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Grading the 2020 Twins: Miguel Sano

Another incomplete, but lets put a letter on it anyway

Wild Card Round - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Two Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

As we did last offseason, Twinkie Town writers are grading player who appeared in a game for the 2020 Minnesota Twins. (Last year’s grades can be found here, this year’s here.) Players will be graded individually on an A-F scale based on their hitting, fielding, and whatever else the author wants to consider. This one is going to be another controversial Twin.

The Twins signed Josh Donaldson last winter, pushing Miguel Sano across the diamond to first base. Fans expected growing pains as the big slugger learned a new position. Did Sano do enough to earn a good grade, or did he fail?

Well, at the plate, you could make a case for either grade. He hit .204/.278/.478 in a year where league-wide offense was down. He also jacked 13 home runs in a 60-game season—pacing him for about 35 in a “real” 162-game affair. His 25 RBIs weren’t great, especially for a middle-of-the-order hitter, but with 25 extra-base hits, you could partly attribute that to no one getting on in front of him consistently. Generally, that is the positive side of his batting philosophy—when he hits the ball, he hits it a long way. According to Baseball Savant data, he basically presented the “Pedro Cerrano” batting philosophy (Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. —Major League.) When offered a fastball, Sano hit .260. On breaking pitches he hit .147, and against offspeed stuff he hit only .100.

The negative side is one we know all-too-well. The strikeout. Sano whiffed a league-leading 90 times, in only 186 at-bats. You got that right, nearly 50% of the time he stepped up to the plate, he sat right back down without putting the ball in play. To look at it another way, he played 53 games, which means he struck out almost twice per game, on average. When it counted, he was even worse. In the playoffs, he made eight plate appearances, resulting in one hit and one walk. He only struck out once in the postseason though, so there is that.

Another notch for the plus column though—he finally was healthy. Sure, he suffered the sort of bumps’n’bruises that all baseball players do, but he was available consistently, and played in 53 out of 60 games, and 52 of those at first. I felt like LaMonte Wade Jr played a lot more at first, but apparently not.

Sano’s defense was also respectable according to the eye test. That does not tell the whole story though. He was basically a league-average first baseman in both range factor and fielding percentage—not that those are the best stats to use, but they are an easy and lazy comparison. The more advanced stats tell us he was probably a bit below average. UZR/150 rates him at -15.3, and DRS rates him at -4. Like everything with Sano, you take good with bad, and end up with a complicated story.

Even our stalwart method of rating players, WAR tells a conflicting story. bWAR puts Sano at -0.2 for the season, while fWAR puts him at 0.5. Both methods get him around replacement level, but on two different sides of the line. His performance this year wasn’t too far out from his projections, either. Generally speaking, he played in a few more games, struck out a lot more and walked a little less than projected. He hit a few less singles, a few more doubles, and about as many home runs as expected. His batting average was about 40 points lower, OBP 60 points lower, and SLG was close to a wash. As a result, most projections had him pegged for around 1.0 WAR.

Miguel Sano continues, overall, to be a bit of an enigma. He has the potential to be the best player in the league, but he can also be the most frustrating player to watch. If you grade against his expectations as a prospect, Sano is an abject failure. If you grade against what he was paid this season, it was pretty reasonable, and if you grade against expectations, he was just a bit below where he should have been.

Grade: C-


How would you grade Miguel Sano’s 2020 season?

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