HITTING THE) BALL SO HARD
Of Sano’s 49 hits this season, 26 (slightly more than half, 13 homers and 13 doubles) have gone for extra bases. Two months is a small sample size, again, but that’s a TON of extra base hits. His batting average on balls in play (which takes home runs out of the equation) is .419, which might be considered unsustainable until you consider just how hard Sano hits the ball when he does make contact.
One of my favorite sites in 2015 is Baseball Savant, which takes exit velocity data from hitters and puts it into very usable form. The major league average exit velocity speed off the bat is somewhere between 88 and 89 mph this season. So we can consider 90 mph the standard where we start to call the contact speed above average.
Of the 73 Sano at-bats that have been tracked and in which he put the ball in play, 51 ended with him hitting the ball at least 90 mph (69.9 percent) and 34 of them (46.6 percent) ended with him hitting it at least 100 mph.
How does Sano compare to teammates when it comes to hitting the ball at least 90 mph? Here’s a look at Sano vs. many of the Twins’ most accomplished regulars this season:
It’s not perfect because not every at bat has been tracked, but for the ones that have been tracked for each player, Sano is consistently hitting the ball “hard” 10 to 15 percent more often than his teammates.
It adds up to a monster first two months in spite of a pace that, over a full season, would have Sano striking out more than 200 times. His offensive production at least puts Sano in the Rookie of the Year conversation and has helped the Twins remain relevant into September.