A few days ago, Twins fan and Baseball Prospectus writer Matthew Trueblood tackled one of the Twins’ biggest offseason questions: what exactly can Twins fans expect from Miguel Sano?
Part of the uncertainty stems from Sano’s singularity. 21st-century Twins fans are not accustomed to players who post an .835 OPS and 162-game averages of 36 homers and 245 strikeouts. We have been trained to praise productive outs and opposite-field singles, not moonshots and back-tweaking whiffs.
Then again, no fans are accustomed to players who strike out 245 times across a full season, because players who could theoretically fan that often aren’t generally given the chance to do so.
Sano — whether he’s an an infielder, outfielder or designated hitter — will certainly receive his chance in 2017. But if he’s going to be a productive major-league ballplayer, it will be on his own terms. As Trueblood puts it, “If Sano is going to be a successful and even dominant big-league player, he’s going to be a completely unprecedented one.”
And why is that, you ask? As Trueblood explains:
There’s no way that properly estimates the risk that Sano’s career will be derailed by either insufficient defensive utility or problematic strikeout rates. Since 1947, there have been 15,057 player seasons in which a given hitter went to bat at least 300 times. Sano’s two seasons rank ninth and 14th on that list in strikeout rate. ...
Baseball is changing all the time. We know the game being played in 2017 differs radically from the game of even the late 1990s and that there’s more room in it for big power hitters with even bigger strikeout figures. However, Sano is a test balloon, and for now that’s it. We’re all just watching him come closer and closer to qualifying for a batting title with a strikeout rate north of 35 percent, and wondering whether he can possibly do enough things well to wash away the damage those whiffs do.
Setting aside the very real worries about his defense, Sano’s future in the batter’s box requires a whole lot of imagination, because (1) he has few statistical predecessors and (2) more than one-third of the time he strikes out, leaving Twins fans with only our imaginations to soothe us as he trudges back to the dugout.
The imagination can run wild because of the ferocity Sano displays when he does make contact. Sano averaged a screaming 97 mph on his line drives and fly balls last season, the 10th-fastest exit velocity in MLB, according to Statcast data. His tantalizing ability to barrel the ball and barrel it hard is what keeps us all intrigued.
In PECOTA’s imagination, Sano’s on-base ability and power outweigh his predilection for punch-outs: BP’s projection system pegs Sano for a .241/.335/.475 slash line, a middle-of-the-order OPS in this offense-challenged era.
The “final” PECOTA projection is really the 50th-percentile estimate of what a player will contribute. Sano’s volatility is such that either extreme — the 90th-percentile projection of .271/.372/.536 or the 10th-percentile forecast of .209/.295/.411 — feels possible in 2017.
We all know what can happen when Sano’s bat makes contact.
But none of us know if that scant contact will be enough.
Which way do you think Sano will go?