In 1975, PepsiCo rolled out a nationwide blind taste test of their titular product against Coca Cola. In shopping malls and other retail establishments, the perpetually second-place soda company was trying to make up some ground on the gargantuan Georgia-based bottler. Legend has it that Pepsi overwhelmingly defeated Coke in the blind sip test—contrary to the red can beating the blue one when the consumer knew the brand they were drinking.
Though perhaps a bit apocryphal, the above Cola Wars example is oft-used to illustrate the power of brand-loyalty and pre-conceived opinions. In that same vein, I present to you a blind “taste” test of two current Twins hitters.
Let’s start with Player A’s statistics since the beginning of the 2020 season until now:
151 G, 623 PA, 81 R, 29 2B, 26 HR, 70 RBI, 71 BB, 121 SO, .215 BA, .741 OPS, 104 OPS+
Take your time—really savor that stat line, letting it wash over your analytical taste buds.
Now, it’s time for Player B (again, 2020-present):
168 G, 656 PA, 90 R, 31 2B, 39 HR, 89 RBI, 69 BB, 245 SO, .212 BA, .763 OPS, 108 OPS+
Again, take a moment to swish-around each category.
So, what do you think—do you know who is who? Similarly, do you have a notion of who might be more valuable to the team?
Time for the big reveal:
Player A is Max Kepler. Player B? Miguel Sano.
This entire exercise is illustrative of the power of perception (often over reality). Kepler is the son of two ballet dancers who looks the part with his graceful RF play. He has a megawatt smile, seems like a humble/unassuming guy, and hails from Germany—the land of many MN ancestors.
Sano, on the other hand, is a brutish, often surly-looking fellow with a penchant for off-field predicaments. On the field his highs are high (short super-human power stretches), but his lows—sometimes looking like he’ll never put bat to ball again—are subterranean craters.
It isn’t hard to understand why Max sort of flies under the criticism doppler while Miguel is always on the forefront of it. Yet, as illustrated above, performance-wise the results have been very similar: no better than league-average.
So, in the overall reckoning, both players leave a bit of a stale/flat aftertaste in the sabermetric palette. A lot to be desired, in other words, considering the ceiling they seemed to show as rookies in the mid-2010s.
In that sense, the “consumer” here would almost be better off opting for RC Cola, TAB, or making a SodaStream at home. This is exactly the reason why names like Kiriloff, Larnach, Rooker, & Martin might be pushing the “name-brands” for playing time in 2022 and beyond.