The Minnesota Twins are 8-23, a 120-loss pace. If it weren’t for the Atlanta Braves, the Twins would be the worst team in Major League Baseball. These are the same Twins who finally came into a season with a reason to smile. Their uber-prospects were ready to contribute at the big league level, and their pitching staff stank of relative average-ness, which is far better than the smells and stats that the pitching staff had in recent years. From Max’s preseason look at the Top Ten Lynchpin Players:
The Twins want to be this year’s 2014 Royals and come from nowhere to win the AL Central. They think they have the offense to do it and with Miguel Sano and others, they might be right. But I’m very suspicious about their pitching staff.
Max went on to discuss Ervin Santana and the huge potential range of possible outcomes for their underwhelming pitching staff. Sure, its was always possible for the Twins pitchers to greatly exceed their admittedly average expectations, but it never seemed all that likely.
Well, to this point, they’ve underperformed. The Twins have the worst collective ERA in the American League. 6 of the 8 pitchers who have made at least 1 start have an ERA of at least 4.70. You don’t get to an 8-23 record without “contributions” from the whole roster.
But far more worrisome for the long-term Twins’ plans are their young prospects’ struggles. Jose Berrios, their top pitching prospect, sports a 6.75 ERA after his first two starts. Byron Buxton, once the top prospect in all of baseball, has a .497 OPS. And Miguel Sano, the 23-year old slugger who actually produced in his limited time last year, is 200 points off of his 2015 OPS so far into his sophomore season.
Last September, I wrote that having Sano’s sweet swing around for another decade gave Twins fans something to be excited about. With that drop in OPS, Twins fans aren’t as excited as they once were.
Possibly because I have Sano on both of my fantasy teams, or maybe just because home runs are so much fun, I needed to find out what was up with Sano.
Through the magic of Fangraphs, we know that Sano’s strikeout and walk rate are mostly the same as last year. He’s cut down on his swings on pitches outside of the zone, and when he swings, he’s making contact 6% more often. These all seem to indicate that he should be having basically the same (if not better) success. His BABIP is down about 50 points from last year, but he’s still above league average in that category. All this and Sano is hitting a homer 1 out of every 43 plate appearances, which sets him up for about 14 across 600 plate appearances. For a guy with prodigious raw power, that rate isn’t going to cut it.
So where has all the power gone? Where are the dingers?
I’m really not sure there’s a specific answer, but if we keep digging deeper, we see that Sano is 10th in the league in average exit velocity, right there with Giancarlo Stanton. That’s got to be a good thing. More digging!
Baseball savant has individual pitch data, and the first thing I notice is this 107.5 mph / 390 foot single. Then I see a 108 mph double play, but those seem to be just anecdotal instances of bad luck.
Anecdotal instances, however, become trends when we start adding them together. Unfortunately, we’re still in small sample territory with this young season, its sometimes hard to find enough info to be able to make credible predictions about the future. All we can do is look at the information we have and do our best. In Sano’s case, at first blush it feels like he’s been unlucky on some of these hard hit balls, he’s actually slugged a nice round 1.000 on balls hit at least 98 mph whereas league average slugging percentage on such balls so far this year is 1.141. But the real juice lies in the HR rates on 98 mph+ hits. Sano has hit home runs on just 8.6% of the balls that he’s hit at least 98 mph. For a tad of context:
I’m imagining an entire post will be dedicated to this idea of Home Run Rate on Crushed Balls (HRROCB…. I’m going to need a better acronym), but the point is made. Sano’s been hitting the ball hard and should have more to show for it. If we figure that Sano had been rewarded for even a league average number of home runs for his 98+ mph hits, he’d have 1.75 more home runs. That would give him 5 for the year and put him on pace for 23 over the course of 600 plate appearances. That’s a big step in the right direction.
So what’s up with Miguel Sano? He’s been hitting the ball hard, and he’s been walking. He’s not broken, he’s not even been tremendously unlucky. He’s just been about 5% unlucky and that makes him not as fun.
The Twins have many big problems, but Miguel Sano will be OK. Baseball will even out.